5 ways to enjoy the legendary rivers of Missoula, Montana

by | August 15, 2016

When you first arrive in Missoula, you will soon discover that many locals are rooted in the river. It’s hard to not be when you have three rivers that converge in the Missoula Valley: the Blackfoot, Bitterroot, and Clark Fork Rivers all come together here.  All three offer different levels of recreation and fishing opportunities. No matter which one you choose, you won’t be let down on a hot day here in Western Montana.


You know summer has begun here in Missoula when the “tuber hatch” begins. This essentially means that spring runoff is over, the water has warmed up, and it’s blazing hot outside. The lower Blackfoot River and the in-town section of the Clark Fork River see most of the tube action.

Here is what you need to know before you go:

You can rent or buy a tube from dozens of local downtown business.
Grab a six pack of beer, with a mesh bag for your empty cans.
Be prepared to get wet if or when you float through Brennan’s Wave.
East Missoula (Sha Ron access) to downtown Missoula – four miles of river – is the most popular section for tubers.


The Clark Fork River runs right through the heart of Missoula and opportunities for a scenic tour or whitewater adventure are right at your fingertips. Since the removal of Milltown Dam in 2008, folks can now float through the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork Rivers, just east of Missoula and continue right through downtown. There are plenty of options for rafting when you visit Missoula depending on your sense of adventure, ability, and timeframe.

What you need to know:

In early spring, the Lochsa River, just over Lolo Pass, is the crown jewel for whitewater. The Lochsa season is short (end of April through May), so time your trip well. You don’t want to miss out on this world class whitewater experience!
The Alberton Gorge on the Clark Fork River is just 35 minutes west of Missoula and offers fantastic whitewater all year long.
The iconic Blackfoot River is just east of Missoula has numerous sections for all ability levels.


Whitewater kayaking is one of the best ways to see the river. Missoula offers a perfect location for all skill levels. Most beginners start in flat water and progress to slow moving water. Underwater comfort and learning the Eskimo roll are essential skills for whitewater kayaking. If whitewater kayaking isn’t your thing, then you can always go with a recreational or inflatable kayak, both of which require less skill and experience.

What you need to know:

Call a local outfitter or shop for a beginner whitewater kayak lesson.
Prepare to get wet! Kayaking is sometimes affectionately referred to as an “underwater” sport!
Many outfitters offer inflatable kayak trips alongside raft trips.


Feel the pulse of the river by learning how to surf Brennan’s Wave on the Clark Fork! River surfing has taken Missoula by storm and is a very popular activity with folks of all ages and abilities. River surfing is all about finding that perfect standing wave and lapping it all day long.

Here is what you need to know:

Know and understand water levels, hazards, river etiquette, and the basics of the sport before you go. Go to a local shop for rentals, lessons, and general information.
We sure hope you like swimming!


If you can walk down a sidewalk without falling the you can learn how to SUP!  There are many great lakes just north of Missoula, as your heading towards Seeley Lake or try something really easy like Frenchtown Pond.  Rent a board from a local shop and try paddling up and downstream in between the Higgins and Arthur Street bridges in downtown Missoula.

Here is what you need to know:

Know and understand the river conditions.  Make sure you have all of the proper gear (PFD, Paddle, Water, River Shoes, Sun Protection). Did you set a shuttle?
The local shops will give you a quick lesson on proper stance, how to hold your paddle, and all the other details you might need to know before you go
Paddling when it’s windy out is not much fun!