Montana may well be my favourite state in the lower 48, though I’ve hardly spent any time there. In 2010 I stayed in Gardiner,Montana for just a night during a trip to Yellowstone (see the Wyoming page for details of Yellowstone NP). In 2014 I returned for a three nights trip to Glacier National Park and then drove south to Billings.
Glacier National Park
Glacier is a long drive from everywhere. I flew to Spokane one evening in late August 2014 and drove the five hours to Whitefish Montana. The lowlight of the drive was a run in with a kamikaze deer near Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho.
The next day I took a back road into Glacier National Park and camped at Bowman Lake in the west of the park for no real reason other than Curtis Hart had heard wolves here the year before. It is a pretty spot.
There were plenty of Columbia Ground Squirrels, Red Squirrels and Chipmunks on the roads through the park and a few Mule Deer. My impression was that many of these chipmunks were Red-tailed though I couldn’t get more than a fleeting look at them so I am not certain.
My key goal in the park was Red-tailed Chipmunk and, thanks to Scott Flamand’s trip report, I saw them well and easily at Avalanche Lake. Like Scott I didn’t see any chipmunks on the trail up to the lake, but there were all over the log jam at the end of the trail.
I was in the park for about 30 hours and hiked up to the Hidden Lake Overlook twice, looking for the Long-tailed Weasels that Scott had seen the year before. I didn’t see any. And the ranger I spoke to on the trail said he hadn’t seen any that year either there.
But, during both excursions to the overlook, I saw plenty of very approachable Columbia Ground Squirrels and a couple of even more approachable Hoary Marmots along the trail, as well as Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels around the overlook.
On the first day I saw several Mountain Goats near the overlook (the males all collared), but none the second.
Elsewhere in the park I saw Black Bears twice. A mother and cub were next to the Camas Road when I was driving into the park from the Polebridge side at 2 p.m. I spotted another in a tree above the Loop later that same afternoon. I also saw a North-western Jumping Mouse dash across the road in the early evening near Whitefish. A brief but clear view. The very long tail is diagnostic.
It take seven hours to drive from Glacier to Billings, and I sslept in Lewistown en route. I caught a few Western Meadow Voles and Western Deer Mice in traps I put out overnight along a back road. In 2020 these Meadow Voles were split from those in the east.
Cheryl Anontucci had told me that Zoo Montana was a fail-safe spot to see Richardson’s Ground Squirrels so I decided to detour there on my way south to Wyoming, rather than agonise over identifying animals further west that might have been either Uinta or Wyoming Ground Squirrels, or heading north into areas where I wasn’t sure where I’d find them (see the discussion here).
If only all mammal watching was this easy: I saw my first animals before I had even slowed down.
There are also a bunch of squirrels in the zoo plaza. It is important to note that by late August the males are already underground, with all the animals hibernating before the end of September.
In 2022 Greg Greer got in touch about Richardson’s Ground Squirrels near Billings.
In 7 June 2022 we stopped in Billings Zoo to photograph Richardson’s Ground Squirrels and we were not disappointed. We were in the Zoo Plaza parking area from 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm. The squirrels were extremely photogenic as long as I photographed from our jeep. Once outside, the squirrels were very shy and cautious. At 2:00 pm, it began to rain and the ground squirrels all retreated to their burrows. Thus, it is important for anyone wanting to photograph the Richardson’s Ground Squirrels, they need to monitor the weather and not waste time going there if its is raining.
I now have another “hot spot” that we found for Richardson’s Ground Squirrels. It is a city park called Chief Joseph’s City Park, in Harlowton, Montana. It is in Wheatland County, Montana. Within the city park, camping is available, including electric hook-ups for RV and trailers. Fresh water is also available. We spent the night in the park on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. It is not far from Billings as we were there that same day. Upon arrival, I noticed Richardson’s Ground Squirrels, in abundance in the campground. We got set up and I un-hooked our tow vehicle and proceeded to drive around the campground photographing the squirrels. The campground only had one other camper so photographing squirrels was very easy. Again, using the jeep as a moving blind was extremely important as the squirrels were shy if a person was standing or walking in the area. I have drawn a rough map, not to scale, and it illustrates the location of the campground and the location of the best ground squirrel photographic possibilities.
Yellowstone Guide, 2023: Greg Easton’s useful guide to the larger mammals of the park based on 20 years of visiting.
South Central Rockies, 2017: Sjef Ollers, 3 weeks & 44 mammals including American Badger, Swift Fox, Black-footed Ferret and Long-tailed Weasel.
California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah & Nevada, 2017: Jan Ebr, 4 weeks & 31 species including Grizzly, Wolf and a variety of chipmunks.
Yellowstone, 2017: Manuel Baumgartner & Sophie Bétrisey 5 days & 16 species including Wolf, Black Bear and Western Jumping Mouse.
Chasing Squirrels and Chipmunks in the West, 2016: Andy Murch, 2 weeks. 1 marriage proposal & many rodents including Hopi and Cliff Chipmunks.
Yellowstone, 2016: Alan Dahl, 8 days & species including Long-tailed Weasel, Grizzlies and Wolf.
Western USA, 2015: Michael Kessler, 6 weeks & 88 species(!) including Spotted Bat, Northern Right Whale Dolphins, Long-tailed and Water Voles, Wolf and Long-tailed Weasel.
Yellowstone, 2015: John Van Niel, 2 weeks & 29 species including Badger,Wolf, Long and Short-tailed Weasels, Northern Pocket Gopher and a Hoary Bat.
Vancouver Island, Montana and a bit of Wyoming and Washington, 2014: Jon Hall including Pygmy Rabbit and Vancouver Island Marmot.
Western USA, 2014: Janco van Gelderen, 3 weeks & 41 species/ssp including Bobcat, Grizzly and Long-tailed Weasel (15mb download).
Glacier National Park, 2013: Curtis Hart, 1 week & 15 species including Western Jumping Mouse, Southern Red-backed Vole and Pygmy Shrew.
Glacier National Park, 2013: Scott Flamand, 3 days & 14 species including Long-tailed Weasel, Grizzlies and Mountain Goats.
Yellowstone, 2013: Morgan Churchill, 1 week & 19 species including North American Water Vole, Yellow-Pine Chipmunk and a Badger.
The Rockies, 2012: Jan Luis Ortega, 2 weeks & 25 species including Wolves, Grizzlies and a Badger.
Yellowstone, 2012: Matthew Steer & Maureen Hadert, 2 weeks & 27 species including American Marten, Mountain Goats, Wolves and Grizzlies.
Yellowstone, 2012: Royle Safaris, 8 days & 12 species including a Moose and lots of Wolves.
Yellowstone, 2011: Jo Gale, 6 days with species including both Bears, Moose, Wolves and a Badger.
Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington, 2010: John Fox, 13 days, 4400 miles and 34 mammals including a Long-tailed Weasel and hearing a Pygmy Rabbit.
Yellowstone, 2009: Matt Miller, 5 days & 19 mammals including Wolves, both bears and Otters.
Pacific Northwest, 2006: Mark Hows, 2 weeks & 27 species of mammals including a Marten.
Yellowstone, 2006: Derek Shingle, 10 days & 10 mammals including Wolves and Grizzlies.