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Madison River Valley: Top Things To Do In Montana

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 Madison River Valley
Includes Bear Trap Canyon,
Missouri Headwaters State Park

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Madison River Valley, Montana
Madison River Valley, Montana





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Madison River Valley
Includes Bear Trap Canyon and Missouri Headwaters State Park
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Madison River Valley..... Is Fly Fishing Heaven!
Madison River Valley MontanaThe Madison River Valley is a gorgeous, wide-open valley that is home to some of the best blue ribbon trout fishing in North America.  

The Madison River winds through this magnificent valley, and fly fishermen and fisherwomen from all over the world come here to test their skills on the fabled Madison River trout. 


There are many convenient fishing accesses found throughout the Madison River Valley, where anglers can try their luck on the legendary brown trout and rainbow trout swimming in these world famous blue ribbon waters.

Madison River Valley Montana
Fly fisherman enjoying the blue ribbon waters of the legendary Madison River.

Drift boat fisherman, Madison River MontanaThe Madison Valley is surrounded by the mighty Madison Mountain Range to the east, and the Gravelly Mountain Range and Tobacco Root Mountain Range to the west.  

Being the second tallest mountain range in the state of Montana, the Madison Mountain Range has several wilderness areas throughout the range that are part of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Complex.

These wilderness areas can be accessed from the Madison Valley, as well as several high mountain lakes and excellent hiking opportunities in the surrounding national forests on both sides of the valley.  The Madison River Valley and surrounding mountains are also very well known for its outstanding hunting opportunities. The Madison River Valley is truly an outdoor lover's paradise!


Madison River Valley Montana
Madison River with the Madison Mountain Range in the background.

On the other side of the Madison Mountain Range to the east is the Gallatin River Canyon, where the Gallatin River runs northward out of Yellowstone National Park, paralleling the Madison River.  Big Sky Montana is found in the Madison Range, along with Lone Mountain where the resort is located, can easily be seen from the Madison Valley.  There has been a long, drawn-out debate whether a paved road should be built from the Madison Valley side of Big Sky Resort to allow access from the west.  This discussion has come and gone many times throughout the years, and more than likely it's not going to happen.

Madison River Valley Montana
The blue ribbon Madison River in the legendary Madison Valley is a fly fisherman's dream come true.

The Madison River originates in Yellowstone National Park where the Firehole River and Gibbon Rivers merge at Madison Junction.  The Madison then leaves Yellowstone Park as it flows northward, and eventually joins with the Gallatin River and Jefferson River to create the Missouri River near Three Forks,
Fly fisherman, Madison River Valley MontanaMontana, 183 miles from its origin in Yellowstone National Park.  

The Missouri Headwaters State Park is located there, and is very much worthwhile exploring if you are driving along Interstate 90 by Three Forks Montana.


As the Madison River leaves Yellowstone National Park, the Madison enters Hebgen Lake about 13 miles north of West Yellowstone, Montana, as a dam was built in 1914, thus creating this popular lake.

Immediately downstream from the dam, the Madison River then enters Earthquake Lake, which was created by the 1959 earthquake, and then flows through the world-famous Madison River Valley on it's way to the confluence of the Missouri River near the town of Three Forks, Montana.  Other popular nearby lakes are Cliff Lake and Wade Lake. Ennis Lake, which is located just north of Ennis Montana, is a result of the damming the Madison River with Ennis Dam, and is another popular place for all types of water sports.


Ennis, Montana
Ennis Montana
Ennis Montana is a classic "western cowboy town" and is an extremely popular tourist destination.

Midway through the Madison Valley and nestled along the shores of the Madison River, lies the classic western town of Ennis, Montana.  This extremely popular tourist attraction has terrific restaurants, shopping and lodging, and is a great place for you and your family to enjoy a genuine western Montana cowboy town.  Everyone has fun in Ennis, Montana!


Ennis, Montana, Madison River Valley    Ennis, Montana, Madison River Valley
Ennis, Montana, Madison River Valley    Ennis, Montana, Madison River Valley

Virginia City, Montana..... Just over the hill!
Virginia City, MontanaJust over the hill from Ennis Montana to the west, along State Route 287, is the historic ghost town of Virginia City, Montana.  Virginia City is the largest intact Gold Rush Era ghost town in America, and is one of Montana's top attractions.  This amazing ghost town is only about 14 miles west of Ennis, and is a "must see" while in the Madison River Valley Area. For more information on the Virginia City National Historic Landmark District, click here.

Madison Valley Overlook
As you drive west of Ennis over a very steep hill on your way to Virginia City, you will be able to enjoy a tremendous view of the Madison Valley and the massive Madison Range from the top of this pass.  There is a pullout there which shows you the names of the mountain peaks, such as the locally famous Sphinx Mountain.  This is really a great vantage point, and it's worthwhile stopping for a few minutes at this overlook... you'll be glad you did.

Madison River Valley Montana
A view of the Madison Valley and Madison Mountain Range from the Madison Valley Overlook west of Ennis, on your way to ghost town of Virginia City on State Route 287.

Elk!Bull elk in the Madison Valley Montana
The Madison Valley is the winter range for thousands of elk who spend their summers in the surrounding mountains. 

So if you're ever driving through the Madison Valley during the winter months, you will more than likely see large herds of elk spread out throughout the hillsides.  

A large number of mule deer also migrate into the Madison Valley during the winter as well as several other animal species, such as pronghorns.



Bear Trap Canyon

Downstream from Ennis Montana, beyond Ennis Lake along the Madison River, is Bear Trap Canyon. Located in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Bear Trap Canyon is renowned for its class IV whitewater rafting. There are some iconic whitewater favorites, such as the famous "Kitchen Sink".  To get there, head for Norris on 287, then at the junction drive up Route 84 for about 5 miles, which is where you'll find the take out point.  The Bear Trap Canyon adventure is approximately 10 river miles in length.


Bear Trap Canyon provides some outstanding Class IV whitewater adventures!

Further down stream, along State Highway 84, just beyond Norris Hot Springs to the east, the Madison River enters a long lazy Class I section, which is an extremely popular place for people who just want a leisurely float down a gorgeous river on a raft or inner tube.


Beyond Bear Trap Canyon.... Missouri Headwaters State Park
Missouri Headwaters State Park MontanaOnce the Madison River leaves the Bear Trap Area, this famous river continues northward, and completes its 183 mile journey at the Headwaters of the Missouri, located 66 miles north of Ennis Montana.

Missouri Headwaters State Park
is where the Madison River joins up with the Gallatin River and the Jefferson River to form the headwaters of the 2,300 mile long Missouri River. Located just north of Interstate 90 near Three Forks Montana, the Missouri Headwaters State Park and the Three Forks of the Missouri National Historic Landmark are there waiting for you to explore, and we highly recommend that you do.  

This very well designed state park is extremely interesting from both a geologic perspective and historical perspective, as the Lewis & Clark Expedition spent time here.  Every time we visit the Missouri Headwaters State Park, we are impressed with how well kept, how well designed, and how interesting this park is. There are outstanding displays as well as a wonderful hiking trail that takes you to the top of a bluff that overlooks the entire area.  So as you are driving along Interstate 90, we HIGHLY recommend that you take the time to visit this outstanding state park.  You and your family will be very glad you did!

Click Here For a Map of Missouri Headwaters State Park (Courtesy of Montana Fish,Wildlife & Parks)

Missouri Headwaters State Park Montana
Missouri River Headwaters State Park is where the Madison River joins the Gallatin River and Jefferson River to form the Missouri River. This photo is of the final stretch of the Madison River.

Top Things To Do In Montana:  Madison River Valley

Map of Montana, Top Things To Do In Montana




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