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Montana Stops on the Way

Ennis is Montana’s Drinking Town With a Fishing Problem

Northwest of Yellowstone, this colorful town holds on to its western roots.

The town of Ennis, Montana may have fewer than 1,000 residents, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in color.

Take the town’s storied past, for instance. Founder William Ennis, an Irish immigrant, and his family built the town around their home which sat just behind Yesterday’s Soda Fountain. When Ennis was in his seventies, he took a trip to the neighboring Virginia City for business. There, a business rival shot him in the chest. The intrepid pioneer lived for fifteen days before succumbing to his wounds on the 4th of July.

While the Ennis home is no longer standing, Yesterday’s Soda Fountain is. Stop in at 124 E Main St. and order the cream huckleberry – a cream soda made with the region’s famous berry. Yesterday’s is a popular spot with locals so make sure to strike up a conversation to get advice on which flies are attracting fish on the Madison.

The folks in Ennis are fond of saying, “It’s a small drinking town with a fishing problem.”

If you want to experience this drinking town, head to Willie’s Distillery. Though their spirits are sold throughout the West, Willie’s is a local operation. Stop by 312 Main St. for a tour of the distilling process before heading to their tap room. There, your bartender will teach you how to craft a cocktail out of their spirits so you can recreate your experience at home.

Robin and Willie Blazer of Willie's Distillery
Robin and Willie Blazer of Willie’s Distillery Courtesy of Willie’s Distillery

To get in on the town’s fishing problem, you’ll want to go to The Tackle Shop at 127 Main St. You can take a free Fly Fishing 101 class every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 10 a.m. This three-hour class will give you the basics you need to hit the Madison River and experience the trout-filled waters. Or, if you’re in town Sept. 2-4, 2021, stop by the Fly Fishing and Outdoor Festival to learn to cast and tie flies and to celebrate Ennis’ wild places.

Downtown Ennis, Montana
To find the Tackle Shop in downtown Ennis, just look for the giant fishing lure on top of the building. Flickr/D Convertini
Ennis Cafe
The Ennis Cafe has a fun and colorful storefront Flickr/D Convertini

Drinking and fishing are only the beginning of this colorful town.

The highlight of the year in Ennis just might be the annual 4th of July Parade and Rodeo, an event worth traveling for. The 10 a.m. parade features over 70 floats and is followed by a skydiving military veterans group. The evening starts with the NRA Rodeo Competition, which occurs on both July 3 and 4. Make sure to get there early to get good seats as all tickets are general admission. The night ends with a fifteen minute trip to nearby Virginia City, a gold mining town that’s seemingly been frozen in time, where you’ll watch a spectacular fireworks show.

Can’t make it to Ennis on the 4th? The nearby sister towns of Virginia and Nevada cities are still worth visiting. It’s like stepping back in time. There are actors posed as everyone from school teachers to cobblers. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, make sure to peruse the Star Bakery and Cousin’s Candy Shop before boarding the Virginia City Railroad, a thirty minute journey between the towns.

A sunset view of the Madison Mountain Range east of Ennis, Montana
A sunset view of the Madison Mountain Range east of Ennis, MontanaUSDA/Preston Keres Public Domain

You can’t leave Ennis without experiencing the Montana wilderness that made William Ennis fall in love with this beautiful valley. Exploring the surrounding mountains and prairies via horseback is an experience like no other. Diamond J Guest Ranch offers both a dude ranch experience and horseback rides for those not staying on the ranch. Adventures Outfitting offers multi-day pack trips to really get you away from it all in the Montana backcountry, as well as single-day trail rides.

“You can’t put a finger on what makes Ennis so special,” muses Robin Blazer, owner of Willie’s Distillery. “This place is magical. You can’t understand it until you drive through it.”

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