Entering Yellowstone at the western entrance, many travelers are on a mission to simply get to Madison Junction – and on to Old Faithful or beyond.
However don’t lose sight of the journey as your travel the fourteen miles from West Yellowstone to Madison Junction. This meandering road offers pristine and glorious scenery that is worth taking a a moment to breathe in.
The ‘Madison’ Road welcomes visitors with lush river valleys against the backbone of the Yellowstone caldera and Madison Canyon. The Madison rivers hugs the road, shimmering against the sunlight as the road bends and breaks.
I love this drive because (in spite of traffic) – it is a quiet pristine primer for the rest of Yellowstone.
The Madison River is one of the best fly-fishing spots in the world. The river runs 183 miles from Wyoming to Montana. It a headwater tributary of the mighty Missouri (Three Forks, MT)
The river rises in Yellowstone at the confluence of the park’s Firehole and Gibbon Rivers at Madison Junction. The river’s nineteen mile sojourn in Yellowstone provides stunning views and amazing fishing for pro-anglers (catch and release).
River Facts: Rivers and Roads are part of the fabric of Yellowstone Country. The Madison River was named in July 1805 by Meriwether Lewis at Three Forks. The central fork of the three, it was named for U.S. Secretary of State James Madison, who would succeed Thomas Jefferson as President in 1809. The western fork, the largest, was named for President Jefferson and the east fork for Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin.
Lewis and Clark navigated the Yellowstone River but did not reach Yellowstone. They were close though – stopping roughly 55 miles north of Mammoth Hot Springs in present day Livingston MT (Sacajawea Riverfront Park)
Highlights along this nineteen mile byway include:
Two Ribbons turnout – a wheelchair accessible interpretative riverfront trail
Riverside Drive – one of my favorite detour drives in the park – this quick roadside drives gives you upfront views of the Madison River and Gallatin Mountains in the background. I have seen Eagles at this spot and love to take photos on the stretch of road (stopping at the turnout of course)
*pro tip* – don’t stop in the middle of the road for photos – this backs up traffic – use the turnouts to get your perfect camera shot – turnouts are plentiful
Also don’t try to drive past wildlife on the road – or honk at them. Be patient – you are visiting their home.
Don’t speed – the park really is meant to be enjoyed at forty-five miles per hour – not to slow you don’t but to prevent accidents (road collisions, animal collisions)
Hiking – lots of great hiking trails in this area – I recommend Harlequin Lake – which takes you to a backcountry lake with gorgeous lilypads. The Harlequins are gone – but you will see birds and other wildlife
Roadside you’ll encounter Madison Canyon and the remnants of the Yellowstone Caldera wall…The Madison River flows between the 1000 foot walls of the former lava flow.
Mt. Haynes and National Park Mountain are towering monunments of stone and perfect spots for a photo op.
You will often see Elk and Bison in the National Park Mountain area.
Madison Junction is one of my favorite camping spots for a quick YNP stay (2 days) given it’s location (halfway between West YNP and Old Faithful and proximity to the Upper and Lower Loops). The backdrop of the camground is stunning – located right on the cusp of the river, in a lush valley surrounded by trees and mountains.
In the distance you may even see steam rising from Fountain Paint Pots (thermal features).
The campground is large, but only issue is lack of showers and no on site camp store. However you are only 30 minutes from West Yellowstone (grocery/food) and 30 minutes from Old Faithful. We used to eat dinner at Old Faithful then return to sleep at Madison after a long day of fun and adventure.