FRESHWATER OPTIONS FOR THE FAMILY
**Please note, some of these recommendations are not, in fact, turn-key lodges. Our recommendations include fly fishing experiences such as float trips on iconic western rivers.
In the fourth installment of our Yellow Dog recommended “family-friendly” destinations, here’s a look at some of our favorite freshwater locales in the U.S. Any of these locations can provide the family vacation of a lifetime (and a little — or a lot! — fishing on the side).
We actually rank and rate each of our destinations based on exactly how “family-friendly” they are, taking into consideration such factors as the availability of non-angling activities, specific programs and services for non-anglers, separate non-angler rates, and more. We combined all of this information with the realities of exactly how good and how diverse the fishing is as well. In the end, we’re able to offer a number of lodge and destination options that can easily cater to a mixed angling / non-angling couple, while at the same time offering a great overall fishing experience.
1. Gallatin River Lodge (Bozeman, Montana)
On a 350-acre ranch just outside the town of Bozeman, Montana sits the Gallatin River Lodge, a full-service fishing lodge situated within easy striking distance of the Yellowstone River, the Lower Gallatin, the Upper and Lower Madison, and numerous spring creeks and lakes (all less than an hour’s drive from the Lodge). As for “home waters,” a short walk across a meadow on the Lodge property leads to two miles of private access on the Gallatin River, excellent water for both brown and rainbow trout. Your room is the perfect place to return to after a long day on the water and the exceptionally comfortable accommodations are matched nicely by the outstanding cuisine. The Gallatin River Grill and Bar has rightfully earned its reputation of serving the best food in Bozeman, with a menu featuring a wide range of entrees and appetizers plus nightly specials to choose from.
2. Madison Valley Ranch (Ennis, Montana)
The backyard of the Madison Valley Ranch is a fly fisherman’s playground. You can escape from the hectic pace of everyday life and indulge in a luxury adventure where all the details are someone else’s worries. With the details handled by the ranch’s attentive team, you can focus on what truly matters. With friends, family, or colleagues, enjoy a memorable time together while immersed in the much-revered culture of Montana fly fishing and the thrill of “fish on.” The Madison Valley Ranch is located on the banks of the “Channels” section of the world-famous Madison River, three miles outside the quintessential fly fishing town of Ennis. Centrally located in the heart of Southwestern Montana, the Ranch provides excellent access to a variety of blue ribbon wild trout fisheries. The Ranch is among the nicest and best-run operations in all of Montana, with beautiful rooms, great amenities, and a kitchen staff that takes pride in serving gourmet meals. For a completely Western-style family vacation, the ranch offers non-angling activities, including horseback riding, touring Yellowstone National Park, hunting, hiking, and sightseeing.
3. Absaroka Beartooth Outfitters (Montana)
Absaroka-Beartooth Outfitters operates a five-day backcountry trip which consists of three days of fishing for virtually untouched native cutthroat trout on Hellroaring Creek. Each day of fishing is spent walking and wading either above or below camp on Hellroaring Creek. In between the riding and fishing, time is spent in the comfortable base camp eating hearty meals, telling stories & jokes around the campfire, and playing a few rounds of horseshoes. Non-anglers can also swim in nearby alpine lakes, and search the surrounding hills for geodes and Native American artifacts. This is the perfect trip for families wanting to experience the real Montana backcountry!
4. Smith River Float (Montana)
There is one trip that the entire Yellow Dog team looks forward to every spring, a trip that many of us Montanans consider the best trip of the year – the Smith River float. This is a fully-guided float trip on the pristine, protected, and isolated waters, covering 60 river miles and winding through a scenic and remote canyon over the course of five days. Fly fishing the Smith River, one will primarily catch brown trout, although there are also populations of rainbows, cutthroat, and brook trout as well. When you arrive at camp at the end of each day, spacious two-person tents are already pitched, the camp is set up, dinner is cooking, and drinks are ready.
5. Sunrise Pack Station (Yellowstone National Park)
Sunrise Pack Station specializes in horseback riding adventures, day rides, and fishing vacations into the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park. They offer a unique vacation experience. Whether you are an educationally-oriented family, a fisherman looking for a remote trout fishing experience, or if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of ordinary life while enjoying the wilderness of Yellowstone, Sunrise Pack Station can accommodate you. They provide professionally guided and accredited horseback trips inside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. Their gentle horses and mules will carry both you and your belongings to comfortable camps surrounded by the pristine scenery of Yellowstone National Park. Well-trained guides will prepare delicious meals, see to your comfort, and create a cozy camp atmosphere.
6. Tightlines Outfitters (Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho)
Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness area and the Sawtooth Mountains is certainly one of the most secluded and rugged regions in the lower 48. Carving its way directly through the center of this wilderness area is the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The class three and four rapids, abundant wildlife, and typically crystal-clear waters make this one of the most treasured multi-night camping float trips available anywhere in the western U.S. On a typical Middle Fork trip, you will float for roughly 100 miles through an ancient granite rock canyon utilizing classic McKenzie-style drift boats. This fishery has been managed by the state of Idaho as a catch and release fishery since 1973, making it one of the best fisheries in the northwest for both numbers of fish and for consistently good action on a dry fly. If you are someone who loves to throw dry flies and are seeking a fully-outfitted, wild, multi-day float trip, then this trip is a must!
7. Brooks Lodge (Katmai National Park, Alaska)
Overall, this may be the best family destination in Alaska. Located at the gateway to Katmai National Park, Brooks Lodge is the ideal location for both the do-it-yourself angler and those looking to do more than simply fish. This historic lodge sits on the shores of Naknek Lake, adjacent to the productive fishing waters of the Brooks River. Nearby run the world-famous Brooks Falls – home to the best brown bear viewing in all of Alaska. Non-anglers can participate in numerous bear viewing activities, area “flight-seeing,” hiking, bird watching, photography, kayaking, and guided Park Service trips to the nearby “Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.” Anglers can be guided on the Brooks River and other area fisheries or can choose to wade fish on their own.
8. Tordrillo Mountain Lodge (Alaska Range, Alaska)
Set at the base of one of the most geographically diverse mountain ranges in all of Alaska, Tordrillo Mountain Lodge is one of the finest and most unique operations we have come across in Alaska – if not the world. Located at the foothills of the Tordrillo Mountain range on the beautiful Judd Lake and outlet of the Talachulitna River, Tordrillo Mountain Lodge offers anglers and outdoor enthusiasts numerous options for fishing and adventure – all in a beautiful, high-end, relaxed environment.
A quick 40-minute floatplane charter from Anchorage delivers you to the Lodge, with great home water and tons of angling and non-angling options for all group members. Equipped with access to an arsenal of helicopters and watercraft, you will be fishing each day on different waters that have primarily remained untouched due to rugged terrain and little room for conventional floatplane aircraft. The Lodge also offers one of the most exclusive fishing/heli-skiing combo package trips in the entire U.S. called “Cast and Carve,” where you can cast to running king salmon and ski untracked corn snow all in one day!
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