A Winter Guide to the Madison Valley

Posted on

Prepare for a winter adventure as you take the path less traveled to Yellowstone. US Highway 287 is the backroad to Yellowstone and winds through the quaint community of Ennis MT. Leave your cares behind as you enjoy all the winter activities this western town has to offer. Ennis is located in the Madison River Valley; approximately 70 miles northwest of Yellowstone. You can’t pass up a chance at the winter fun the 900 people who live here enjoy each year.

Winter Activities: Madison Valley, Montana

The Madison River Valley is an area known for its fly fishing. In winter, Hebgen Lake freezes for ice fishing opportunities and a fishing tournament in February.  If river fishing is your passion, do not let the weather keep you from dipping your line.  Parts of the Madison River close for the winter, but much of it is open year-round. Check out our Madison River Fly Fishing Guide to plan your fishing excursion to the Madison River today!

Ennis Lake and the Beaverhead and Gallatin National Forests have other winter sport opportunities, including:

  • Ice skating
  • Snowshoeing on and around the lake
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Snowmobiling

Quake Lake and Hebgen Lake also offer unique showshoeing and cross-country skiing opportunities.


Winter Land Adventures

Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing

The Madison Valley is a treasure of quiet, non-motorized trails for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing enthusiasts.  Ennis is near many scenic snowshoeing trails throughout the millions of acres of forest. the local DNR office has maps to the marked trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing access. So, bundle up, grab your winter recreational item of choice, and head out into the winter wonderland to spot beautiful wildlife such as:

  • Elk
  • Big-horned sheep
  • Bison
  • Antelope

Lions Club Park in Ennis, MT and along the Madison River has walking trails and skiing trails along scenic banks of the beautiful river for the less adventurous – bring your kids along for a great snowshoeing or cross country skiing adventure!

Hot Springs

The perfect end to a winter day spent outdoors is a dip in a natural hot springs. ¬†The Norris Hot Springs – known to the locals as containing the “Water of the Gods” – is located at the junction of US 287 and MT State Hwy 84. ¬†Changing rooms, plenty of parking, live music, beverages and of course amazing warm, mineral rich water will have you saying, “aaaahhhh” ¬†while you relax those cold muscles. This is truly the way to experience big sky country – relaxing in a naturally formed hot tub, staring up at the surrounding mountain ranges.

norris hot springs montana

Dog Sledding

If you want to enjoy the winter view without a lot of physical work, contact Spirit of the North Sled Dog Adventures and let the energetic huskies pull you through the mountain and lake trails. If you’re a sled dog novice, there are tons of guides that will take you through the Madison Valley with their team of Huskies. If you’re a pro, bring your own dog sledding team and tour the Madison Valley back country in one of the most unique ways possible.


Before you venture out, check with the Montana DNR to learn which trails or courses allow snowmobiles. The Tobacco Root Range is approximately 30 miles south of Ennis and is home to¬†the Black Butte/Lobo Mesa Loop Snowmobile Trail. It’s a 50-mile marked trail that ends at the rentable Black Butte cabin – truly a Montana winter adventure. Virginia City hosts Poker Rides on the trails that lead from town to the groomed trails for some excellent local riding.

The West Fork area and the area south of West Yellowstone is a gigantic hub of great snowmobiling trails and fresh powder during the Montana winter. ¬†Elevations of 5000′ and higher make the snow reliable throughout the winter, so you can take the snowmobile out at any point in the winter months. ¬†A unique and spectacular winter adventure is a guided or unguided trip into Yellowstone National Park by snowmobile or snowcoach. If you’re visiting Yellowstone, there’s no better way to see the famous park than by snowmobile!


There’s nothing quite like the hospitality and lodging in Ennis and the Madison Valley. When you are finished with your winter days of adventure, snuggle up in the comforts of the friendly lodging facilities such as the Rainbow Valley Lodge or Sportsman’s Lodge motels. ¬†Or rent a log house with a real fireplace from El Western Cabins & Lodges.¬† The lodging in Ennis, MT and the Madison Valley are¬†locally owned and operated establishments¬†– enjoy personal western hospitality and local knowledge to find the best trails.


If you don’t want to cook in your room, or didn’t manage to bring home the “catch of the day” in terms of rainbow trout, clean up and venture out to the local Ennis restaurants for delicious meals. Downtown Ennis offers authentic southwestern food, from Mexican to burgers and everything in between!¬†The Sportsman’s Lodge Restaurant¬†in¬†Ennis and has a varied menu including ribs and steak. Of course most restaurants serve up some of the blue ribbon trout Ennis and the Madison Valley is well-known for. Visit our Eat Stay and Play page to find out which dining options are right for you and your family.

Stop in the Alley Bistro for full dinners or take-out pizza and hot sandwiches to warm your belly after a cold day outside.

Winter Vacations Montana: Come See Us!

There’s never a shortage of winter activities and things to do in Ennis, MT¬†and throughout the Madison Valley! Whether it’s snowshoeing, skiing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, or just relaxing in the springs or in a beautiful cabin lodging, the winter recreation enthusiast needs to visit Southwest Montana. If you’re ready for the winter adventure of a lifetime, browse the Backroad to Yellowstone’s website to find out more information about traveling to the Madison Valley, accommodations and lodging, tourist attractions, events and much more.

Things to eat, places to stay, and ways to play