Filling the tourist void.
If you head to the lower Madison River any time after Labor Day Weekend, you will notice a conspicuous absence. Gone are the RVs, the inner tubes, and the boat trailers. In their place, nothing but empty campsites and unoccupied fishing holes. This is the time to head out Norris Rd. and fill that void. Summer is too hot and crowded, spring is too wet and windy, and winter is too bitter and bleak. For a short time in the fall, the lower Madison from the Red Mountain Campground to the Ennis Dam is a paradise, and that's why it's on our Fall Hit List. Set up camp for a night or two and soak up the solitude.
Who: You and yours, and not a gaggle of southern tourists. This is more a question of who won't be there. The bikini hatch is mostly over and guided floats decrease exponentially, meaning the river is once again the domain of the local.
Not a giant October brown, but it'll do
What: Riverside camping along storied trout water. While the lower Madison isn't very productive from June through August, in the fall, it returns to life with big browns fattening up for winter and looking to spawn. Stop in at any local fly shop for the latest beta on what's biting and where. Don't fish? The Bear Trap Canyon trail runs through 7.5 miles of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness and makes for a great trail run or dayhike. Feeling lazy? Hang at camp, build up a big fire, and watch the river float by.
As always, keep 'em wet
When: Any time between now and Thanksgiving, depending on your tolerance for cold. While weekends will see a bump in users, if you want the place entirely to yourself, head out for a weekday escape. The Madison is surprisingly close, a shorter drive than some Hyalite Canyon trailheads.
Where: The closer to Bear Trap Canyon the better, but look for options on both sides of the river. To access Bear Trap, take a left off of Hwy. 84 before crossing the Madison. There is a poorly marked dirt road—look for Trapper Springs Campground. This is an official BLM campground with services, but just down the road are several dispersed sites. If you choose to cross the bridge, take an immediate right at the fishing access. This is Bear Trap Rd., which you can follow for a few miles along the west side of the river. There are several more dispersed sites here.
A seasonal aberration: unoccupied riverside trail
Why: Because as locals, we deserve to enjoy Bear Trap. It's a beautiful stretch of water and the recreation access is phenomenal, but summertime tourists often give us pause. We can't blame you for neglecting Bear Trap—we sometimes go a year or two without a visit. But when we do go, we go in the off season, when riverside flora burst into color and a little planning makes for lifelong memories.
But also because it's on the O/B Fall Hit List. If you visit Bear Trap, and camp within the boundaries outlined above, you might be eligible to win a Wilderness Backpacker camp chair from GCI Outdoors. Entry is easy—just share a photo using the hashtag #OBHitList and you're entered. Click here for full contest details.