The Lee Metcalf Wilderness consists of four separate units distributed across the Madison Range in southwest Montana. The Bear Trap Canyon unit is administered by the Bureau of Land Management and is the smallest of the four units. The Spanish Peaks, Taylor Hilgard, and Monument Mountain units are administered by the Forest Service and are located in the Gallatin and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests. The Lee Metcalf includes a variety of physical and biological communities ranging from the low-elevation Bear Trap Canyon on the Madison River (about 4,500 feet) to alpine ridges and peaks above 11,000 feet. There are no active glaciers in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, although the high cirque basins and U-shaped drainages provide evidence of Pleistocene glaciation. The Wilderness receives variable precipitation, from an average of 11 inches in the Bear Trap to over 60 inches in the Madison Range. At their most extreme, winter temperatures can drop as low as -30 degrees F and climb as high as 100 degrees in the summer, but seldom do. Temperatures are more moderate in the spring and fall. Treeline is generally around 9,000 to 10,000 feet. Between treeline and the high rocky peaks, alpine and sub-alpine vegetation is dominant. Wildlife is abundant throughout the Wilderness and includes mountain goats, bighorn sheep, black and grizzly bears, moose, elk, cougars, and wolves. Cutthroat, rainbow, and brook trout can be found in the lakes and streams. In total, there are 300 miles of trail and 28 trailheads that provide access to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
Hiking access to Bear Trap Canyon is from the north end of the canyon only. To reach the trailhead, follow State Highway 84 west from Bozeman. Just before the highway crosses the Madison River, and directly across from the Red Mountain Campground, a gravel road intersects the highway on the left and leads upstream on the east side of the river to the trailhead.
Floating access is from the south end of the canyon, near the Madison Powerhouse. The boat launch provides access to a Class IV segment of whitewater river through the canyon --experienced boaters only. Floaters can reach the canyon from U.S. Highway 287, 7 miles north of Ennis, at McAllister. Turn east on a gravel road towards Ennis Lake, follow for approximately 7 miles -- past the lake, across a bridge, into the canyon, past the dam, to the powerhouse. Floaters should unload at the launch site, but park upstream in the Fall Creek parking area (interpretive site). Do not park at the powerhouse!
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
The Bear Trap Canyon Wilderness Visitors Guide is available upon request.
Hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting and kayaking, hunting, backpacking.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
Weather conditions vary greatly, even within the same day! Be prepared for your trip into the wilderness by bringing clothing and equipment essential for safe travel.
Safety and Current Conditions
Be alert for rattlesnakes, bears, and other wildlife, as well as poison ivy.
Whitewater boaters should be experienced, and equipped to safely navigate Class IV whitewater. As river flows increase above 2,200 cfs difficulty increases, and at very high flows is not safely runnable by even the most experienced boaters.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.