Tucked away in a far corner of Montana lies a pair of emerald gems—stunning emerald lakes in a forested canyon. Cliff and Wade lakes are both fed by natural cold water springs, which allows the water to stay incredibly clear and partially free from ice during the cold Montana winter. This open water attracts abundant water fowl, songbirds, herons, and birds of prey, such as the bald eagle and osprey.
Cliff and Wade Lakes are part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the world’s largest nearly intact temperate ecosystems, meaning that it has retained its wildlife diversity. At Cliff and Wade you can catch glimpses of bears, moose, deer, otters, and beavers. Unsurprisingly, the area was designated as one of Montana’s Wildlife Viewing Sites.
Underneath the water’s surface is also an abundant supply of trout. Fish can be seen jumping throughout the day for their next tasty caddis meal. Opportunities for shoreline fishing are limited, as much of it is bordered by steep hillside or sheer cliff.
To get the full wildlife experience, you’ll need a boat. As you venture further from the boat launch at either lake, animal sightings become more frequent. Cliff and Wade are a flatwater paddler’s dream. Paddling over clear waters reveals submerged boulders and trees, giving the experience an interesting “shipwreck” feel. Cliff Lake is the larger of the two, offering small cloves and an island to discover, and it is more popular with fishermen. Wade prohibits any wake, so you might be enticed to bring your stand-up paddleboard along and spend the day on the water looking for eagles. Definitely bring some binoculars!
Make Cliff and Wade Lakes a weekend for the books by camping at one of three first-come, first-served campgrounds at Cliff Point (six sites), Hilltop (18 sites), or Wade Lake (30 sites). Sites fill up quickly, especially during the warm weekends in the summer.