Are you traveling from Bozeman to Yellowstone National Park on an adventure-fueled trip? Here is an adventurer’s travel guide and vacation itinerary for those wanting to take the scenic road-less-traveled from a start in Bozeman through the dramatic Beartrap Canyon to US 287 where you will head south to the great cowboy/fishing town of Ennis and explore the Madison Valley on your way to Yellowstone National Park.
Day 1: Seeing Bozeman: Vibrant Downtown
Winter Option – Skiing Bozeman
After your day trip exploring the mountains is over, head to Main Street in downtown Bozeman where the nightlife offers great food and libation at the area’s restaurants and bars. Jay Bentley’s newest offering, The Range, is high-end cuisine on Main Street. Ted Turner’s signature bison restaurant, Ted’s, can be found in the Historic Baxter Hotel also on Main Street. Nearby, Copper Whiskey Bar & Grill is the go-to spot for new whiskey, bourbon and scotch tastings, while Bar IX and Montana Ale Works, have a wide variety of food and drinks, and often offers live music. The Montana State University Campus is also right nearby, so if you’re looking for a younger crowd, the college bars will do the trick.
Bozeman is also home to the world-class Museum of the Rockies. Known for dinosaur research and Dr. Jack Horner (think Jurassic Park), the museum also features and up-to-date planetarium and wonderful geologic and historic displays.
For the modern-day adventurer, there may be no greater offering of outdoor recreation in Montana than southwest Montana and the Bozeman area. Surrounded by four breathtakingly-stunning mountain ranges and millions of acres in the Gallatin and Beaverhead National Forests there is endless fun for the outdoor adrenaline junkie. Whether it’s hiking, kayaking, rafting, hunting, fishing, off-roading or skiing, the year-round recreation in the Bozeman vicinity always offers fun and beauty!
Winter – Skiing Bozeman
As a major winter recreation area in the U.S., Bozeman boasts not one – but two ski areas close to Bozeman. One of those ski resorts, Big Sky Resort just so happens to be the biggest skiing area in North America, offering over 5,500 skiable acres on three different mountains including Moonlight Basin and Big Sky Ski Resorts. Or head to Bridger Bowl – a classic local ski experience with great terrain variety just minutes from downtown.
For Olympic quality cross-country skiing or groomed snowshoe adventures, head to Bohart Ranch Cross Country Ski Center for a casual, scenic morning jaunt on your cross country skis? It’s less than a half mile north of the city, which means you’ll have to backtrack a tad when you leave for Yellowstone, but the short drive is worth it if you love the sport of nordic skiing – the park even hosts several Olympic qualifying events. Bohart is famous for their impeccably groomed trails, beautiful scenery in the Bridger Mountains, and abundant wildlife. It wouldn’t be strange to ski past a moose and deer in the same run!
There is also great cross-country skiing available in Yellowstone Park but on US 287 on the Backroad to Yellowstone. Click for more information on winter ski trails.
If you’re a skier planning your vacation to Bozeman, spend your day at any of the mountains below for the ultimate Montana ski trip. In the summer, feel free to hike or mountain bike many of these same trails.
Day 2: Leaving Bozeman to Ennis, MT on the Backroad
To take the road-less-traveled to Yellowstone, leave Bozeman and at the 4-Corners intersection rather than staying on the busy work-route of MT-191, choose MT-84 W to Ennis and Norris. After a spectacular drive through Bear Trap Canyon and along the lower Madison River you will arrive in Norris and a chance to experience a classic Montana tradition – a dip in natural hot water!
First Stop: Norris Hot Springs
Norris, MT and the Norris Hot Springs are just 40 minutes outside of Bozeman offering a year-round hot springs experience amid the towering Tobacco Root Mountains. Blue-grass music and locally sourced food add to the fun.
Water Recreation Along The Madison River & US-HWY 287
Once you’ve recharged your batteries in one of the welcoming hot springs in Norris, put your clothes back on and hop on Hwy 287 once again. Heading south over the pass known as “Norris Hill” you should stop for a moment at the top. There you can see the tracks of pioneer wagons that once rolled on the “Bloody Bozeman Trail”; a short, but dangerous, alternate to the Oregon Trail. You can also see the broad expanse of the incredible Madison Valley with the Madison River flowing into Ennis Lake. If you are near sunset, stay and watch the amazing display as the peaks turn gold and pink!
As a blue-ribbon trout river, the Madison is home to some of the best fly fishing you’ll find in Montana and throughout the country. In just 16 miles, you’ll see Ennis Lake, where the Madison River temporarily stops before spilling over the hydro-power dam and into the upper Madison River. Tip: the Madison River flows northward its headwaters in Yellowstone National Park to join the Jefferson and Gallatin Rivers at Three Forks – a famous Lewis & Clark site.
If you’d like a personal guide for your Montana fish outing, Ennis offers several fly-fishing outfitters and sports stores that offer a litany of fly fishing guides, rods, flies, clothing, equipment and any other supplies you may need. For more about fly fishing the Madison River, read “Fly Fishing the Madison River – A Guide.”
Whitewater junkies can get a rush on the nearby Gallatin River which is known for many fast-moving stretches of water for extreme rafting. The Madison River has a stretch of Class IV rapids in the wilderness area – a limited number of guided trips are available each summer. If you’re just looking for a wings-level outing, the lower Madison River between Bozeman and Norris is a great summer tube floating stretch. The upper Madison (above the Ennis Dam) is prime for fly-fishing.
- Whitewater Rafting Guides in Southwest Montana
Arriving in Ennis, MT
After you’ve gotten your wild, water-filled afternoon out of the way, head into the cowboy & fishing town of Ennis, Montana to spend the night and have some real western fun! With a vibrant boardwalk featuring a mix of Old Western and modern nightlife, there is something for any adventurer.
Shopping & Dining
If you want to feel like a cowboy, the famous Willie’s Distillery is located right in the heart of Ennis serving up authentic Montana Moonshine, legendary small batch whiskey and other special liquors. If food is more your thing, the upscale southwestern restaurant Banditos offers authentic Mexican meals with the benefit of libations at the Gravel Bar. Or stop in McAllister (7 miles north of Ennis) for lunch or dinner at the McAllister Inn, a local steakhouse favorite for decades, now renovated and reopened. Or for a locally-sourced, fine-dining experience with and excellent wine list, try the famous Continental Divide restaurant. Tucked just of Hwy 287 and two miles north of Ennis, the restaurant offers uniquely-Montana dining options, such as elk, duck, scallops, trout and, of course, wondrous beef – locally sourced with organic selections. Once you finish your meal, you’re probably going to want to crash after such a long day of traveling.
Staying in Ennis, MT
Accommodations and lodging in Ennis let you have the peace and quiet everyone in Montana desires so much. Every cabin, lodge or bed and breakfast seems to offer something unique, but nonetheless special. If you’re looking to keep an authentic western theme to your vacation, El Western Cabins and Lodges are about as real as you can get. These cabins are maintained to the highest degree, offering outstanding views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
Carefully-restored, the Jeffers Inn Bed and Breakfast, gives you the opportunity to stay in a gorgeous, renovated and historical Victorian house. Featuring authentic, 19th century furniture, the bed and breakfast never disappoints, offering horse-drawn carriage rides to guests.
If you’re looking for something a little bit more low-key, then there are other options in hotels and motels, such as the Fan Mountain Inn. This cozy mom & pop motel is right near the north entrance of Ennis and is clean, convenient and reasonably priced. With 27 rooms and a vacation home, this place is perfect for those looking for an affordable place to stay while in Ennis. Or try the new Lure Me Inn with kitchenette cabins. The Rainbow Valley Lodge is a log-sided motel with pool and includes breakfast.
Below are other options for accommodations in and around Ennis, MT:
Day 3: Exploring Ennis, MT
Once you’re in Ennis, your authentic Montana vacation can officially start. There’s loads of things to do in Ennis for the adventurer, from hiking the millions of untamed acres, to hunting Montana wildlife, to sports and recreation, there’s never a shortage of fun in the cowboy town of Ennis!
Hiking Around Ennis, MT
With the millions of acres surrounding Ennis and the Madison Valley, the hiking options around the small cowboy town are endless. Day trips, backpacking trips or hiking vacations, Ennis offers some of the best hiking in Big Sky Country and the entire United States.
If you’re on a true Montana adventure, you may want to just start walking and let your compass guide you through the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. This will let you see the true untamed wilderness that is the Madison Valley. There are of course normal hiking trails that offer great day trips, wildlife, scenic views and of course – loads of fun! To see what types of Ennis hiking trails there are, click on the options below.
Ennis Sports & Recreation
Ennis has a proud sports and recreation culture, featuring the area’s most beautiful golf course, championship bowlers and a litany of events all year round. If you’re on a Montana vacation adventure, make sure to check out the sports and recreation in Ennis happening right now!
Golf with the pros – and with the mountains – at the Madison Golfing at Madison Meadows Golf Course golf course, right in the town of Ennis. At the Madison Meadows Golf Course there are award-winning golf programs, on top of a full-service club store, golf club and cart rentals and repairs. The course PGA pro Patrick Stoltz heads the entire PGA staff and welcome you to the hottest par five course in the state of Montana! Golfers across the state agree that this is the “Best little course in Montana.”
The Fish Bowl & Alley Bistro in Ennis is a hot local spot to grab a pint and hit some pins. The fully restored bowling alley offers many lanes and the attached Alley Bistro, where hungry bowlers can go after a round and grab some grub. If bowling is right down your alley, there’s fun awaiting you in Ennis!
All year round there are local events and happenings in the small but vibrant town of Ennis, MT. The annual 4th of July Parade draws thousands of spectators and offers classic American fun like fireworks and food tastings. The annual Pig Pickin’ part features live music and is sponsored by the local, Willie’s Distillery. Father’s day features a father-son fishing competition and is sure to brighten anyone’s day. If you’re looking for a lively culture full of events and recreation, Ennis is the place to be.
Fall Hunting In Madison Valley
For the hunting enthusiast, there may be no better hunting area than between Ennis and Hebgen Lake. And the adventurer should be extra excited, because horseback is the best way to access these hunting grounds – and the chances of running into a grizzly are high. If you want to hunt on horseback in Montana, visit a local hunting guide and ask about access points.
Ennis, MT is surrounded by millions of acres of forest, most of which are huntable. Unfortunately, there is no “secret of the locals” in terms of hunting areas. With the amount of acreage and game, it’s easy to see why so many hunters are attracted to the Ennis area. Your best bet is to go out on horseback (with a guide if you need one) and look deep within the Madison Valley for elk, deer or bear hunting. For equipment and local hunting information, stop by Shedhorn Sports for their Hunters’ Rendevous in August. Hunt planning information can also be found on the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website. And don’t forget to take in the unique Hunters’ Feed on Main Street, Ennis this October!
Day 4: Traveling from Ennis to Yellowstone on US-287
After you wake up and leave Ennis you may want to grab a bite to eat before you set out for Yellowstone. Try the Pic A Nic Basket for a breakfast burrito or yummy scone with great specialty coffee. While you are there, get a lunch to carry into the park. Sandwiches sport homemade breads and fresh-sliced deli meats and cheese made to order. Or for a full bacon and egg breakfast try Yesterday’s inside the Ennis Pharmacy or the Sportsman’s Lodge.
Heading Back on HWY 287: A Scenic Drive Awaits
When leaving Ennis, MT and heading south into Yellowstone, you’ll be on an incredible scenic drive in Montana. Fan Mountain and the Spanish Peaks in the background to your east, just after crossing the Madison River as you leave Ennis. As the road winds, you’ll see the Madison Valley rise and fall to the west as you pass canyons, rivers and mountains. To your east, you’ll notice Big Sky country and all of its glory, including the massive mountain peaks, Echo, Cinnamon, Koch, Imp, Hilgard, Sage and Sphynx.
First Stop: Quake Lake & Hebgen Lake
Your first stop out of Ennis will be at the gorgeous Quake Lake, just 40 minutes south of Ennis. Quake Lake is one of those places that has been frozen in time. In the 1950s, a massive 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the Hebgen Lake area, with a large section of the mountain sliding into the water, blocking the river and subsequently creating Quake Lake. For the fascinating story of the disaster and daring rescues, visit the Quake Lake Visitors Center and stop at the highway markers. Just past Quake Lake, stop for a lunch or late-breakfast at the Campfire Inn to recharge your system with amazing pancakes, fluffy omlettes or a juicy burger. Galloup’s Slide Inn and Tackle Shop and the West Fork of the Madison provide rest stop opportunities with fishing, hiking or camping options.
Continuing south, the crystal-blue waters of Hebgen Lake held back by the Hebgen Dam appear. Popular with anglers and boaters in the summer, the lake is also used for winter recreation by snowmobilers and intrepid ice-fishermen.
If you happen to have your fishing rod, why not try your hand at fishing Hebgen Lake, where hungry blue-ribbon fish await to be caught!
Driving into Yellowstone from the West
After you leave the famous Quake Lake, head east on US-287 S for a little under 20 miles. Turn right to get yourself back onto US-191 S/US-287 for just over 8 miles, turn left onto Yellowstone Ave and in half a mile, the West Yellowstone Entrance will be on your right. You’ve finally arrived at the ultimate destination for Montana vacations.
Things To Do In Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park amazes visitors from all over the globe. The famous Old Faithful geyser blasts off every 91 minutes and mud pots, bubbling pools and shimmering colors will amaze. The Mammoth Hot Springs is a classic park feature. The most grandiose attraction in Yellowstone however, has to be the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, stretching 4,000 ft. wide, 1,200 ft down, and features a 300 ft waterfall.
Wildlife spotting is another major attraction in Yellowstone. Bison, elk, moose, bear, wolves and smaller mammals like the marmots and chipmunks can be seen – especially if you take time to take a day-hike or backpack into the backcountry.
For more on things to do in Yellowstone, read the Backroad’s Yellowstone 101 Guide to prepare for your Montana trip to the most beautiful park in the world!
If you’re planning your adventurous trip to Montana, remember: Be safe on your vacation to Montana, drive with care when traveling from Bozeman to Yellowstone, and consult the FWP before hunting or fishing in the state of MT. But most of all – have fun and enjoy the beauty of the Backroad to Yellowstone!