Matt if you didn’t live in Montana, what would you include in your ultimate road trip to the Big Sky State?
Mine would include lots and lots of rivers and fly fishing. If it was my ultimate road trip I wouldn’t do anything less than two weeks. Way too much to fish in this state!!
*Here’s a breakdown of what I would do day by day. I hope this helps you in planning your ultimate dream vacation to Montana.*
Day 1 thru 3: Fly into Billings, MT. This is my hometown and it’s a great place to start your journey. Stop in at the Burger Dive and get yourself one of the best burgers before you start your road trip. Then head west to Billings best fly shop and one of the best fly shops in the state East Rosebud Fly Shop. Rich is an entertaining and genuine guy that will help you with your fly selection and give you a good taste of Montana hospitality.
Big Horn River, Fort Smith MT
End your day 1 with ending up at the Big Horn River in Montana. There are lots of places to choose from when picking lodging. You can camp at the many campsites or if you want a lodge you can do that as well. I guide out of The Big Horn Trout Shop and they can help you with anything you might need and our some of the greatest people you’ll meet.
The Big Horn River is one of the best tail waters in Montana and the world. Your looking at an average fish population of 5,000 fish per mile on the upper stretches of the Big Horn. I would suggest floating the upper 3 miles the first day and then the second day do Bighorn access to 13 mile.
Make sure you check out Garrisons Stroker Resort after your day of fishing for great food and great people. Just remember to bring your own beer or wine because this area is in a dry community.
Stillwater River, Columbus MT
Day 4: Let’s start heading west and go to the river I grew up on with my dad. I have fished this river since I was 10 and has a very special place in my heart. You get great fly fishing plus rapids. You’ll head to Columbus, MT to find this gem. Go into the local fly shop Stillwater Anglers and the owner Chris will help you with everything you need for your day on the stillwater. I would suggest hiring a guide on this river unless you plan to wade it. This is a freestone river with lots of big bugs for fun top water action. Lot’s of public access and loads of fun.
As far as lodging: There are campgrounds and hotels in the area.
Yellowstone River, Livingston MT
Day 5-6: Let’s keep going west and fish one of the most famous and the largest freestone river in the united states. You will be fishing for big browns, cutthroats, and rainbows while being surrounded by the paradise valley that makes every picture you take a perfect picture. Stop in at the Sweetwater Fly Shop near Livingston and go visit Dan Vermilion. Dan is an amazing guy that is very passionate about the rivers here in Montana. He has done so much for the fishing community and will help you in your journey big time.
You can wade the Yellowstone but to get the full effect, I would highly suggest floating it in a drift boat. You’ll be glad you did. There are so many unique beautiful floats you can do here is this valley. I suggest fishing in for at least two days.
After your tired from a hard day of fishing be sure to check out the rib and chop house in the town of Livingston. Best steaks ever!! You will be planning your next trip here just for that steak.
Madison River, Ennis Montana
Day 7-8: No Montana trip is complete without checking out the Madison river near Ennis, MT. This river is a fly fishing dream. Tons of riffles, big bugs, and so much beauty. There are many amazing fly shops in the area. I would suggest stopping at any one of them to get you flies for the day and just to check in. Make sure you fill your cooler with my favorite beer, Salmon Fly Honey Rye! Soooo Good!!
This is another place you’ll want to stay a couple days to get the full effect. Floating this river is my favorite thing to do but you can also have plenty of fun wading it and tons of great opportunities. Make sure to check out the Slide Inn when you are there. This is Kelly Galloup’s place and he has done so much for streamer fishing and fishing in general for us in the fly fishing industry.
Beaver head River, Dillon MT
Day 9: This is one of my favorite tail waters in all of Montana. It’s a mini Big Horn and has more of a spring creek feel to it. This is where Tracy and I have caught some of our biggest fish in the state.
This is a great river to wade with lots of public access but of course my favorite way to explore it is in my drift boat. Something about being able to float down a whole section of river and stopping wherever I want is kind of nice.
Stop in at the Frontier Anglers in Dillon, Montana to go get your bugs and a plan of where to go for the day. They are great there and will give you lots of insight. While your in Dillon make sure to check out the biggest Patagonia outlet store.
Big Hole River, Melrose MT
Day 10: You can come to Montana without experience the big hole river. Don’t let the tea color water detour you from fishing this river because that is just the norm here. Go check out Sun Rise Fly Shop in Melrose and get the scoop on what’s going on with the Big Hole that day. Fish big dries, streamers, or even nymph. Sit back and enjoy the beauty of one of the best rivers in the state.
Blackfoot River, Bonner MT
Day 11: Go check out the river that is referenced to in the famous book “The River Runs Through It”. It’s a technical row but doesn’t disappoint. Lots of fish and they are looking up for bugs on the top. One of my favorite floats in Montana for sure. Give Montana Troutaholics a call to float down this section of river. You’ll need the local knowledge plus Joel the guy is a great dude to float down the river with.
Flathead River, Whitefish MT
Day 12: This is truly as Montana as you can get!! One of the prettiest floats you can ever go on. Talk with my friend Rich at Northern Rockies Outfitters to book your trip. You will float down pristine fiji water clear waters while targeting beautiful trout in water that you can see down to the bottom almost anywhere. This is a must as well on your road trip.
Missouri River, Craig MT
Day 13 and 14: Head on over to Craig Montana to fish the mighty MO for a couple of days. I would check in to Head Hunters Fly Shop and see what’s the scoop for those days you are there. This river is one of my favorites and for a lot of people. It’s a great way to end your Montana road trip and also will make you want to come back for some more.
I hope this helps you on your adventure to the Big Sky State. There is so much to do and see here, so make sure you leave yourself with plenty of time to explore.
Have a great summer and catch a few fish.