Are you searching for a great way to fill up an entire day viewing wildlife and the Rocky Mountain front from an elevation of more than 10,000 ft? If so, a day trip to the Gravelly Range Road and Tobacco Root mountains is exactly what you’re looking for. Whether you’re planning a primitive backpacking or horseback adventure, a 4-wheel or dirt bike run or just a scenic drive across a the Gravellies’ ridge line, you’ll witness amazing views, thousands of acres of wilderness, and miles and miles of roads and trails for hiking. All you need to do is follow US-HWY 287 towards Ennis on the Backroad to Yellowstone for the adventure of a lifetime!
Getting To The Gravelly Range
The Gravelly Range towers over the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, where wildlife is around everywhere. Elk, moose, bear and wolves all call the Gravelly Range home.
Leave Ennis, MT in early to mid morning, travel out on Varney Road until it intersects with Call Road. At that point you are traversing the historic Bar 7 Ranch. Please stay on the road. Western ettiquete (and laws) allow you to travel the road, but not to trespass on the property. You will likely have to endure the stares of cattle as you roll slowly by. Just avoid the temptation to moo – they’ve heard it before!
Picnicking on the Gravelly Range
In a short drive, you’ll reach the start of the Gravelly Range Road. This is a short, but beautiful drive that winds up to the top of the mountain range. You’ll reach the peak of the range in the afternoon, at which point it’s great to get out, stretch the legs, take in the fantastic views, and start searching for that perfect spot to take in the beauty of Big Sky Country.
Stopping to picnic at the top of Gravelly Range Road is great fun for the entire family. Big rock formations lie about the area and are always a favorite to eat on while basking in the sun. Often chipmunks or marmots will keep you company while you eat. Or take a blanket and get in a peaceful nap while you’re among nature – at this altitude you’ll probably feel a little sleepy after lunch! After you wake up, head out into the prairie meadows and pick wildflowers, smelling their aromas is a great way to wake up.
Wildflower Spotting On The Gravelly Range
If you are a wildflower aficionado, you will want to make this trip after the snow melts off the road, but before late July. The best month to visit the scenic mountains is in June. Sometimes that’s a narrow window of time for your Montana vacation! But, if you’re able to plan far enough ahead of time to make the trip, it’s well worth it. Fields of fleabane, paintbrush, wild lupine and daisies cover the meadows. It’s a lot like a good fishing day. If you hit the peak, it is unforgettable.
Spend the late afternoon in the meadows picking flowers as the sun is starting to fall behind the rocky mountains. Spread out a blanket and gather your traveling partners. There’s nothing quite like the experience of a setting sun among one of the most primitive, yet accessible mountain ranges in Montana. Make sure you bring a flashlight, as you make your way back to your car, try to pick out a constellation or two. At the elevation of the Gravellies, it’ll be almost feel like you can touch the stars. Pack up your gear, it’s time to head back to Ennis, where a comfortable bed in peaceful cabins and accommodations await.
Getting Back To Ennis
The drive along Gravelly Range Road goes in a large loop, but there are many points where intersecting roads will lead you back into the Madison Valley or over to the other side, the Ruby Valley. You can travel for a few hours safely on the roads, or put on your backpack and trek for days in the untamed wilderness. Either way, you will experience the true backroads of Madison County and the Yellowstone ecosystem. From expansive cave systems, indigenous wildlife, to historical basis, the Gravelly Range is truly a Montana day trip you and your troop won’t forget.
Montana Photo Opportunity:
Take the Wildflower Tour on July 8th!
Montana Trip Tip:
Check with the Forest Service Office in Ennis before heading out and get a topographic map for the trip. They can also let you know the condition of the road. Do not attempt this drive in a regular car. High clearance and 4-wheel drive are recommended. Always take water and other basic survival gear when you venture off-road. Do not go without a map and don’t count on your cell phone to keep you on track.