At nearly 6,000 acres, Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area near Townsend is on the smaller side when it comes to WMAs, but offers some of the biggest opportunities in the area to access shoreline and the wildlife that call it home.
Canyon Ferry Reservoir was formed when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation built Canyon Ferry Dam on the Missouri River in 1954, flooding nearly 25 miles of the valley between the Big Belt and Elkhorn mountains. The reservoir itself covers a variety of landscapes, from the more mountainous section near the dam to the flat valley at the inlet. It also holds some quality angling opportunities for trout, perch and walleye.
In 1957 the state of Montana signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bureau of Reclamation, putting the WMA in the hands of wildlife managers. By 1970 construction of dikes created four ponds totaling nearly 2,000 acres and containing 325 artificial islands, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
Canyon Ferry WMA sees significant public use with its proximity to Helena and Townsend and ease of access from major highways. Despite the use, the willow and cottonwood dominated landscape provides a thick stronghold for wildlife. Whitetail deer, moose, turkeys, pheasants, songbirds and waterfowl are prevalent. Bird hunters frequent the area in the fall while bird watchers have ample opportunities throughout the year. Whitetail hunting is also popular but limited to shotgun, muzzleloader, handgun or archery, and antlerless hunting is by special permit only.
The WMA’s southwest border offers some of the best waterfowl viewing and hunting access in the area. The dike systems make for easy walking and access roads cut through the vegetative jungle. Once out to the ponds it can be a lengthy distance to see birds, but flocks of geese, pintails and mallards frequent the area, along with numerous shorebirds.
The east side of the WMA provides multiple access points and parking areas along with a road system open to hiking, horseback riding and bicycles. Considering it’s a smaller public area, it is easy to rack up a few miles of good exercise.
While the reservoir and floodplains are a mecca for many wildlife and bird species, mosquitoes can quickly turn a fun adventure into a miserable sprint back to the vehicle. Take proper precautions including bug spray or a face net depending on the time of year.