For Sale

Bear Creek Ranch

$6,000,000 Cameron, MT 1,605± Deeded Acres

Executive Summary

Bear Creek Ranch is a historic holding located in the Madison Valley of Montana, just 12 miles south of the town of Ennis and north of Yellowstone Park. Prized for its world-renowned fishing on the fabled Madison River, the ranch is perched on the east side of the valley adjacent to the Bear Creek Wildlife Management Area and the Gallatin National Forest. Originally settled by the Storey family more than a century ago, the ranch is effectively a clean slate for one to create their legacy and enjoy the convenience of location to Ennis, Bozeman, and the Big Sky Resort. Panoramic views are outstanding of the valley and its associated mountain ranges. Mill Creek spills out of the mountains and into the valley, providing seasonal irrigation water to the ranch’s hay fields. Cool season grasses provide an abundance of forage for livestock and play a critical role in winter feed for a large herd of elk that migrate into the valley from the adjacent mountainous lands and Yellowstone Park. Contiguous to the ranch lies Bear Creek Game Range, a 3,500± acre seasonal refuge established by the State of Montana in the 1950s to ensure a permanent habitat for elk, mule deer, and a variety of wildlife, particularly through the wintering months. The 1,619± acre ranch is held in two tracts consisting of a 647± acre section of bare land located one mile west of the main parcel and 972± acres located adjacent to the public lands. Remnants of the old homestead still exist on the larger parcel adjacent to the hay meadows. Many of the lands in this part of the Upper Madison have conservation easements, including Bear Creek Ranch. Protected from further development, this plays a critical role in sustaining the overwintering wildlife that resides in the valley. It also maintains the integrity of the open space and unobstructed views. This is an opportunity to own a manageable ranch asset beautifully located in one of the West’s most desirable locations.

Just the Facts

  • 1,619± deeded acres in two separate tracts (972± and 647± acres respectively)
  • 12 miles south of Ennis, Montana, in the highly sought-after Madison Valley
  • Lies contiguous to the Gallatin National Forest and Bear Creek State Game Range
  • No improvements, a clean slate to build a residence and outbuildings
  • Mill Creek runs through the northeast corner of the ranch and provides early-season irrigation water
  • Proximity of multiple 10,000-foot peaks and amazing panoramic views of the Madison Valley
  • Numerous game species, including vast herds of wintering elk, many of which migrate in from the nearby Yellowstone Park
  • Newly improved FBO just minutes from the ranch
  • Conservation Easement


General Description

When approaching the ranch from the west and off State Highway 287, the rugged mountain views of the Madison Range and the prominent Sphinx Mountain become increasingly spectacular. Rising to over 10,800 feet, Sphinx Mountain is perhaps the most distinctive mountain within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem defined by its blocky shape, unique color, and truncated summit. Bear Creek Ranch lies just to the north of Bear Creek itself which exits the canyon below Sphinx and into the benchlands spilling into the Madison River. Mill Creek pours out of the mountains below Cedar Mountain, another prominent peak in the valley with its origins just below Cedar Lake in the national forest. The transition from benchlands to mountains is dramatic in the Upper Madison Valley along its eastern flank. Aprons of gravel deposits residual from geologically formed fans flatten out as they expand off the steep slopes into the valley carved out by the constant erosion of the Madison River. These benchlands are lightly soiled yet yield strong seasonal short grasses that migrating wildlife have adapted to for winter survival. The valley stays relatively free of snow through the winter, but the adjacent Big Sky Resort region often receives heavy snow in stark contrast.  

The landscape remains relatively open and sparsely populated by various ranching operations. The Gravelly Range to the west is far less steep and consumes the entire western horizon. Distantly to the south, several mountain peaks rise above the valley floor demarcating the Idaho state line near Yellowstone Park. The views of the Madison Range from the ranch are incredible, offering a long, oblique view of the jagged mountain range. From the northern reaches of the ranch where Mill Creek exits the mountains the views up the valley frame Cedar Mountain, a massive 10,719-foot peak that shares space with similarly sized Lone and Fan Mountains which is effectively the “backside” of Big Sky Resort.  

The ranch is comprised of two separate parcels of land. The first is a 647± acre section located a mile west of the main parcel along the county road. These lands also are adjacent to 488± acre and 648± acre parcels of state land. Roughly one square mile, the landscape is generally flat and open with two ditches carrying irrigation water to neighboring lands. The second parcel is approximately 972 acres residing east of the “section” separated by an adjacent landowner. It resides contiguous to the State-owned Bear Creek Game Range and the national forest. The lands are roughly one mile wide and one and a half miles long and generally undulate as they elevate transitioning into the mountain landscape. The lands are vastly open with taller cool season grasses interspersed with large junipers and Douglas Fir through the riparian area along Mill Creek in the northeast corner of the ranch.  

Remnants of the Storey family operations still exist. A dilapidated homestead barn still stands along with a variety of old outbuildings, a grain bin, and a cinder block bunkhouse. The building footprint also contains tenacious ornamental shrubs such as lilac, an apple tree, and other non-native foliage that still exist. An irrigation ditch descends into the ranch out of Mill Creek and seasonally spills over a large hayfield.  

It's virtually a clean slate for one to develop their residence within the context of the Conservation Easement further described later in this description.  

Elevation runs from 5,360 to 6,360 feet.  

Broker's Comments

Bear Creek Ranch is an opportunity to own a beautiful, sprawling landscape with high ecological value in one of the most sought-after river valleys in the northern Rockies. Ideally located just minutes from the town of Ennis and just over an hour from Bozeman, this is a very livable location with conveniences to services and activities. It’s a blank canvas to build a residence and for a new owner to leave their mark on this historic holding.  

Learn about the locale

Location

Located in the Madison Valley approximately 12 miles southeast of Ennis, Montana (population 933), Bozeman is roughly an hour’s drive to the north, as is the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airfield. The Ennis Big Sky Airport is a newly expanded and renovated county-owned public airfield less than 10 minutes from the ranch. The Ennis FBO can land the largest of private aircraft but remains a relatively low-volume airfield. State Highway 287 is the main travel route through the Madison Valley, running north and south from Interstate 90 to the north and entering Idaho to the south. Bear Creek Loop Road is a county-maintained paved and graveled road that provides access to the ranch and requires one to three miles of travel off the state highway.  

Locale

The Madison River is generally referred to by its “upper” and “lower” reaches. Being that water flows north in this part of the hemisphere, the “upper” reference is often referred to as the “upstream” reaches of the river, which is to the south where the Madison leaves its origins within Yellowstone National Park. The “lower” begins its origin at Ennis Lake, which is a major reservoir impoundment located just north of the town of Ennis and is used for utility power generation. The foundation for this region in the Upper Madison is based on cattle ranching, which remains very apparent and productive today. In the more recent decades recreation has played an important role in the economy as fishermen continue to travel from around the world to fish the blue-ribbon fishery and hunters pack into the region during the fall months in pursuit of elk, deer, antelope, and other wild game. Although the population of Ennis resides at around 720, the number of people in and around town swells during the summer and fall months. Tourism plays a major role in the local economy and the town has worked hard to keep its small-town charm. Notable bars, decent dining options, boutique stores, fly shops, a gourmet meat shop, and Willie’s Distillery anchor the community. Complete with a hospital, grocer, and school system, Ennis is a very livable community and yet is just 45 minutes to Bozeman for expanded services. Madison County spans over 3,587 square miles or roughly over two million acres yet has a minimal population density of just over two people per square mile. Solitude is still attainable in this corner of southwest Montana.  

Learn more about the property

Acreage (Deeded & Leased)

Deeded Acres: 1,605±
Total Leased Acres:
Total Acres: 1,605±
Lowest Elevation: 5,360
Highest Elevation: 6,360

Additional Information

Conservation Easement

In November of 1998, the State of Montana, Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (MT FWP) placed a conservation easement on the ranch lands. This came at a time when development was beginning to infringe on critical wildlife habitats. Consequently, the Montana Land Reliance along with other land trusts including MT FWP made a colossal effort to convince area landowners to protect their lands in perpetuity from large-scale development. To date, the State of Montana has over three million acres under easement. Madison County has the highest density of easements covering over 274,000 acres.  

A copy of the easement is available upon request. Generally, the easements’ purpose covers the protection of open space and the management/mitigation of the wildlife that often appear on the ranch. The easement defines five-acre building envelopes on the two separate tracts, the right to construct outbuildings for agriculture and ordinary farming and ranching operations. The two parcels may be sold separately, but otherwise not broken up.  

There exists an Elk Management Plan established by the State of Montana, consistent with the objectives of other species management plans adopted by the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Commission. This was established based on sustaining a fluctuating wildlife population to maintain a healthy herd population that at times overburdens the lands and existing native flora. To comply with the easement, a certain degree of hunting must occur on the ranch to a) manage population density, and b) keep the elk circulating throughout the valley to minimize damage to the lands. The landowner maintains the right to dictate who, what, when, where, and how so that they can manage any safety concerns. The unit does provide an extended season that allows for permitted hunters to harvest cow elk. 

Learn about the recreational amenities

Wildlife Resources

The Lee Metcalf Wilderness expands to the west of the ranch into the national forest consuming 259,000 acres of pristine alpine country. These lands are maintained roadless and in a natural state. The state-managed Bear Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) spans 3,458 acres and is contiguous to Bear Creek Ranch. The WMA is a diverse habitat including grasslands, shrubs, coniferous forests, and steppe mountain foothills. Its greater importance is providing undisturbed wintering habitat for up to 1,000 elk and 200 to 250 mule deer. For this reason, the game range is closed to the public from November 30th to May 15th annually. During this time, many large antlered bull elk can be viewed from the ranch wintering on the windswept benches higher on the WMA. A popular event occurs on May 15th when the WMA reopens, and the public is allowed to collect the shed antlers which are scattered throughout.  

A diverse cross-section of animals resides on or in the near vicinity of the ranch. Elk are the most prominent and start to appear in late fall as hunting pressure and weather events push them out of the steep country and into the open private lands. And as winter arrives, thousands of elk pile into the valley staying typically through their calving season before returning to the high country in June. Mule deer, antelope, moose, mountain grouse, Hungarian partridge, black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, and a massive variety of raptors and many other species of wildlife are all commonly found in the area.  

Recreational Considerations

The Madison Valley is gifted in its abundance of recreational opportunities. The Madison River attracts anglers from around the world to fish its water for wild trout. In addition to the river, there are multiple reservoirs and alpine lakes to explore and fish. Roughly 50 miles to the south is the western entrance to Yellowstone Park. 

The Madison Valley separates the Gravelly and Madison Mountain Ranges. The Gravelly’s run north to south across the western side of the valley and are typically forested, rolling mountains gentle enough to provide vehicular access through them and are a major attraction for snowmobilers through the winter months. The Madison Range is much steeper and far more dramatic to view with a multitude of giant snow-capped peaks towering over the valley floor. 

Effectively, Bear Creek Ranch is at the back door of the Big Sky Resort area. The ranch is just five air miles from the top of Pioneer Mountain at the famed Yellowstone Club. Although it is seemingly just within reach of the ranch, one must drive all the way around taking over an hour to utilize the resort. Theoretically, you could ride your horse there in the summer…

Learn about the general operations

General Operations

As previously mentioned, Bear Creek Ranch was historically a part of the original homesteaders - the Storey family. The ranch is ideally suitable for seasonal livestock grazing and has been leased to area ranchers as such for years. The benchland grasses come on early on the lower lands, while a more robust crop of native and non-native species comes on later as you gain elevation to the larger tract of land. Ideally, a lessee would come on sometime in May on the lower place and move up to the upper for the summer/fall. Stocking rates would depend on an owner’s desire for aesthetics while also substantially dependent on how much is consumed by the elk herd. One hundred pairs grazing over four months seems reasonable. The landowner elected to rest the ranch through the 2022 grazing season, so the grass is in full abundance.  

Irrigation water is pulled from Mill Creek starting in May and utilized on a tame grass pasture roughly 280 acres in size.  

Montana DNRC water right numbers:

  • 41F 9006 00
  • 41F 9007 00
  • 41F 9008 00  

The irrigation water could be utilized as weather dictates sometime in early May and be dependent on seasonal flows into June. When flows recede, the ranch has junior claims to the neighboring ranch which will ultimately divert the total sum of flows for their purposes. This would be suitable for a single cutting of hay with an abundance of regrowth from rains and residual soil moisture.  

Notably, the ranch residing adjacent to a state game range holds at times a substantial number of elk. This occurs primarily through the winter months as the elk migrate out of Yellowstone Park and the valley mountains. Thousands of elk inundate the valley foraging on the hard, nutrient-rich grasses across the benchlands that mostly remain free of significant snow. While this speaks to the ecological importance of the valley landscape, it is challenging for landowners to find the right balance between livestock operations, migratory ungulates, and available forage. It’s best to remain nimble in the Madison Valley.  

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