- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2016

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) - In contrast to the whitewater raging down parts of the Gallatin River, Montana is also home to calmer waters with accompanying mountain views and wildlife, perfect for novice canoeists.

The Chronicle has put together a short list of locations great for new paddlers looking to have the best summer ever.

Lower Madison River

Located near Three Forks, Missouri Headwaters State Park offers the newbie with lots of possibilities on the Madison River. As the Madison combines with the Gallatin and Jefferson rivers to form the Missouri, it begins to ox-bow, slowing and splitting in multiple channels.

Park ranger Dave Andrus recommends putting in at the Milwaukee Fishing Access Site on Frontage Road. From there it’s a five-mile float to the confluence with the Jefferson, a good place to take out inside the park. This line takes between one and two hours, with lots of birds as well as some Montana history.

It was on this stretch of the Madison, Andrus said, where in 1809, famed mountain man John Colter made his run, hiding inside a beaver lodge while fearing capture by members of the Blackfeet Tribe who had just killed his partner.

“We like it because it’s easy to put in and easy to take out,” said Eleanor Mest, former mayor of Manhattan. Mest, her 85-year-old husband and their West Highland terrier, Annie, have for the first time spotted a cinnamon-colored bear this year while paddling this stretch.

To get there: Avoid Interstate 90 by taking Bozeman’s North Seventh Avenue north until it becomes Frontage Road. Follow this historic highway for 33 miles through Belgrade, Manhattan and Logan. A mile after passing the park, the Milwaukee Fishing Access Site is on the south side of the road.

Hyalite Reservoir

All summer long Hyalite Reservoir supplies the city with water and recreation by offering a big, flat paddlers playground. The big advantage Hyalite has over other locales is its proximity to Bozeman. It’s surrounded by the 10,000-foot peaks of the Gallatin Range and campsites, so it’s busy all summer long. But even when it’s busy, the 206-acre reservoir doesn’t feel overcrowded, plus there’s a no wake rule for motorboats.

To get there: Follow South 19th Avenue out of Bozeman. After it curves west, turn south on Hyalite Canyon Road for roughly 10 miles to the reservoir.

Cliff and Wade lakes

The water is so clear at the twin Cliff and Wade lakes that in the shallows they glow aqua marine like the Florida Keys coastline. These spring-fed spectaculars are hidden at the southern end of the Madison Valley. They’re a little further away from other spots but definitely worth it. While paddling Wade Lake last weekend, a river otter appeared 20 yards away, curling above the surface like a miniature Loch Ness monster.

But it’s Cliff Lake that has more water and better fishing. A mile from the boat ramp and campground, the water shallows, allowing sight casting with the fishing rod. Another half mile back and a tall island marks the lake splitting into three remote fingers with mountain peaks in the background. Several primitive camping sites are available.

To get there: Follow Huffine Lane west out of Bozeman. Go through Four Corners and continue on Norris Road, past the hot springs until reaching U.S. Highway 287 in Norris. Turn south for 55 miles, through Ennis, and get off the highway at the Three Dollar Bridge on the right and follow the signs to the lakes.

Ennis Lake

Mike Garcia, owner of Northern Lights Trading Co., recommended that Ennis Lake be on the list. This wide-open reservoir splits the upper and lower Madison River near its namesake town. There’s plenty of places to put in. The road on the east side offers endless access. And paddlers can get a little taste of backcountry river by going up the first two miles of Bear Trap Canyon before reaching the dam.

“Really pay attention to the wind,” Garcia said of Ennis Lake. “It can pin you against the shore.”

To get there: Follow Huffine Lane west out of Bozeman. Continue through Four Corners on Norris Road, past the hot springs until U.S. Highway 287 in Norris. Go south eight miles, turning east on North Ennis Lake Road in McAllister.

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