When touring Yellowstone there are plenty of camping opportunities outside the boundaries of this National Park that present good options. Camping in the neighboring National Forests and BLM public lands is what many casual travelers do, because the campgrounds inside Yellowstone are usually booked solid through the peak summer tourism season. The travel time back and forth to Yellowstone is not bad and the public lands campsite fees are cheap, so there is an incentive to set up a basecamp offsite when touring this vast wilderness area. The neighboring public lands campgrounds also tend to be less crowded, so there is some extra breathing room to be found too.
When touring the National Parks in Wyoming and Montana, a high percentage of visitors plan to tour both Yellowstone and Glacier National Park during the same trip because of the proximity and because this option offers a solid week of sightseeing adventures. After completing the Yellowstone tour, this is where the neighboring public lands campgrounds come into play in southwestern Montana. By exiting Yellowstone in the afternoon and following the Madison River north into southern Montana to campout overnight, a traveler will logistically be in a very good spot. After camping overnight near Ennis, Montana it is easy to drive to Glacier National Park up by the Canadian Border and set up camp before sundown. The popularity of the Yellowstone-Glacier travel plan is one of the reasons why there are so many public lands campgrounds in southwestern Montana along the Madison River.
One of the best BLM campgrounds along the Madison River can be found in the Palisades Recreation Area. This campground is located on the banks of the river in a very picturesque glacial valley that is surrounded by distant mountain peaks. The old historic town of Ennis is about 25 miles north on Highway 287 and modern amenities can be found there. Ennis is an outdoorsman's paradise and anything that can possibly be needed for a hunting, fishing or camping adventure is available in this place.
The reason why the town of Ennis comes into play is because the BLM Recreation Areas along the Madison River are top destinations for fly fishermen and autumn season hunters. The surrounding National Forests are deep in this region, so wildlife spotting and birding can be done everywhere in this valley. Deer and elk are the most commonly spotted and an occasional moose can be seen too. Because of the surrounding hills, this is mountain lion territory, so it pays to keep pets and children within view. Bears roam the banks of the river looking for food and the bears are mighty big in these parts, so it pays to practice Bear Safe food storage too.
The Palisades Recreation Are is just a short distance from the Ruby Recreation Area, which was featured in a previous article. Both of these BLM Recreation Areas offer the same kind of venue, but the Ruby Recreation Area is on the other side of the Madison River and it has a boat launch. The Palisades Recreation Area has a riverside day use picnic area and a campground with 10 campsites. Some of the campsite slips are big enough for a large RV or trailer, while others are better suited for car and tent camping. There are facilities and fire rings on site, so Palisades is a good spot for setting up a basecamp.
During my autumn season visit, the rain was pouring down during my short Yellowstone tour and it was still raining when I decided to call it a day at the Palisades Recreation Area later in the evening. I was on my way to Glacier and I wanted to get an early start, so sleeping in the vehicle was the choice, instead of waiting for the tent to dry the following morning. The rain broke for just long enough to cook a hot meal and a tremendous bright rainbow took shape at that exact moment. The big rainbow glowed so bright that it was a true spectacle to see and where it contacted the ground it looked like splashing colors! The photos certainly do show that the Palisades Recreation Area is a great place to be when a storm breaks and the sunlight starts shining through!
As mentioned earlier, there are several BLM Recreation Areas along the Madison River from the Wyoming-Montana Border north to Ennis. They all offer great views and wildlife watching opportunities. The fishing is so good that when one visitor parked the camper trailer, the first thing he did was grab a fly rod and he actually did a full bore sprint down to the water! The Palisades Recreation Area definitely is a nice place to campout in big sky country!
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