THINGS TO DO ON THE BACKROAD TO YELLOWSTONE

Day Trips and Adventure in Southwest Montana

The image of a family journeying miles across the country to see the proverbial “giant ball of string” leads, inevitably, to the ultimate vacation question.”What is there to do?” We humbly suggest that you will run out of time before you run out of amazing things to see and do in our part of Montana.  Here are some of our suggestions..come travel the Backroad to Yellowstone and see for yourself!

Yellowstone River

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

Begin by exploring Yellowstone National Park. El Western is just an hour from this incredible natural wonder. A day visiting the Park’s premier features might include Old Faithful and the Old Faithful Inn, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls and walking a short trail along boiling mud pots and steaming crystalline formations. Or, if you prefer, plan a day hike to a remote mountain lake to fish for “Brookies”. Whatever you choose, you’ll see amazing wildlife everywhere. We recommend taking a picnic lunch with you from Ennis as you travel scenic backroad US 287 through the Madison Valley to Yellowstone. That way you can choose a spot by a stream or in a meadow for a relaxing break. Go ahead – a little nap is just what you need at this altitude.

VIRGINIA CITY

A bit closer to home – just 16 miles – is the Historic mining town of Virginia City. For western history buffs, this is a “can’t miss” stop. For the rest of us, it is a fascinating reminder of the impact of Gold Rush fever, vigilante justice, and the wild west. Walk the boardwalks and peer into windows to the past – literally. Stores were abandoned with stocked shelves and left untouched for more than a century. All summer, Virginia City becomes a slice of living history as craftsmen and blacksmiths ply their trades and the restored steam engine chugs on its journey. Local evening entertainment includes the Illustrious Virginia City Players or the Brewery Follies. Just down the road a piece, you can pan for gold or visit Nevada City and the famous two-story outhouse and nickelodeon museum.

Day Trips

Unpack once…spend less time traveling and more time adventuring!

Located in the heart of all southwest Montana has to offer, make El Western your homebase to adventure.  Day Trips from El Western are convenient, unhurried and offer experiences for everyone.  Chose your favorite Creekside or Mountainside cabin or Lodge, settle in and then mix and match these suggestions and put together your own extended stay vacation!

Day Trip #1 – Outdoor Hiking/Riding Action and In Hot Water!

Today is as Backroad Montana as it gets!  Start your day with a horseback or hiking adventure in the Beaverhead National Forest.  Head “up Jack Creek” to the Diamond J Corrals for a trail ride or park at the trailhead for a beautiful day of hiking in the shadow of the Spanish Peaks and Lone Mountain.  Wildlife may be spotted while you picnic along Jack Creek or dip a rod for Brook Trout.
Of course, all this fresh air, sunshine and altitude will restore your soul, but wear out your body.  No problem!  A short drive north on US 287 to Norris and the Water of the Gods natural hot springs will fix you right up.  Great organic food, beer, wine and folk music – perfect!

Day Trip #2 – Golf in Mile-High Ennis

Stay close to home base.  Start your day with a great breakfast at the Ennis Pharmacy followed by a round (or two) of golf at Madison Meadows Golf Course – call ahead for tee times.

With a hearty appetite, time to have a real homemade lunch at the Pic-a-nic Basket.    At the end of it all, the Alley Bistro is ready to take your pizza order for take-out.  Visit the  287 Gallery while you wait. Or dine-in and have a casual dinner with a wide-ranging menu.

Day Trip #3 – Explore Ennis

Sleep a little late and stop at the Pic-a-nic Basket for a breakfast sandwich or delicious homebaked pastry.  Now is a great time to stroll check out the shops on the Ennis Main Street.  We love Cabin Creek, The Trading Post, Plain Janes and Benji’s for gifts and clothes.  There is a great art scene in Ennis!  Visit the Riverstone Gallery and take in the amazing outdoor sculptures on the Ennis Art Walk   Round out the day with a stop at Willie’s Distillery and try the cocktail of the day and listen to some live music.  The G-Bar and Brewery is just across the street when hunger hits again!

Day Trip #4 – Lewis & Clark Caverns

Have a Lewis & Clark adventure today!  Put on walking shoes and throw water and snacks into your backpack and drive north about 45 miles on US Hwy 287 to MT Hwy 2 and follow the signs to Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park.  Viewing the caverns is especially fun for kids because it involves some climbing and scrambling in a really cool place.  After a tour of the caverns, grab a snack and get back on the road (US Hwy 287) to Three Forks.  A great lunch stop is the Wheat Montana Bakery at the intersection of US Hwy 287 and I-90.

Once everyone has refueled, the next stop is the famous Lewis & Clark discovery of the headwaters of the Missouri River at Missouri Headwaters State Park.  The Madison, Gallatin and Jefferson Rivers converge here.  It was a significant milestone in their epic journey.    Your day might include a dinner at the Pompey’s Grill in Three Forks – reservations suggested.  Returning to Ennis will take about an hour from Three Forks with great sunset views from the top of Norris Hill.

Day Trip #5 – Road Trip to Bannack

Today’s adventure includes history, landmarks, shopping and fine dining with a round trip of just under 200 miles.  Head out of town on State Hwy 287 (not to be confused with US Hwy 287).  Pass through Virginia and Nevada Cities (Day 2) and continue through the wide open Ruby Valley to Twin Bridges.  Keep an eye out for pheasants, cranes, and turkeys along the road.

Stop at the Winston Rod Company for the fisherman in your group.  As you get close to Dillon, a famous rock formation on your right was the landmark that Sacajawea used to lead Lewis and Clark to her home.  Grab lunch in Dillon and hunt for bargains at the Patagonia Outlet store.   Just outside Dillon is Bannack State Park.  Unlike Virginia City, Bannack is a true ghost town with well-preserved buildings and a fascinating gold rush history of its own.   On your return to Ennis, a dinner stop at the Old Hotel in Twin Bridges is an excellent choice for a fine dining experience (reservations recommended).  Or return for a more casual dinner at the Alley Bistro.

Day Trip#6 – Get a City Fix 

Just an hour from Ennis is Bozeman, Montana.  The population is nearing 50k, so it is not a BIG city, but it is a pretty nice place to spend a day – if you like that sort of thing!  There is lots of information on Bozeman, but the Museum of the Rockies is excellent and the Downtown Main Street area has good energy and lots of shops and dining.  It is an easy day of driving as you go through Bear Trap Canyon and enjoy the views.  The return trip offers a late-day vista at the top of Norris Hill with sunset on the Madison Range that is breathtaking.   Stock up on groceries, get a fast-food fix and then come on back to the real Montana.

Day Trip #7 – Quake Lake on the way to Yellowstone National Park

Include a visit to Yellowstone National Park before, during or after your Backroad vacation and have all the fun with fewer crowds.  On your Backroad to Yellowstone route, plan time to explore the Quake Lake Geological Area and Visitor’s Center.  

This astounding story of disaster and survival is well documented and provides a chance to take short hikes along the drive beginning about 40 miles south of Ennis on US 287.  Worth a stop for breakfast or lunch is the Campfire Lodge.  There is also great fishing and hiking options in this area.

 For up-to-date information on things to do in the Madison Valley and Ennis please visit

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