Marmot Madness

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Join the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum this summer in our surveys for an iconic mountain mammal.

How do species react when climate changes? One of the main ways we expect species to react to climate change is by shifting their rangedisappearing from some areas, and potentially appearing in new ones. In the northern hemisphere, southern range boundaries are of particular interest because they are the first place we expect to see species disappear due to the effects of warming climate. And the stakes are higher for cold-adapted montane species like the hoary marmot (Marmota caligata), which are isolated on mountaintop "sky islands." Enough climate warming could cause a localized population collapse (extirpation)—a trend almost impossible to reverse because of how difficult it would be for marmots to repopulate from another, isolated peak.

How can we track these extirpations and range shifts? By hitting the field for surveys, and comparing where we see a species today vs. where we saw it in the past. Our best resource for knowing where we have seen a species in the past is museum collections, just like the ones held at the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum. Each specimen not only has a date and location where it was collected, but it also allows us to verify the identification to make sure we're comparing apples to apples (or, marmots to marmots!). 

The Phil Wright Museum is pairing our historical hoary marmot records with modern resurveys to investigate the dynamics of this species in western Montana, at the southern edge of its range in the Rocky Mountains. The key question is whether hoary marmots are still found at the locations where they were historically collected between 1895-1980, or whether they have become extirpated in a pattern that suggests an effect of stress due to environmental change.

Marmot Madness is generously supported by the Wright family, building on Dr. Phil Wright's work, legacy, and love of biodiversity.

If you're a citizen scientist interested in helping by collecting data in some beautiful places in Montana, read on!

(One of our favorite hoary marmot videos—except of course, pikas are lagomorphs, not rodents! Video just for fun, not associated with this study.)

Basic Information

Site reservations are closed for the season.

If you are interested in assisting with this project in the future, check this website for updates in May/June 2022.

WHO: You! Participation is open to anyone who can comfortably hike in mountainous terrain and is interested in helping us collect data on the status of marmots in this region.

WHAT: Drive and hike to historical hoary marmot collection sites, and survey for marmots by sight (no animals will be handled). Surveys are on your own schedule—once we give you the information for a site, you can visit it whenever you like in the survey window. We will provide training, directions, and detailed instructions for each site. Transportation, camping/lodging, and all other costs are the responsibility of the volunteer(s).

WHERE: Sites across western Montana and northern Idaho, all within 6 hrs drive from Missoula. Many are closer and would make good day-trips. The more distant points are in some beautiful corners of our state, and would make wonderful excuses for a night or two of camping.

WHEN: Surveys may be done any time from June 15 through August 31, 2021.

HOW (TO SIGN UP): See our sign-up page.


Can I do multiple survey sites? Absolutely! However, we ask that you only sign up for a couple of sites at a time, and only reserve more once the first ones are complete.

What gear do I need? Aside from your usual hiking and outdoor safety gear, you'll just need the survey information (we will provide), your phone and/or GPS device, and binoculars.

How hard is the data collection? Searching for marmots will take around one hour once you reach the site. Data collection is quite simple, and will take less than 15 minutes once you spot marmots.

Why do we recommend some sites be done in the same trip? Because they are very close to each other, in some cases close enough that you may be able to cover them in the same day. The sets are just a recommendation for efficiency; you are not required to do all the sites in a set.

How rough are the roads to get to the trailhead? It varies, though most are Forest Service roads maintained for passenger vehicles. When you reserve a site, we'll let you know what to expect to the best of our ability.

How strenuous are the hikes? There's huge variation in the hikes, from less than a mile to a 40-mile roundtrip wilderness expedition along the CDT! Most are in the middle, around 4-12 miles roundtrip through moderate to mountainous terrain. Routes are mostly or entirely on existing trails. When you reserve a site, we'll let you know what to expect to the best of our ability.

Is this a good activity to involve kids in? We'll leave that judgement up to you. Some sites will be kid-appropriate in our estimation, and we think kids would certainly enjoy trying to spot marmots!

What happens if I can't complete a site I signed up for? Let us know ASAP, and we'll open that site up to other volunteers.

I surveyed a site but I'm not confident that I did it well, now what? Send us the data you collected, and let us know what difficulties you had. We'll decide whether to send another surveyor to double-check. (Some replication is good for our dataset, anyway!)

I have more questions! Email us at or


All drive times are estimated one way from Missoula, MT.

All hike distances are estimated roundtrip.

reserved Little Stony Lake 16 Granite 46.285176 -113.776399 1.5 hr 10 mi
reserved Cutaway Pass 17 Granite 46.017926 -113.339389 2 hr 16 mi (long trail hike with elevation and exposure)
available Goat Mountain Lake 18 Granite 46.382668 -113.041297 2 hr 4-16 mi (depending on road conditions)
available McDonald Peak South 19 Lake 47.377512 -113.919618 1 hr 17 mi (much off-trail and very challenging), must be done before July 15, requires CKST permit)
available McDonald Peak North 20 Lake 47.397193 -113.919255 1 hr 6 mi (much off-trail, must be done before July 15, requires CKST permit)
reserved Dick Creek 29 Missoula 46.675979 -114.358248 1.5 hr 2-3 mi (most/all off-trail)
reserved Carlton Lake 30 Missoula 46.685432 -114.228532 1 hr 12 mi
reserved Rattlesnake Creek 31 Missoula 47.083246 -113.887843 15 min 40+ miles (most may be done on mountain bike)
reserved Pyramid Lake 32 Powell 47.259645 -113.382353 1.5 hr 8 mi
reserved Brushy Fork 2 Idaho 46.5802 -114.5364 1 hr 6 mi
reserved *Oregon Lakes 27 Mineral 47.05308 -115.094499 2 hr 4 mi
reserved *Trail Lake 28 Mineral 47.005018 -115.042664 1.5 hr 10 mi
reserved Stuart Peak 34 Missoula



15 min 22 mi (quick drive, big hike!)
reserved Tenmile Creek 35 Deer Lodge 46.050324 -113.139661 2.5 hr 14 mi (campground at alpine lakes)
available Indian Creek 36 Lewis and Clark 47.58033 -113.12061 3 hr 30 mi (same trailhead as site 40)
reserved Dearborn River 37 Lewis and Clark 47.311187 -112.814907 2.75 hr 30 mi (nearly to top of Scapegoat Mountain)
available Sugarloaf Mountain 40 Lewis and Clark 47.408548 -112.935741 3 hr 36 mi (same trailhead as site 36; some exposed ridgeline)

*consider one trip for sites 27-28


reserved Upper Miner Lakes 3 Beaverhead 45.265511 -113.678877 3 hr 8-12 mi (depending on road conditions)
reserved Lemhi Pass 4 Beaverhead 44.96 -113.43 4 hr 6 mi


reserved Elk Summit 1 Idaho 46.32381 -114.649827 2.5 hr 5 mi
available Stanley Butte 39 Idaho 46.247694 -115.210124 2 hr 21 mi (passes by Stanley Hot Springs)


available $Lake Mountain 5 Flathead 48.777746 -114.590982 4 hr 5 mi
available $Red Meadow Mountain 6 Flathead 48.75185 -114.559408 4 hr 3-4 mi (most/all off-trail)
available $Nasukoin Mountain 7 Flathead 48.792574 -114.557059 4 hr 4-10 mi (depends on road conditions)
reserved ^Werner Peak 8 Flathead 48.601303 -114.448121 3.5 hr 4 mi
available ^Hallowat Creek 9 Flathead 48.625703 -114.443439 4.5 hr 6 mi
reserved &Mount Oberlin 10 Flathead 48.70073 -113.751685 3.5 hr 4 mi (Glacier NP)
reserved &Weeping Wall 11 Flathead 48.728505 -113.729822 3.5 hr 6-8 mi (Glacier NP)
reserved &Logan Pass 12 Flathead 48.696188 -113.739113 3.5 hr 2-4 mi (Glacier NP)
reserved &Piegan Mountain 13 Glacier 48.707783 -113.686201 3.5 hr 12 mi (Glacier NP)
reserved &St. Mary Lake 14 Glacier 48.6905 -113.5065 4 hr 0-4 mi (Glacier NP)
reserved &Avalanche Creek 38 Flathead 48.709635 -113.786456 3 hr 0-2 mi (Glacier NP)
reserved Elkcalf Mountain 15 Flathead 48.284899 -113.298406 3 hr 2-3 mi (most/all off-trail)

$consider one trip for sites 5-7

^consider one trip for sites 8-9

&consider one trip for sites 10-14 + 38


available Rock Lake 33 Sanders 48.06933 -115.642278 3 hr 8-12 mi (depending on road conditions)
reserved %Davis Mountain 21 Lincoln 48.938286 -115.967972 5 hr 8 mi (some exposed ridgeline)
reserved %Northwest Peak 22 Lincoln 48.968403 -115.96018 5 hr 2-3 mi (most/all off-trail)
reserved %Rock Candy Mountain 23 Lincoln 48.897451 -115.950748 4 hr 9 mi
available West Fork Yaak River 24 Lincoln 48.947042 -115.739086 4.5 hr 4-8 mi (most/all off-trail)
available Pipe Creek 25 Lincoln 48.66282 -115.651441 4 hr 6 mi
available Robinson Mountain 26 Lincoln 48.960083 -115.44268 4.5 hr 10 mi

%consider one trip for sites 21-23