The Missouri River
Floating and Paddling

The Missouri River : Floating & Paddling

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Missouri River near Cascade, Montana.
Photo Use Guidelines

Longer floats on the Missouri River, at least in its upper stretch, can be a difficult due to all the dams and reservoirs. The river is frequently slow and generally runs through windy terrain.

In its lower stretches, particularly in the one hundred fifty miles above Fort Peck Lake, floats on the Missouri River are unique and well worth the effort. The main problem on this stretch is access and remoteness. Arranging for portages is a difficult and time-consuming process.

From Three Forks to Totson Dam, the river flows rather lazily. Winds are common and the river is quite wide, as it is for the rest of its length to the North Dakota Border. This stretch of river runs for twenty-three miles before a portage is required around Totson Dam.

Below Totson Dam, another moderately slow water stretch of twenty-two miles exists. No rapids will be found. Windy conditions frequently exist, some of which can become dangerous at times. The Missouri then flows into Canyon Ferry Lake.

Floating is next to impossible across Canyon Ferry Lake. Either motorboats or perhaps Sea Kayaks will be the best choice to get across the reservoir so as to continue down the river. It needs to be noted that there is no good way to portage the Canyon Ferry Dam. Anyone wanting to float from Canyon Ferry Lake downstream will need to arrange a car portage.

Missouri River near Fort Benton, Montana
Photo Use Guidelines

Below Canyon Ferry Dam, the river goes through two more dams before entering the prime fishing waters between Holter Dam and Cascade. As the river flows through this canyon stretch, the current picks up speed. Only a small Class II rapids is found on this stretch, located about ten miles above the town of Cascade.

Below Cascade, the river slows down due to all the dams that are located just downstream from Great Falls. The first ten miles downstream from Great Falls have five dams that require portages, and also can provide some whitewater during higher flows.

Once below the dams, the Missouri River runs unobstructed all the way to Fort Peck Lake, with no rapids. The flows are moderate and the river large. Despite its remoteness, floating on the river is quite popular during the summer. In this section, the Missouri River receives protection and is classified as a National Wild and Scenic River. Its remoteness and unique scenery has caused many people to venture out here in search of quiet float trips, away form the hordes found on some other Montana rivers.

Floating is not an option on Fort Peck Lake. The lake is too big to easily paddle across, and the wind can be exceptionally strong at times. Several access points are available for take-out just above Fort Peck Lake.

Below Fort Peck Dam, the Missouri River flows without interruption to the North Dakota border and then to the confluence with the Yellowstone River. Its flows are generally slow to moderate, with no rapids. Access is limited. The country is remote. And the use of the river for fishing or floating is low by any standard.

River Miles

Origin at Three Forks, Montana: 0
Fairweather Fishing Access Site (FAS): 11
Toston FAS: 27.1
York's Bridge FAS: 36.3
Townsend Access Site: 51.3
Wolf Creek Bridge FAS: 112.7
Craig FAS: 118.2
Stickney Creek FAS: 121.9
Spite Hill FAS: 122.6
Dearborn FAS: 124.1
Eagle Island FAS: 125
Mid-Canon FAS: 125.6
Mountain Palace FAS: 131.6
Hardy Bridge FAS: 132.4
Prewett Creek FAS: 132.8
Pelican Point FAS: 136.3
Dunes FAS: 165.6
Ulm Bridge FAS: 168.9
Big Bend FAS: 189.10
White Bear FAS: 194.10
Giant Springs State Park (Great Falls): 204.3
Carter Ferry FAS: 238
Loma Access Site: 278
Coral Banks Access and Boat Ramp: 298
LaBarge Rock Access: 311
Judith Landing Access and Boat Ramp: 345
McClelland Ferry: 359
Cow Creek Access: 385
West Boundary Charles Russell Wildlife Refuge: 396
James Kipp Access and Boat Ramp: 386
Siparyann Access Site: 394
Rock Creek Access and Boat Ramp (before Fort Peck Lake): 401
Fort Peck Dam: 541.3
Lewis and Clark FAS: 612.3
Brockton Access Site: 661
Culbertson Bridge FAS: 691.9
North Dakota Border: 72

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