BLM Park Rangers and Law Enforcement Rangers frequently patrol the river. Please note, emergency response times will be determined by your location, your ability to contact the county or BLM and the accessibility of the area. Cell phones provide minimal reception at most river locations. In some areas reception is improved by hiking up to the rim. Satellite phones provide the best reception. Search and Rescue is the responsibility of the local counties.
The rapids along the Upper Missouri are categorized as Class I. Class I rapids are defined as: easy; fast moving with riffles and small waves, few obstructions; easily avoided; low risk; easy self-rescue. Although the surface of the river appears placid and lazy, boaters should be aware hazards such as submerged rocks, tree snags and powerful undertows lurk beneath this surface.
Current speed and stream flow
The average mid-summer current moves at 3½ mph. Current stream flow, displayed in cubic feet per second, can be viewed on the USGS website: http://mt.waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/current?type=flow. There are monitoring sites at Fort Benton, Virgelle (near Coal Banks Landing) and Landusky (downstream from James Kipp Recreation Area).
Canoes or kayaks are the preferred craft. Rafts and driftboats are not recommended due to the generally slow current and the potential for upriver winds. For motorized use, jetboats or other shallow draft boats are preferred because of shallow waters, frequent gravel and mud bars and poor water clarity. If you are planning a trip with a motorboat and are unfamiliar with the river, please contact the BLM at 877-256-3252 (toll free) or the Chouteau County Sheriff at 406-622-5451.
Miles paddled per day
The average floater achieves 15-20 miles per day. Mileage is dependent on weather conditions and personal ability.
Personal flotation device requirements
Approved personal floatation devices are required for every boater and must be readily available. Children under 12 must wear a life vest at all times.
There is minimal reception at most locations on the river. In some areas reception is improved by hiking up to the rim. Satellite phones provide the best reception.
Extremes in weather can be experienced while floating the Upper Missouri. Snowstorms can occur at anytime during the floating season, especially late spring and early fall. Take time to plan for the worst possible conditions if you go in May, June, September or October. Sudden violent thunderstorms, frequent in the summer months, can plummet temperatures 20° to 50° in minutes and create dangerous conditions along the river including lightning, high winds and hail.
There are primitive 3-sided wooden shelters available at Hole-in-the-Wall and Slaughter River campsites. No other shelters are available on public land.
Trash and dishwater disposal
The BLM promotes the Leave No Trace principle of pack-it-in, pack-it-out. Dishwater needs to be strained and then scattered throughout an area 200 feet from the river. The strained materials need to be packed out. Dumpsters are available at Coal Banks Landing, Judith Landing and James Kipp Recreation Area for trash disposal.
Cattle on public land
The BLM manages the river under the principles of multiple use and sustained yield. These principles require the BLM to preserve natural and cultural resources while providing for multiple uses such as livestock grazing as well as recreation.
Yes, fishing is permitted. A Montana State resident or non-resident fishing license is required. Common sportfish available include; Walleye, sauger, northern pike, channel catfish, smallmouth bass, shovelnose sturgeon and paddlefish.
- Sudden, violent thunderstorms
- Cottonwood tree limbs - they can break easily. Camps should be located away from trees.
- Strong winds and rapidly changing weather conditions
- Heat exhaustion
- Submerged rocks, tree snags and dangerous undertows underneath the surface of the water.
- Crumbly, fragile sandstone cliffs
- 2 ferry crossings (river mile 39.1 and 101.8) – beware of low-hanging cables and strong undercurrents near upstream side of ferry
- Old homesteads – beware of rusty nails, barbed wire and rattlesnakes
- Cactus, poison ivy and hemlock