Exploring Ennis

Summer along the Madison.

Sixty miles southwest of Bozeman, in the heart of Madison Valley, lies Ennis. Originally a place of annual pilgrimage for the Shoshone, Flathead, and Bannack Indians, Ennis remains to this day a place frequented by seasonal visitors. This summer, plan your own pilgrimage. Whether seeking an authentic Western experience (the world-famous Fourth of July Rodeo should fit the bill), some quiet off-the-grid time, or a wet line, Ennis makes the perfect “stage stop.”

Adventure & Endurance
In 2016, the Greater Yellowstone Adventure Series hosts six events, four of which take place during the summer. Like to bike, then run? The 5th annual Madison Duathlon, on June 10, promises to challenge participants with a 14-mile bike ride, then a seven-mile run over the Gold Miners Trail between Ennis and Virginia City. Once you’ve recovered from this, you might be in good enough shape to attempt the 9th annual Madison Marathon on July 23. Billed as the “Highest Road Marathon on Earth,” the full and half-marathons take place at 9,000 feet above sea level. Perhaps running downhill seems more appealing? Then the Big Sky Marathon should suffice, as it’s the second-longest downhill road marathon on the planet. These races will take place on July 24 and will provide runners with an astounding downhill trot of 3,651feet. Swim, bike, and run? On August 7, contestants can do all three in the 5th annual Madison Triathlon. A 1,200-yard swim in Ennis Lake, followed by a 23-mile pedal up Hwy. 287 from Harrison, topped off by a six-mile run to the little town of Pony. In addition to the aforementioned races, the GYAS has also planned Montana’s first half-ironman on September 4. Over 88 miles of swimming, biking, and running will take participants from Ennis Lake all the way over to the Madison County fairgrounds in Twin Bridges. For information, entry deadlines, and fees visit themadisonmarathon.com.

Take a Hike, or Bike
Situated between two mountain ranges—the Gravellys and the Madisons—Ennis makes for a great trail-day destination. Several options exist for a variety of hikes or rides.

For a day hike, Bear Trap Canyon is hard to beat. Not only does this hike offer stunning vistas from the east bank of the Madison River, it also provides a good way to get above the ever-present tubing crowd on the lower river. Approximately seven miles, this trail is generally moderate along its route, but be aware that this is rattlesnake country and you should plan accordingly. Access this trail via the Bear Trap Canyon trailhead off Hwy. 287.

Quite possibly one of the most scenic overnights in the Madison Range, the hike to the Sphinx and Helmet Mountain is a must-do. This trail is an 11.5-mile loop, but that seemingly short distance is a very serious and difficult climb. Due to the steep nature of this hike and the scenic beauty of the area, it’s best enjoyed as an overnight or longer. Access the trail via the Bear Creek trailhead off of Bear Creek Rd. There are some good campsites along the Trail Fork or Middle Fork of Bear Creek. This is bear country so plan accordingly.

One of the more unique mountain-bike rides in the area is a pedal on Gravelly Range Rd. This road runs approximately 72 miles across the Gravelly Range between Ennis and the Centennial Valley, and with proper planning it has the potential for an overnight epic. However, because it’s accessible to any four-wheel drive, don’t expect to be alone.

Grub & Beverages
While not likely to make an appearance on any of Anthony Bourdain’s gastronomy-inspired television programs, Ennis and the surrounding area have become a good bet for the classic summer eat ‘n’ drink event.

Like hot dogs? Then head west from Ennis to Virginia City for the Dog and Grog, an annual tube-steak-and-microbrew fest. Hosted by the Bale of Hay Saloon, this event features beers from several Montana breweries, live music, and of course, food. For more information and a complete music lineup, visit baleofhaysaloon.com.

If craft beer and local spirits happen to pique your interest, the Moods Brew and Spirit Fest is an event not to be missed. On July 3, 25 breweries and ten Montana distilleries come together, along with food vendors to help soak up all those tasty libations. To round things off, Cure for the Common, Fool’s Gold, and Ethan Kunard will perform live. For safety and the sake of common sense, camping accommodations are available adjacent to the event for a small donation. All proceeds go to support the Moods of the Madison Music Festival, a rip-roaring musical bonanza held in Ennis on the weekend of July 15-16. For more information, visit moodsbrewandspiritfest.com.

Ennis is understatedly a fly-fishing town with a ranching addiction. Depending on one’s experience level, great fishing can be had a stone’s throw away from almost any street corner. That being said, Ennis also plays host to a couple noteworthy fishing-centered events that are well worth checking out.

On Sunday June 19, the Ennis Lions Club hosts its annual Father’s Day fishing derby at the Lions Club Park pond. This event offers kids 12 and under the opportunity to catch some serious slabs while under the tutelage of dear old Dad. Prizes and swag will be awarded to various age categories. Following the derby, the Lions throw down a belly-busting cookout that frees Pop from coming up with lunch options. 

Over the course of Labor Day weekend, the Madison River Foundation hosts the 14th annual Ennis on the Madison Fly Fishing Festival. Held at Peter T’s Park downtown, this event celebrates all facets of the “quiet sport.” Among the offerings are casting clinics, competitions, fly-tying demos, and a kids’ program, just to name a few. Various tackle and gear companies will also be on hand with the latest offerings, and there’s a raffle for a fully equipped driftboat. For more information, visit madisonriverfoundation.org.