Frequently Asked Questions
Are boater guides available (maps)?
Boater guides are available for the area between Fort Benton and Judith Landing (river miles 0-88.5), and between Judith Landing and James Kipp Recreation Area (river miles 88.5-149). The water proof guides provide river miles, land ownership, topography and developed campsite locations. Each guide sells for $4.00. These guides can be purchased by a check or money order payable to the DOI/BLM; send to BLM, P.O. Box 1389, Fort Benton, MT 59442. Or call the BLM Fort Benton River Management Station for credit card purchases at (877) 256-3252.
Is drinking water available?
Yes, there is potable water at Coal Banks Landing Access Site (river mile 41.5) and James Kipp Recreation Area (river mile 149). There are no other potable water sources on public land. The BLM recommends you bring adequate drinking water (one gallon per person per day).
Can the water be filtered?
This 149-mile section of the Upper Missouri is not meeting drinking water standard due to nutrients, flow alteration, pathogens, sediment, suspended solids and other inorganics and siltation. Many of these contaminates can be removed by the hand-held filters on the market today. However, they may not be effective in removing herbicides and pesticides. The potential for runoff from adjacent agricultural lands to contain herbicides and pesticides is why BLM recommends carrying drinking water rather than relying on filtration. Also, the potential for many other industrial and agricultural contaminates, and the wide variety of hand-held filters and their effectiveness means there is no guarantee your particular filter will be safe. Carrying water is the only way you can be sure of its quality. For more information, contact the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 200901, Helena, MT 59620-0901, 406/444-4820 or at www.deq.mt.gov.
Is a permit required?
Presently no permit is required for a non-commercial float on the Upper Missouri unless your group size is greater than 30. In this case you need to apply for a Special Recreation Permit by contacting the Fort Benton River Management Station at (877) 256-3252.
Do you Restrict group size?
Seasonal Restriction of Group-Size for Launching at Coal Banks Landing and Judith Landing. (15 JUN thru 1 AUG): From June 15 to August 1 at Coal Banks Landing and Judith Landing, groups larger than 20 people may only launch on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.
When is a trip considered commercial?
The BLM’s Special Recreation Permit policy defines commercial use in several ways. In general it is defined as recreational use of public lands and related waters for business or financial gain. In addition, BLM’s definition of commercial use includes, "when any person, group, or organization receives money, or obtains goods and services, as compensation from participants in recreational activities…when anyone collects a fee that is not strictly a sharing of expenses for the purpose of the activity, service, or use." For example, a non-profit organization advertises guided trips on the Missouri. They collect the advertised fee from those who would like to participate. If a portion of the fee pays a trip leader or guide, or goes to support an organization, foundation, or other cause, (i.e. is not strictly a sharing of expenses between trip participants) the use is considered commercial.
Is registration mandatory?
No. However, all boaters are encouraged to register before they begin their trip. This allows the BLM to gather accurate visitor-use statistics to help better manage the river and can be vital in the case of an emergency. Boaters can register at the Fort Benton Fairgrounds, the Fort Benton Visitor Center, Wood Bottom, Coal Banks Landing, Judith Landing and James Kipp Recreation Area.
Is emergency assistance available?
Search and Rescue is the responsibility of the local counties. In addition, 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.
Are there hiking trails?
There are no established trails along the river corridor. Dispersed hiking can be enjoyed anywhere on public lands. If hiking the sandstone cliffs along the river, take caution for these areas are fragile and crumble easily.
Are commercial trips available?
Yes. The BLM Fort Benton River Management Station can provide a current list of Authorized Outfitting and Vending Services, which includes shuttle services.
Do campsites have to be reserved?
Currently there is no campsite reservation system. Campsites are on a first-come, first-served basis.
Where is it permissible to camp?
You can camp in developed campgrounds or at dispersed undeveloped sites on public land anywhere along the river corridor. Landowner permission is required to camp on or access private lands.
Is camping allowed on private lands below the high-water mark?
Under the Montana Stream Access Law, the public may use rivers and streams for recreational purposes up to the ordinary high-water marks. Although the law gives recreationists the right to use rivers and streams for water-related recreation, it does not allow them to enter posted lands bordering those streams or to cross private lands to gain access to streams. Complete rules are available at any Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks office or http://fwp.mt.gov/fish/.
Is camping allowed on the islands?
Yes. However, camping on islands is discouraged from April 1 to July 31 to protect nesting birds.
Are there rapids?
Yes. 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.
How fast is the river flowing and what is the 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).
What type of watercraft is best suited for this river?
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.
What is the average number of miles paddled per day?
The average floater achieves 15-20 miles per day. Mileage is dependent on weather conditions and personal ability.
Is a personal floatation device required?
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.
Can cell phones be used on the river?
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.
What kind of weather can be expected?
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.
Are shelters available?
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.
Are portable toilets mandatory?
There is a mandatory portable toilet regulation for anyone camping overnight between Fort Benton and James Kipp Recreation Area. The portable toilet must be either a washable, reusable toilet system that allows for the carry-out and disposal of solid human waste via an authorized sewer system or an approved degradable bag system specifically designed for human waste disposal.
Are campfires allowed?
The BLM recommends using existing metal fire rings for open fires. In sites with no metal fire rings we recommend the use of a gas stove. The BLM may issue fire restrictions at anytime depending on conditions. Be sure to check with the Fort Benton River Management Station concerning possible fire restrictions prior to departure.
Are there trash dumpsters?
The BLM promotes the Leave No Trace principle of pack-it-in, pack-it-out. Currently dumpsters are available at Coal Banks Landing, Judith Landing and James Kipp Recreation Area for trash disposal.
Will I see cattle on public land?
Yes. 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.
Are motorized craft allowed?
Since 1976 there have been seasonal boating restrictions on the "wild and scenic" segments of the Upper Missouri National Wild & Scenic River.
Open Segments (In these segments, motorized travel upstream and downstream is allowed all year long)
- Fort Benton to Pilot Rock (river mile 0 to 52)
- Deadman Rapids to Holmes Council Island (river mile 84.5 to 92.5)
Seasonal Restricted Segments (15 JUN thru 15 SEP)
- Pilot Rock to Deadman Rapids (River Mile 52 to 84.5)__Motorized watercraft travel downstream only at no-wake speeds: DAILY (Sunday thru Saturday)
- Holmes Council Island to Fred Robinson Bridge (River Mile 92.5 to 149)
Motorized watercraft travel downstream only at no-wake speeds:
THURSDAY, FRIDAY & SATURDAY
No Motorized watercraft travel:
SUNDAY, MONDAY, TUESDAY & WEDNESDAY
In these segments, upstream travel by motorized watercraft is limited to administrative, emergency or law enforcement watercraft only. A no-wake speed is defined as a speed where no white water occurs in the path of the vessel or in waves created by the vessel.
Is fishing permitted? If so, what species can be expected?
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.
What type of wildlife will I see along the river?
Mule and Whitetail Deer, Pronghorn Antelope, Elk, Bighorn Sheep, Coyotes, Mountain Lions, Red Fox, Badger, Raccoon, Skunk, Beaver, Porcupine, Muskrat, Prairie Dogs, numerous waterfowl, songbirds, raptors and reptiles.
What is the best method for extinguishing a campfire?
A properly extinguished fire needs to have ample water poured on it and then stirred.
Suggestion: Consider cooking with a cook stove instead of building a campfire. They are much more efficient and leave a minimal environmental impact.
Should trash be burned in the campfire?
Emissions from burning trash can be harmful and embers can waft into the air creating potential fire situations (especially toilet paper). All trash including food scraps should be packed out.
How should dishwater be disposed?
Dishwater needs to be strained and then scattered throughout an area 200 feet from the river. The strained materials need to be packed out.
Is it best to spread a large group out at a campsite or concentrate the use?
Concentrate use as much as possible. This action will reduce impacts to the site as well as provide other groups the opportunity to enjoy one of the sites. Suggestion: When camping at one of the developed campsites (i.e. Eagle Creek, Hole-in-the-Wall, or Slaughter River) concentrate your use around one site or fire ring. At Eagle Creek tents can be set up in the bench behind the grove of trees. This action will concentrate use as well as eliminate the danger of camping under the unstable limbs of the cottonwood trees.
Do power boaters or floaters have the right-of-way on the river?
Although floaters have the right-of-way on the river, both groups share the Upper Missouri and should be respectful of each other. Suggestion: At low-water levels floaters should be aware power boats can only travel in narrow channels in some sections of the river. As a courtesy, floaters should try to group together, pull to one side of the river and allow power boats to pass by. Power boaters should be cautious and courteous when passing other boats by slowing down and giving them a wide berth. Further, power boaters should also slow to a "no-wake" speed at docks and boat landings.
What is proper boat launch etiquette?
During peak season, the boat launches can get quite busy. Some suggestions to alleviate some of the congestion:
Be patient and courteous.
Prepare your gear and deliver any "pre-trip" talk before you get on the ramp.
Mentally divide the ramp into halves and choose one side or the other to drive your vehicle down so the other side can be utilized as well.
If you need to leave your gear while running a shuttle vehicle, concentrate your gear and position it out of the way of launch traffic.
What is the best method for groups to travel down the river?
Keep your group as compact as possible and have a lead boat and a sweep boat that everyone stays in between. A guideline for your group to follow is to not get further apart than half the width of the river. We suggest this because of the following reasons:
Emergency situations could occur (i.e. boating accidents or threatening weather) without the trained individuals present to administer aid or the needed gear to weather the situation.
Smaller groups are seeking opportunities to be out of sight and sound of other groups.
Motorized craft (especially jet boats) have an easier time passing a compact group rather than numerous individuals spread out down the river.
Suggestion: If strong winds prevail, you might want to consider lashing boats together. Also, if you have paddlers struggling to keep up, they might have to be towed behind another boat.
What hazards should I be aware of?
Sudden, violent thunderstorms
Sallow hole: A natural cavern formed in the surface that channels water underground. These clay caverns get overgrown with brush and accumulate tumble weeds until they are hard to see.
Cottonwood tree limbs - they can break easily. Camps should be located away from trees.
Strong winds and rapidly changing weather conditions
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
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.