Western Montana Hikes & Attractions

Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area

The Warm Springs Ponds Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is one of the most unique wildlife viewing places in all of Montana. The ponds are artificial and were not built for their wildlife value. In fact, they were constructed to try and mitigate environmental damage resulting from mining in nearby areas.

Just like Prairie Dog State Park, Warm Springs Ponds are located right on Interstate 90. The site is on the north side of the Interstate at Exit 201. This is about 20 miles west of Butte, MT and a few miles north of Anaconda, MT. There is good signage on I90 and the entrance to the Ponds is right next to the highway. Silver Bow, Mill, Willow and Warm Springs Creeks merge here and just below the Ponds the Clark Fork River begins.

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Warm Springs Ponds sign

The Ponds Are Born From Mining Pollution

Mining was king in the early days of Montana’s development and the entire Butte and Anaconda area was intensively mined. Silver Bow Creek received mining, smelting, industrial and municipal wastes for more than a hundred years. (note: Butte is one of the most historic mining towns in the US. If you are interested in the history of MT or of mining you will enjoy the book The Mining History of Butte, MT).

Beginning in 1911 the Warm Springs Ponds were constructed to serve as “settling ponds” where the heavy metal pollution carried by Silver Bow Creek would settle out before joining the Clark Fork River. While this was somewhat effective, a lot of pollution still made its way into the Clark Fork River. To address this problem the filtering capacity of the ponds was improved in the 1990’s. Today the upstream pollution has been significantly reduced and there is debate as to the future of the Warm Springs Ponds.

Photo of pond at Warm Springs Wildlife Management area
The diversity of habitat types found at Warms Springs Ponds creates homes for many different creatures, especially birds. Many types of waterfowl are found in the ponds but a lot of other bird species are also common. Be sure to bring your binoculars to aid in viewing.

Popular With Birders

Extensive habitat improvement projects along with the pond improvements have resulted in excellent habitat for many bird species. Many different waterfowl species are abundant but so are many other birds. The USGS has produced a Bird Checklist for Warm Springs Ponds that lists more than 140 different species. However, experts state that 218 species have been spotted in the WMA. It’s estimated that as many as 300,000 birds use the area each year. Each season brings a different variety of birds so any time is a good time to visit. More information about birding in Montana is in the book Birding Trails Montana.

Fishing the Warm Springs Ponds

Despite the fact that the primary purpose of the ponds is to purify polluted waters, they offer excellent fishing opportunities. Many anglers know that large trout that are routinely caught in the ponds. This makes the WMA a popular destination for fly anglers. The Ponds have been known to produce some true trophy fish so come prepared to fight a big fish!

Hiking, Biking and More

There are hiking and biking trails at Warm Springs Ponds. Locals use the trails a lot for hiking, biking and running. In fall, waterfowl hunters can be found at the site and fishermen are encountered year round. As already mentioned, the bird watching is always productive and many birders try to make frequent visits.

Photo of large flock of snow geese flying over the Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area
From late March through mid April it’s not unusual to see large flocks of Snow Geese migrating through the Warm Springs area. There were thousands of birds flying overhead this day.

Warm Springs Ponds are a very unique area. Originally created to reduce toxic mining waste washing downstream, today they effectively purify the water and provide an excellent habitat for wildlife and fish. The fact that the area is right along I 90 at Exit 201 makes it easy to visit. I often plan a little extra time when I drive through this area to allow for a quick visit and a good dose of the outdoors. Be sure to stop if you are in the area and enjoy this interesting site.

You can discover other Montana roadside attractions in the book Backroads & Byways of Montana: Drives, Day Trips & Weekend Excursions