Bear Trap Canyon
It’s impossible, in a blog post, to even brush the surface of all that a summer in Southwest Montana has to offer. Even this year, when so many events have been cancelled, Montanans are spoiled for choice. Would it be possible to hike all the trails, fish all the streams, float all the rivers of Southwest Montana in a single summer? I just don’t know, but I’d be willing to try and find out.
Bear Trap Canyon, outside of Ennis, provides at least three of the most quintessential Montana summer activities. Part of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Bear Trap Canyon is a 9 mile long steep canyon wilderness–a paradise of towering canyon walls and rolling hills. A hiking trail follows the river from the trailhead south to the Ennis Dam powerhouse. The whole trails is 7.5 miles out (15 miles round trip), but one of the beauties of an out-and-back trail is that you can walk as far as you want before turning around. Bear Trap Creek–about half way down the trail–is a good turn around point and makes for a 7 mile hike. The Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area is a haven for backpackers, and Bear Trap Canyon makes for an ideal couple day backpacking adventure.
The dips down to the river frequently over the course of its 7 mile run. The Madison is one of the best fishing rivers in Montana. Although Bear Trap Canyon is less accessible than the 50-mile Riffle upstream, the looming boulders of the canyon offer extraordinary trout fishing. What’s more, since the water is coming directly from the sun-heated surface of Ennis Lake, the water stays warm and fishable throughout much of the year.
I started with hiking and fishing, but to be honest, Bear Trap Canyon is probably most famous as a world-class whitewater rafting experience. The rapids run from Class III to Class IV, and are considered among the best whitewater rapids in the state. A few outfitters run trips down the river, but private groups of experienced rafters are welcome as well.
Bear Trap Canyon brings together some of the best bits of a Montana summer–vast wildernesses, clear, beautiful rivers, extraordinary views, superb hiking, and remarkable fishing.