Upper Missouri River

River Safety

The Upper Missouri is considered an easy river to float. The Class I rapids along the Upper Missouri are defined as easy, fast moving with riffles and small waves, few obstructions, easily avoided, low risk, easy self-rescue. However, you should plan carefully to ensure a safe, enjoyable trip.

  • Approved personal flotation devices are required for every boater. Children under 12 must wear a life vest at all times.
  • Floaters should pay attention to the two ferry crossings on the Upper Missouri (mile 39.1 and 101.8). Be aware of the two low-hanging cables that cross the river in front of each ferry. Also, stay away from the upstream side of each ferry because the strong undercurrents they create can easily submerge your craft.
  • Weather can be one of the most hazardous factors on the river. Temperatures during the floating season can range from 32 degrees to 100 degrees. Be prepared for any weather conditions by bringing clothing that can be layered. Don’t forget rain gear, a shade hat, long-sleeve shirt and pants, and a thermal layer. The combination of wet clothing and cool temperatures can cause a rapid loss of body heat known as hypothermia. Hypothermia can be deadly, so be familiar with its symptoms and treatment. Bring canned soups, tea or hot cocoa. Exposure to heat and the narrow river valley can cause heat exhaustion. Drink plenty of water and take frequent breaks out of the sun.
  • The narrow canyons of the river can hide the approach of storms until the last minute. Watch the weather both in front of and behind you. Sudden, violent thunderstorms can whip the river’s surface into dangerous whitecaps. Get off the water when you see a storm approaching, especially when lightning is present. Do not take cover under trees during lightning storms. Sudden storms can create flash flooding, so be sure your gear is secured.
  • Even in clear weather, moderate-to-strong winds often blow through the river valley. The wind may increase or decrease your travel time. When camping in windy conditions, be sure your tent and boat are tied down and secured or they can blow away. Bring extra food in case your trip duration is increased due to wind.
  • While swimming or wading, we recommend you have a companion and wear a personal flotation device. The river has deceptively strong currents with hidden rocks and snags below the surface.
  • Take precautions while climbing and hiking on the uplands. Sandstone cliffs are soft, and a fine layer of sand on surfaces makes them slick.
  • Limbs from aging cottonwood trees can break without warning. Camps should be located away from the trees, especially during high winds.
  • Rattlesnakes are found throughout the river area, and hikers and campers should be careful where they put their hands and feet.