Copyright Justin Edge Photography
Situated amongst three spectacular mountain ranges in Southwest Montana (Tobacco Roots, Madisons, and Gravellys), Ennis is a classic and exciting western town in the heart of the world’s most legendary trout fishing. With main street positioned a cast away from the continuous riffle of the Madison River, you’re never far from a kype jawed brown trout in town.
At last check, Ennis is home to roughly 850 people, a vibrant mix of cowboys, trout bums, and small business entrepreneurs. It’s a fantastic place to call home during a visit to Southwest Montana. Aside from the famous fishing on the Madison, there are endless activities to keep you busy and enjoying your visit within an hour’s drive from Ennis. Bozeman, and its vibrant downtown shopping scene is only an hour away. Yellowstone National Park, and its wildness is also just an hour away. Lose yourself on any of the surrounding National Forest trails among the majestic peaks of the Madison Valley. There is no shortage of activities in the region.
Ennis Lake, for example is located only 6 miles from Main St., and offers some great shallow/warm water swimming and sandy beaches. It is a great lake for recreational boating. For the fishers, it’s a spectacular place to cast to rising trout in the summer. The lake is somewhat conveniently divided from shallow to deep. The deeper waters are where you’ll find most of the recreational boating, and the shallow water south end is where the fisherman and woman can find solitude for angling.
Yellowstone National Park
West Yellowstone and the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park are an easy hour’s drive south through the Madison Valley. If you’d like to visit another classic western town and see large herds of bison, this is a great day trip. Bring your fly rod along, as you’ll be driving along the Madison River the whole way, and there are numerous public access points for wade angling.
Norris Hot Springs
Norris Hot Springs is located 16 miles north of Ennis on the way to Bozeman. It’s a unique hot springs environment with frequent band appearances during the summer. Enjoy a beverage during your soak, with their great selection of beers and wines.
Gravelly Range Road Scenic Drive
From Ennis, an exciting mountain drive is possible along the Gravelly Range Road which will take visitors through some of the most amazing native wildflower patches in Montana. Because the road sits atop the Gravellys, there are constantly new vistas to enjoy. The road typically opens around the 4th of July and closes with the onset of winter. It’s also very accessible. Even standard passenger cars can easily access this road.
The Sphinx Mountain
The Sphinx is perhaps the most iconic mountain in all of the Madison Range (pictured above). Sitting in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness area, the Sphinx is an impressive geologic formation just east of the Madison Valley in Southwest Montana. One of the more striking mountains in this region, the Sphinx offers a fun and not very technical gully route up the west face. For the adventurous soul, a summit of the Sphinx only takes a day.
Virginia City, National Historic Landmark
Virginia City is just over “the hill” to the west from Ennis. This very much alive ghost town is frozen in time. It is a remarkably well-preserved old west Victorian gold mining town, formerly the territorial capital of Montana. When the gold ran out, there was still enough left so that homes and businesses were occupied, but there was not enough wealth to remodel the buildings. So it froze, and now represents the whole Victorian era. It is the true and original Old West. It is a gem, held within an incredibly rich area of natural beauty, recreation and history.
Cliff and Wade Lakes
Cliff and Wade Lakes are spectacularly beautiful bodies of water reminiscent of the Bahamas more than Montana and they sit on a geologic fault that formed a chasm that filled with water; cliffs surround much of the lakes' shorelines. Cliff Lake is the larger and somewhat more isolated of the two. Wade Lake is more easily accessible and receives more use; it's spring-fed and stays partly ice-free in the winter. Both lakes support many nesting raptors. Look for prairie falcons, bald eagles, and osprey. Cliff Lake offers some exceptional canoeing, especially in the remote coves. Both lakes are only 45 minutes south of Ennis.
Dining/Lodging in Ennis
Ennis may be a quiet and quaint small western town, but there are no shortages of excellent lodging and dining available. A whole host of small hotels are available in town, as well as several bed and breakfasts, and VRBO’s. Ennis also has everything you could need for dining, from the quick and easy espresso/breakfast like the Pic-a-Nic Basket, to fine dining with the McAllister Grill and Wells Fargo Steakhouse in Virginia City.
Bear Trap Wilderness Area
Located along the Madison River in southwest Montana, the Bear Trap Canyon Wilderness is the Bureau of Land Management's first designated wilderness area including six thousand acres of wilderness on the Madison River. It is quite the remarkable scenic area.
This recreation area with boat access from the south end offers rafters a nine mile float trip through whitewater and a scenic canyon with 2,000 foot cliffs; featuring the famous Class V 'Kitchen Sink' rapid as the climax of the trip. Whitewater skills must be honed. Permits not required for private groups, but registration is necessary at the launch. Commercial floats available.
Trail Creek Access Recreational Area located at the head of the canyon is the first fishing, and picnicking area on the Madison built with the handicapped in mind. A hiking trail follows the river the length of the canyon but cannot be accessed from the south end.
The 9-mile Bear Trap National Recreation Trail at the north end of the canyon provides visitors outstanding hiking, backpacking, and horseback riding into the canyon. The site provides a boat launch, parking, and restrooms. Camping is primitive. Trout fishing is also popular along this section of the river.
On August 17, 1959 an earthquake in the Madison Canyon River Area, near West Yellowstone, formed Quake Lake. The earthquake created a massive landslide of about 80 million tons of rock, which stopped the flow of the Madison River in the Madison River Canyon gorge. The landslide caused 28 deaths, flooding and about $11 million in damage to the forests and highways in the area.
The lake measures five miles long, one-third of a mile wide, and 190 feet deep. Today many fishermen enjoy fishing by boat or along the shores of the lake. The shoreline is accessible from Highway 287 and a boat ramp can also be found. Cutthroat and brown trout are stocked yearly. The Earthquake Lake Visitor Center displays a Memorial Boulder from the earthquake with a plaque of the names of the 28 people who died and the events of the earthquake. The visitor's center is open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week from Memorial Day through mid-September.
Ennis Fourth of July Parade and Rodeo
If you happen to be in town for the 4th of July, you’ll be able to enjoy THE event of the year for the Madison Valley, the traditional 4th of July Parade which follows a route through historic downtown Ennis. Horses, floats, live music, and classic cars highlight the annual event, which draws crowds in the hundreds to the Main Street shopping district. On the 3rd and 4th enjoy 2 nights of official National Rodeo Association sanctioned rodeo events, featuring the top cowboys and cowgirls from the Northwest in both rough stock and timed events. I can’t imagine a better time to visit Ennis! This is the weekend to get a true appreciation for how trout bums and cowboys coexist!