The State’s Newest Luxury Fly Fishing Lodge Toasts…The True Montanan Experience
By Jenny Walton
Photography by Ed Coyle
Stand near the river. Do you feel your body relax, and your senses awaken to the sound of the cottonwoods rustling in the breeze and the sight of rising fish? Now, take a moment to look around because you’re in Montana on the Madison River where the vast, open range and big sky calls you to experience more than just fishing. This sprawling 1286-acre ranch beckons you to indulge in its location on one of the most revered rivers in the world, but also revel in its backyard proximity for horseback riding to high-mountain lakes, viewing wildlife in neighboring Yellowstone National Park, or designing your own adventure in yoga and massage at its lodge. Meet Madison Double R, where every day you’re welcome to seriously focus on fish or lounge on your private deck and read that novel that’s been on your nightstand for months.
Founder and owner, John Sampson knows fish, fishing lodges, and loves the fishing life. However, after having spent nearly three decades in Montana, most of that time as a co-owner at the incredibly successful Ruby Springs Lodge in nearby Alder, he also understands Montana is comprised of other elements that command your attention. The state’s natural beauty and the ability to have your most fabulous day ever on the river catching a memorable Rainbow or Brown trout, playing golf on a stunning mountain course, horseback riding along the riverbanks, birdwatching on an adjacent 30,000-acre ranch, or experiencing the excitement of waterfowl or big game hunting in the fall are just a few of the reasons why Sampson opened the lodge.
“The Madison Double R is a unique piece of property with Madison Valley and its glorious river coming out of Yellowstone National Park at the top end of the valley, and Wyoming and Idaho at the southern part of the valley bracketing the town of West Yellowstone. It’s very grand with unencumbered views of the Madison Range. We have some of the best fly fishing and guides Montana has to offer, but I want our guests to have the full Montana experience. I’d rather this not be the lodge where you come and count how many fish you catch, and that’s the measure of your success when you report back to your friends at cocktail hour. To the contrary, I want to dilute that vision of how big and how many you caught. An expert angler’s idea of an amazing day may differ entirely from a beginner who just spent his or her first day on the water. Whether you opt to spend the morning fishing our spectacular water and the afternoon soaking in the hot tub after a workout or choose to maximize every minute of your day fishing from dawn to dusk, the Montana state of mind is here.”
There’s no denying the facts. World class destination waters and a team of friendly and patient guides assure a high-quality fishing experience is in store for you. Also, three miles of a private creek that meanders through the property, a cluster of luxurious and spacious cabins, a renowned chef, a saloon with the original Norris Bar, and a surplus of authentic hospitality round out the high-end experience. The collaborative efforts of Sampson and his wife, Krista, and lodge general managers, Russ and Susie Milam, bring 25 plus years of knowledge to this new establishment, which caters to only 18 guests at a time.
Driving over the classic metal trussed one-lane Varney Bridge before entering the lodge is a reminder of the area’s history and the lodge’s previous story as a cattle ranch. When Sampson’s acquired the property, it was with the certitude of its destiny that few can claim. “I love this piece of the Madison Valley,” states Sampson. “The long riffles and pools of the Madison are like no other. I felt the connection to this landscape with its lush willows, beautiful side channels, and layers of views across this majestic valley to the glaciated Cameron Bench, and knew this was the place where I could create a destination lodge for the ultimate Montana experience.” Fortunately, the land surrounding the ranch will never be developed and will remain protected as one area is conserved through an easement with the Montana Land Alliance, and the other is owned by the State of Montana.
Sampson’s enthusiasm vibrates through his every step on the land and along the river’s edges. “We are eight miles downstream from the Storey Ditch put-in. They call this section of the river the ‘Miracle Mile’ because the fishing is so pleasant. This is part of the ’50-mile riffle,’ which flows out of Yellowstone National Park through the Double R exiting into Ennis Lake. With two miles of prime private water, which is ideal for putting boats in at the upper end of the ranch and darting back and forth across the river on a guided trip, we have this remarkable stretch to ourselves every morning for outstanding fishing. And, if our guests want to venture away from the Madison Valley, there’s more trout to be had on the Big Hole, Jefferson, and Ruby Rivers.”
Conceiving the architectural style for the Madison Double R has fulfilled a dream for Sampson. His lifelong passions for fishing, guiding, real estate, and hospitality spawned an open and modern approach that harmonizes well with the natural environment. The spirit of connectivity is mirrored throughout the 3500 square foot main lodge with its two pod-like structures linked by an outdoor trellised terrace. In the main lounge, a fully stocked bar, elegant river rock fireplace, game table, two large-screen televisions, and an outdoor covered fireplace porch exhibit the amenities for any social gathering, while the dining room with its transom windows and impressive multi-slide doors frames the outdoor meadow and pond for an engaging outdoor dining location. Banquette-type seating with benches, bistro-type tables, and two tables that can comfortably seat 10 each complete the design that favors communal interaction. Entwining form, function, and comfort benefits the main lodge design as its essence is one of reuniting.
Madison Double R’s cabin culture is expressed in simplicity and luxury. In the five Creekside cabins, where wildlife wanders through the adjacent meadow, each cabin has two queen beds, soaking tub, huge shower, custom vanities, fireplace, hardwood floors, large cedar deck, and the requisite kitchenette. The Mountainview cabins are symmetrical in nature, literally, with two 1700 square foot, two-bedroom cabins that complement the four-couple group, eight friends, or an opportunity for a rambling single-occupancy. Each of the four guest rooms is composed of the same comforts in a Creekside cabin, in addition to a shared living room with a phenomenal view of the Madison Range as its dramatic centerpiece.
When the summer sky transforms from its late afternoon dusty rose to deep dusky violet, the guests and guides meet and mingle at the Clubhouse and Dining Hall. And to sweeten the nightly scene, Sampson brought in a 20-foot regulation shuffleboard table, dance sound system, billiards table, gas fireplace, and a ginormous flat-panel television. The two glass garage doors that open to an expansive cedar deck are sure to incite a lively night or two!
Fishing, dining, and adventuring are on the menu, as well as relaxing. Visiting the ‘workout’ room, resembles more of an attractive home gym kitted out with free weights, elliptical machine, rowing machine, treadmill, and an appreciable space for yoga and other exercises. Completing the setup is a hot tub, outdoor shower, and private changing room and shower. Hint: Yoga on the deck with colossal views of the Madison Range is likely to put you in a state of perpetual bliss before that heavenly dinner.
Culinary prowess. That’s Chef Scott Warren. The freshest local ingredients and the talent to design signature regional Western cuisine, Warren includes favorite, healthy dishes daily from sunup to sundown in his program while incorporating sustainable practices to his acclaimed menus. Trained at Culinary Institute of America and Le Cordon Blu, he has managed ranch culinary programs for over twenty years, so there’s every opportunity to taste his pursuits in his prepared picnics or during an evening’s delectable food and wine pairing.
Aside from the obvious and captivating indulgences, there is the issue of space. Space is a luxury in many of our lives as well as our connectedness to nature. Eighty percent of our nation’s population lives in an urban area. As travelers, adventurers, sportsmen, and sportswomen, we derive great pleasure from our relationship to the outdoors. Biologist, theorist and naturalist E.O. Wilson states, “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.” More recently, the concept of nature-based wellness has generated discussions about the positive impacts on overall health. The more time we spend in nature, the better we feel. Evidence-based science reports that walking in nature decreases stress, restores energy, and increases short-term memory, cognition, and creativity. Finding the balance that exists in life is one of the reasons Sampson devoted his energy and invested solely in Madison Double R. He recognizes the overwhelming benefits of nature and its gifts. For him, the business that embraces this concept is not only an entrepreneurial endeavor but makes a contribution to the future of his guests and the generations that follow. “I promise my team will make every effort to ensure your ideal vacation is realized,” says Sampson.
Walk, fish, hike, ride, or float among the sparkling green hills and fields under a brilliant blue Montana sky. Rise early and watch the pastel colors bathe the Madison River. Observe the pretty streams with their cattails and butterflies. Eat delicious food and be with good friends. Write your own story and preserve those memories and return to make more.
“Core to the design is light and views. We took the classic Montana ‘cabin’ concept of a minimalist and functional room and gave it a contemporary feel. The objective was to create space that was focused on the outdoors while offering a relaxing, uncluttered, and comfortable indoor experience.”
–Edwin Ugorowski, Architect, Design Partnership Inc.
The Architect’s Charge: Light, Views, and Space
As any discerning guest would expect from a Montana retreat, the Madison Double R’s site plan, architecture, and interior design is oriented around the visual experience and natural features. With mountain vistas to the east and south and the Madison River to the west, the buildings are situated to maximize the views of historic ranchland, riverfront acreage, and towering peaks—all framed by the big sky.
Edwin Ugorowski of Design Partnership Inc. began the architecture with the concept of a simple cabin where the exterior viewshed integrates with the interior space. Ed says, “Core to the design is light and views. We took the classic Montana ‘cabin’ concept of a minimalist and functional room and gave it a contemporary feel. The objective was to create space that was focused on the outdoors while offering a relaxing, uncluttered, and comfortable indoor experience.”
The mono-pitch roofs of the cabins contribute to a modern aesthetic while the clubhouse and dining hall roofs have gable and shed roofs connected together by a covered trellis roof. The buildings are blended with clean, white walls, large windows, steel fireplaces, and reclaimed wood. The classic vernacular is complemented by the wildlife mounts and contemporary western art.
Teresa Kessler, the interior designer, says, “Every space affects you emotionally. We wanted spaces that allow the freedom to explore and interpret—interiors that step back and let the natural beauty of the surroundings take center stage. Each cabin is slightly different with unique lighting, furnishings, art, and fabrics for a guest experience that feels fresh every time. Starting from the initial design stages, I loved synergizing with Ed throughout the process. The end results achieve the best for the client and, ultimately, the guest experience at the lodge.”
Ed says, “John and Krista Sampson, the owners, have natural design instincts. Their big-picture concepts and refined tastes—combined with the talents of Teresa Kessler of TK Design Studio and Greg Miller of Clear Creek Homes—resulted in a true design partnership to create a one-of-a-kind fishing experience in the West.”
Rates include accommodations, meals and alcohol, and daily guided fishing and gear. Trips and packages of any length can be arranged. Madison Double R is located in Ennis, MT and is a one hour drive from Bozeman, MT, a two and half hour drive from Idaho Falls, ID, and an approximately three-hour drive from Jackson, WY.
The following companies and their representatives made this lodge project possible. Each delivered their expertise and product on time and with complete care and professionalism.
- Clear Creek Homes / Greg Miller
- TK Design Studio / Teresa Kessler
- Volt Electric / Brian Verhow
- Design Partnership Inc., Architects / Edwin Ugorowski
- The Paint Dock / Jason Hardy
- Perry Plumbing & Heating / Keith Perry
- AllHands Excavation / Pete and Brian Allhands
- Calvert Custom Homes / Scott Calvert
- Hardy Drywall / Cory Hardy
- Sierra Pacific Windows / Jeff Burkley
- Nelson Landscape / Mark Nelson
- Brickhouse Creative / Dave Thompson
- Environmental Consultant / Ralph Hamler
- Fury Metalworks / Carl Kautz
- Coyote Mechanical / Wiley Levang
- Harbour Hardwood / Andy Gustafson and Jarren Golay
- Bridger Steel / Brian Beal
- Chief Croy Construction / Concrete