Madison River Valley: Montana Driving Tours

Madison Valley

Famous as a fly-fishing destination and old-west charm, the spectacular Madison River Valley is also flanked by three mountain ranges and offers an alternative route between Bozeman and West Yellowstone.

  • Situated slightly west of West Yellowstone and Bozeman, Madison River Valley provides an alternative north-south travel route full of spectacular scenery and outdoor opportunity
  • Take a cave tour or visit the informative visitor center at Lewis and Clark State Park 
  • Glimpse into the past while visiting the restored ghost town of Virginia City

Overview

Boasting majestic mountains and the pristine Madison River, visitors find the Madison Valley a worthwhile alternative when traveling between Bozeman and West Yellowstone.  In addition to world-class fly-fishing, camping, biking, and hiking, consider an excursion to the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, the ghost town of Virginia City, or the old-west town of Ennis.

The Location


West of Bozeman and West Yellowstone, the expansive Madison Valley follows the famous Madison River as it flows south to north from the Yellowstone area north past the town of Ennis, through Ennis Lake, finally joining with Jefferson and Gallatin Rivers at Three Forks.

The Route

From Bozeman, head west on I-90 to Three Forks, where the Madison, Jefferson, and Gallatin Rivers join and the Missouri River begins.  Turn south onto HWY 287/MT-2, stopping at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.  As you continue south, enjoy spectacular views of the Madison, Gravelly, and Tobacco Root Mountain Ranges.  Before reaching the town of Ennis, you will pass Ennis Lake, a popular spot for non-motorized water sports.  From Ennis, consider an excursion to Virginia City or continue south for 72 miles to West Yellowstone.  If you'd like to return to Bozeman, follow HWY-191 north into Gallatin Canyon.  Other visitors continue into Yellowstone National Park.

Highlights

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park

Open daily, year-round, this state park offers fishing access and dark caverns full of limestone features.  Guided Cave Tours given May 1 through September 30 take visitors 2 miles on a somewhat chilly, twisting, underground trail through awesome limestone rooms of stalagmites, stalactites and helictites

Fishing
One of the three main tributaries to the Missouri River, the Blue Ribbon designated Madison River spends much of its course as a slow, straight and gentle river.  Home to a diverse trout population, the Madison River presents excellent wade fishing, float fishing and lake fishing opportunities along its waters.

Ennis and Hebgen Lakes

Formed by a dam on the Madison River, Ennis Lake lies 10 miles north of Ennis.  Because shallow depths, the water is warm in the summer months and is popular with swimmers, windsurfers, and non-motorized fishing.  Hebgen Lake is not only a destination for outdoor recreationists, but is also famous for the 1959 earthquake, which was the third largest earthquake (a magnitude of 7.5) to hit the lower 48 states. 

Virginia City
From Ennis, a 28-mile excursion takes you to the restored ghost town of Virginia City.  Enjoy a glimpse into the region's history as you pan for gold, stroll the streets on a 'ghost tour', or hop on a steam train.

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Other Resources
  • Island Park
    Island Park, Idaho is located just south of the upper Madison River Valley.
  • Montana River Action
    Based in Bozeman, Montana River Action strives to conserve and restore the rivers in Montana.