Leaving West Yellowstone to head to Bozeman, Butte or Glacier NP? Don't follow the crowd! Google will suggest Hwy 191 to the interstate, but there is a more dramatic and less traveled route that starts 22 miles out of West Yellowstone and takes you on an amazing journey on US Highway 287. Travel past bison, big horn sheep and elk habitat, take in views of Hebgen Lake and marvel at the forces of nature unleashed at Quake Lake. Finally, drive through the incredible Madison River valley where “big sky” comes to life and discover the great western town of Ennis, Montana.
First on the drive is the crystal-blue water Hebgen Lake with its picture-perfect mountain backdrop. There are recreation options here for boaters and fishermen. Take a break at the West Fork of the Madison and park your RV or pitch a tent at the Slide Inn or or Madison Bend Campground. Or look for the marker and spend the afternoon exploring the secrets of Cliff and Wade Lakes. Drive along the Madison River and grab dinner at the Grizzly Bar Restaurant before heading up the valley. It stays light until almost 10:00 in the summer!
Another 10 miles brings you to Refuge Point and the newly-remodeled Quake Lake visitors center where the results of a 7.4 magnitude earthquake and the ghostly shadows of the trees and cabins in the bottom of the lake are visible below the enormous mountain rock slide. Just before the lake you can stop for a hearty breakfast anytime of day at the Campfire Lodge Restaurant and Cabins and dine by the rushing Madison River.
If you are inclined, it doesn't take long to string up the rod and angle for a bit in the Madison – there are numerous public fishing access points from West Yellowstone to Ennis including the dramatic Palisades cliffs, $3 Bridge, Windy Point and Story Ditch. Pick up a few tips on the hot flies and best spots at the Beartooth Fly Shop.
Up until now, Highway 287 paralleled the Madison River as the elevation dropped from over 6000' to closer to 5000'. Now the valley begins to widen and views are expansive and breathtaking. Pass the ranches that helped to build the valley and still operate today.
- A large talc mine (tours available) is seen on the east side and the popular McAtee Bridge Fishing Access is to the west.
- Stretch your legs for a bit by stopping at trailheads on the east side of the valley…Indian Creek, Bear Creek, Sphinx Mountain or Jack Creek.
- This part of the valley is winter range for elk herds that number in the hundreds and was the location for filming the mini-series “Lonesome Dove – part 2”.
About El Western Cabins & Lodges: Through the “dot” town of Cameron and the Blue Moon Saloon and another 10 miles brings you to El Western Cabins & Lodges with their signature lawns, cabins and giant spruce trees. Welcoming guests since 1948, this is an authentic Montana log cabin experience – with all the comforts. Stop in for more than a night – you are just a mile from Ennis and you can keep busy here for several days with historic western towns, fly-fishing, caverns, hiking, horseback rides, scenic drives, wildlife viewing, shopping and dining.