If Montana is all about outdoor recreation and western history, then the Ennis Area is the state’s poster child. The are includes the the Madison, Beaverhead, Ruby, Big Hole, and Jefferson Rivers, some of the premier fly fishing streams in the whole state. Right next door are Virginia City and Nevada City, open air museums with Montana hospitality. Many visitors stop because Ennis is on the route between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, but people in the know know that the area is a destination in its own right. There’s plenty to do in the Ennis/Virginia city Area, so why not add these to your itinerary!
1. Fish the Madison
Ennis is perhaps most famous as one of Montana’s best fly fishing destinations. Trout love the “Fifty Mile Riffle” of the Madison River that stretches from Quake Lake to Bear Trap Canyon, and as a result, so do fly fishers. There are few better places to try out your new high-tech rod from R.L. Winston, or classic bamboo rod from Sweetgrass Rods. Ennis is also home to the Ennis Fish Hatchery, an essential link in sustaining Montana’s Rainbow Trout population.
2. Brews and Spirits
Quench your thirst at one of the region’s breweries or distilleries. Brunt Tree Brewing, right next to the famous Gravely Bar in Ennis, is dedicated to brewing quality beers that make the perfect complement to Ennis’ outdoor activities. Or, stroll across the street to the Willie’s Distillery. For the last decade, Willie’s has been providing Southwest Montana with award-winning bourbon, whiskey, vodka, moonshine, and other spirits. In Sheridan, Ruby Valley Brew combines a cozy, rejuvenating atmosphere with delicious microbrews.
3. Bear Trap Canyon
On the western edge of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area, the twisting Bear Trap Canyon features 9 miles of some of the Madison River’s best whitewater rafting. Though best known as a rafter’s paradise, the 7.5 mile long trail (15 miles round trip) allows hikers to enjoy the beauty of the river at their own pace, and the area lures backpackers with the rewarding promise of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
4. Cousins Candy Shop
A Virginia City institution, Cousins absolutely delivers on the promise of high-quality homemade treats and an old-fashioned candy-store vibe. The video above really says it all.
5. RL Winston Rod Company – Twin Bridges
Since 1929 the R.L. Winston Rod Company has been on the cutting edge of fly rod design. In 1976, the company left the San Francisco Bay area to move to Twin Bridges, and who can blame them? Situated where the Big Hole, Ruby, and Beaverhead rivers come together to form the Jefferson, and only a short drive from Ennis, Twin is a fly fishing paradise. The rods at R.L. Winston are carefully crafted in Twin Bridges by people who know exactly what fly fishers need, because they’re fishers themselves.
6. Jessen Park & Bill White Bike Camp – Twin Bridges
Twin Bridges isn’t just a destination for anglers. It is also situated at the crossroads of two of Adventure Cycling’s most popular routes–the Trans America Trail and the Lewis and Clark trail. For over a decade, the Bill White Camp in Twin’s lovely Jessen has offered a welcome refuge to cyclists making their way through the area. Jessen Park itself sits on the banks of the Beaverhead and offers a welcome picnic site.
7. Take the Short Line from Virginia City to Nevada City
It may not be the quickest means of traveling the mile and a half between Virginia City and Nevada City, but the Short Line is certainly one of the most fun. Visitors love the taking this narrow gauge track between two of Montana’s absolute best ghost towns. The scenery is beautiful, and the accompanying tour is interesting and informational.
8. Virginia City Players and Brewery Follies
If you are looking for entertainment in the area, then you need look no further than the Virginia City Players or the Brewery Follies. Evoking a turn-of-the-century spirit, the VC players offer family-friendly melodramas and vaudeville. You get singing, dancing, slapstick, jokes, and drama all bundled together. Across town, the Brewery Follies offer a hilarious sketch-comedy sort of show in a cabaret atmosphere. As they describe the show on their website, the Brewery Follies “don’t use many of the ‘four letter words’, but our jokes refer to what those ‘four letter words’ mean.”
9. Virginia City Tours
There is so much history to explore in Virginia City, and so many excellent ways to explore it. You should definitely take time to just wander around the town, but why not check out one of the tour companies? Get a guided tour while riding on a classic 1941 fire truck. Or, if a fire truck from the ’40s seems too unbearably modern, why not hop aboard a stagecoach, wagon, or sleigh with Vigilante Carriages. The town takes on a different feel when the sun starts to set, and if you take a Ghost Tour, you begin to realize what the ‘ghost’ in ‘ghost town’ is all about.
10. Ennis Art Walk
As you strolling around Ennis, be sure to take a look at all of the public art on display. From the world’s largest ‘hand-tied’ fly to sculptures by Jim Dolan and giant creatively painted trout, the sculptures and signs of Ennis are charming and surprising. Stop by the the Chamber of Commerce for a guide, buy an ice cream cone, and wander the town.
11. Quake Lake
As you follow the Madison River south from Ennis, you are suddenly met by the jarring site of Quake Lake. Created by an earthquake in 1959, the scree banks and still-standing trees give the lake a raw-edge feeling. There is a visitor’s center with info about the earthquake. And, because the lake is part of the Madison River, the fishing is terrific. Whether on the shore or in a boat, you’re sure to find massive trout lurking around the timber snags of the lake.
If you choose to travel through Southwest Montana, make sure you are up-to-date on the latest travel information for the State!