Madison River Information


The Madison, otherwise known as “the fifty-mile riffle” runs from its origin inside Yellowstone National Park to meet the Gallatin and Jefferson to form the Missouri River near Three Forks. It is one of the most well known and widely used rivers in our area, and for good reason. Excellent trout fishing draws anglers from around the world. Campers and recreational floaters love it’s easy access and lots of put in and take outs. There are several stretches of renowned whitewater rapids for the more adventurous people. 

The character of the Madison is typically more shallow and wide than some of its other counterparts in the area. The most famous stretch through the Madison valley is full of braids, islands, and riffly water that makes for incredible trout habitat. You definitely will want solid wading boots, as the shallower water, slippery rocks and faster current of the Madison River is not the most forgiving. When you’re rowing a boat you have to constantly be on the lookout for gravel bars and rocks. 

The Madison is typically divided into three sections: the Park stretch, the Upper Madison, and the Lower Madison. 

The Park Stretch

The Madison River forms from the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole rivers on the western side of Yellowstone National Park. The main road stays within sight of the river for much of its journey through the park, until it dips down and heads toward Hebgen Lake. This stretch is home to bison, elk, deer, foxes, and many other iconic Yellowstone Park animals. The water is generally more calm through the park than other stretches of the Madison, and the fishing can be stellar.

A national park pass is required to reach the river inside the park, but it’s worth it.

The Upper Madison

The Upper Madison River begins below Hebgen dam, and ends at Ennis Lake. This is the longest stretch of the Madison and the one that receives the most pressure. It is also arguably the finest trout river in the country. Once it flows out of Hebgen Dam, there is a short section until it hits Quake Lake. The section, known as Between The Lakes, has limited access and gets a good amount of pressure. Be ready to walk a while to get some peace and quiet. Hebgen and Quake Lake also offer great fishing, as well as other recreational opportunities. 

As the Madison River continues down the valley, it passes many names fly fishermen know by heart. Three Dollar Bridge, Palisades, Reynold’s Pass, Varney Bridge. There are numerous fishing access sites provided by the state, allowing many different combinations of floats and lots of wading access. Once the Madison passes by the town of Ennis, it braids out into a spectacular section of small channels and pocket water to nearby Ennis Lake.  

The Lower Madison

The Lower Madison begins below Ennis Lake, and ends at the confluence with the Jefferson and Gallatin in Three Forks. For some 9 miles below the lake, the river flows through Bear Trap Canyon. Bear Trap is a designated wilderness area and offers spectacular scenery. This is the best whitewater on the Madison River, and the float trip through the canyon is one to add on any whitewater fanatics list. A hiking trail runs the length of the canyon and gives easy access to the river for fishermen, kayakers, hikers, and anyone who wants to enjoy the scenery. 

From the mouth of Bear Trap to nearby Black’s Ford is one of the most popular floats for recreational tubers and rafters during the summer time. It takes approximately 4-5 hours to complete and the quiet character of the water can easily be handled by a tube. Highway 89 runs along this stretch of the Madison and there are numerous spots to access the river and camp. 

From Black’s Ford to Three Forks, access gets much more scarce with only two boat ramps between the two. This section has less trout but is gaining popularity with waterfowl hunters and those seeking solitude. 

Enjoying the Lower Madison.

Top 3 Madison River Floats

Madison Float No. 1: Palisades to McAtee

This float has it all. Incredible scenery, great fishing, and lots of room to just relax and watch the world go by. This upper stretch of the Upper Madison truly lives up to its nickname of the Fifty Mile Riffle. When the salmonflies hatch in late June, this is the place to be. The quick pace and shallow depth does require you to be on the ball with your rowing.

Madison Float No. 2: Varney Bridge to Ennis

This is a serious fisherman’s float. There is enough water here to work all day long and then some. You can either float straight through, or get out and work the spots that look especially tempting. For an oarsman it can be a bit more challenging with channels, braids, sweepers, and plenty of rocks hiding just below the surface. All year long, this is one of our favorite floats in the entire state.

Madison Float No. 3: Warm Springs to Black’s Ford

This is the classic float for the Lower Madison, and as such don’t expect to have it to yourself. Especially during the peak of summer, this stretch gets a lot of traffic from tubers, rafters, and recreational river users. Fishermen will enjoy this float in the spring and fall, especially during the famed Mother’s Day Caddis hatch. This float will take between 4-5 hours and is a wonderful option for a relaxing float with the family.

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