The Blackfoot and Clark Fork Rivers merge together just five miles east of Missoula and offer some of the finest rafting and scenic river tours Montana has to offer. In the heat of summertime, there is nothing more inviting than spending a day on the river.
Here are three great options for easy float trips here in the Missoula valley. All sections are a great introduction to rafting and are ideal for families with young kids, beginner rafters, or anyone who needs to cool off after a hot day of land-based adventuring!
Hellgate Canyon Float
This is our classic summertime “town float”! You’ll cruise through dramatic Hellgate Canyon and past the University of Montana, and on down through vibrant downtown Missoula. This is the most popular section for inner-tubers and stand-up paddle-boarders, as well. When you pass through Brennan’s Wave, there’s a good chance you’ll see a flock of colorful local kayakers and river surfers – always excellent entertainment!
Milltown to Downtown Float
This float allows you to experience two classic Montana rivers in one day! River users put-in on the Blackfoot above historical Milltown, then cruise through the confluence with the Clark Fork River. Floaters pass the site of the old Milltown Dam, through East Missoula, and on toward the hustle and bustle of downtown Missoula proper.
Kona to Harper’s Float
Just a few miles west, or downstream, of Missoula, this section of the Clark Fork River boasts abundant scenery on a stretch known for its tranquility, swimming holes, and spectacular bird watching.
Etiquette for River Runners
It’s important to know the local code of ethics for enjoying Missoula’s rivers. Let us know if you have any questions, or if you need a little extra guidance on how to respectfully and safely float our rivers.
- No glass. If you bring beverages, bring them in cans. Golden rule of the obvious: NEVER, EVER throw your cans or bottles in the river..
- Pack it in, pack it out. Whatever you bring to the river (or river access) with you must also leave with you.
- Change clothes discreetly. Bring a towel or sarong for an easy quick-change privacy shield!
- Do not play loud music. Please don’t ruin our wilderness experience with your music. Even though you’re in Montana, not everyone wants to hear pop country on their river trip.
- Follow the laws and rules of the area that you are using. Educate yourself about the local regulations and norms for the land and water you’re recreating on,
- Consider taking a few minutes to pick up litter left by others. Taking good care of our rivers is a community effort. Thanks in advance for your help!
Here is a very unbiased assessment of the best Gorge boat out there.
Fast? Check. Surfs well? Yes. Cartwheels any feature? You bet. Spins with the best of them? Like a true ultracentrifuge. Stern squirts? No current needed. These are appropriate yet boring ways of describing the Dagger Ultrafuge’s attributes. The truest gauge of a proper boat is the size of the shit-eating grin lighting up the face of the one paddling it.
An Ultrafugical paradox:
I have been an avid ultrafuger for the better part of a year. The first time I squeezed into this boat I could hardly stand to sit in it, yet alone paddle it. After 20 minutes at Brennan’s wave in Missoula, I was frantically paddling to shore to restore feeling lost to my feet and the majority of the rest of my lower body. While on shore, I knew, I wouldn’t again allow that boat to torture my body.
At the Alberton Gorge the next day something came over me. I forgot the physical pain the boat caused me while remembering the 20-minute grin that spanned my ears. That run in the Ultrafuge changed how I approach river-running. A once straightforward stretch of whitewater transformed into a playground of endless amusement. The size of the feature did not seem to matter, the Ultrafuge made it fantastically fun.
Ultrafuge and the Gorge:
Anyone who has paddled the Gorge knows how playful of a run it is, especially at lower flows. A seal launch to begin the run ensures a smile from the get-go and serves as a beeline to Zero Wave. The Ultrafuge, unlike most modern playboats, will zip across the middle hump of Zero without flushing. Once over on surfer’s left, this boat snaps river-surfer-inspired carves with minimal effort. Like the Price is Right wheel spun by an amped up granny, the Ultrafuge is formidably fast when flat-spinning. This boat is sure to have its paddler sticking their tongue out in amusement.
In between the various surfs on the Gorge stretch, this Dagger will find any excuse to get vertical. Squirting any eddy-line or boil and cartwheeling in flat-water, this boat has not the slightest concern with feature size. Its ability to splat in Rollercoaster and Mermaid Rock makes the Dagger Ultrafuge an all-around playful machine.
Is this kayak for you?
This boat is uncomfortable. After 30 minutes on the water you may feel the need to get out and stretch. But do not stand up too quickly; you may find that your legs have not yet regained feeling. If you find that a little discomfort is just part of kayaking, then this boat will not disappoint. Give this kayak a try for yourself and analyze that discomfort to fun ratio. You may find a central spot for the Dagger Ultrafuge in your armada.
This kayak creates smiling faces on the river. And that’s what paddling is all about.
This is not the first blog I have written about personal lap bags and it will not be the last. The more time I spend on the river, the more my bag evolves. It also changes with the seasons and rivers that I’m working on. I don’t guide on any multi-day trips so this is what I carry for day trips on the local rivers.
I love my personal bag. The go to size is the Watershed Ocoee. You can fit a lot items inside the bag and it’s the most waterproof bag on the market.
Below is a list of the larger items:
- Patagonia R1 fleece
- Fleece hats
- Extra straps
- 8-1 Screwdriver
- ½ Socket
- Zip ties
- Multi tool
- Watershed Ocoee dry bag
- Snack bars
- Sunglass holders
- Energy shots
- Prussix/extra rope
- Sewing kit
- Bug juice
- Extra sunglasses
- Small first aid kit
- Stuff sack to hold items
Pen and paper, matches, cash, batteries, headlamp, lighter, earplugs, gloves, chapstick, and toilet paper (with doggie bag), hydration tablets.
We would love to hear what you carry in your bag! SYOTR!
I position the bright blue raft a little too far left in the river, but have run out of time for a correction. Excitement and fear rising in my chest, I grip the oars and hope we will hit the surging wave at the right angle. All I can do sometimes is hope.
“ALL FORWARD! PADDLE FORWARD!”
My voice is a high-pitched screech. I’m just as nervous as the folks seated in front of me. We crash over the rapid just inches away from a rock, bumping then sliding through. Frigid water careens over us. The right side of the raft dips a little too low pitching everyone to the side. Screams and laughter bounce off the rock face along the shore as my oar is jerked from the oarlock. I’ve got to keep the raft from hitting the next rock, but I have lost control. I grab for the oar, no one in the front of the raft notices my frantic scramble. My arm is wrenched forward as the current catches the blade of the oar, raft starts to spin. Oar snaps into place, head count, deep breath, back on track.
A little rattled, I let the water’s energy calm my racing heart. Breathe in. Breathe out. I watch the river’s ripples float past, never making the exact same shape, a constant dance of newness. In the front of the raft the clients laugh and make dinner plans. I ignore them for a minute. Turning my head left, I see layers of mountains backed up by a blue and white sky. For a second I am lost in them. A bald Eagle floats overhead. I make a quick prayer to the river, giving her my gratitude and asking for her protection, then snap back to reality, it’s time to have some fun.
Afternoon sunlight glints off the river’s surface, a myriad of sparkles spreading outward. We take turns telling jokes, travel stories and talking about our favorite sports. Our raft floats past fishermen, kayakers, other rafters, and beach goers in brightly colored swimsuits. We hoot, shout and holler back and forth. River people are their own breed. A whole community whose dominant intention is joy, excitement and appreciation. On the river, there is a silent agreement, we will always help someone in need. The stakes are too high to be individualistic. This quiet agreement creates a wonderfully eccentric harmony.
I wasn’t exactly sure what whitewater raft guiding entailed when I decided to take the job. I knew I could do it, whatever it was. I’ve never been afraid of the outdoors. The Zoo Town Surfers headquarters is located on the Alberton Gorge about thirty miles west of Missoula, Montana. There were several of us training to become guides, mostly men. Our first trip down the Gorge, an eleven mile stretch of the Clark Fork River with class II and III rapids, was terrifying, exciting and super cold. It was late May. Even dressed in wetsuits and dry-suits we were shivering. The summer spiraled out from that cold start into an exhilarating, exhausting and magic set of memories and lessons learned.
I learned: The river’s force can be lethal. There is no space for anything other than the task at hand. Letting go of control is inevitable as the river’s power propels the raft forward. There can be no fighting against, instead the flow must be ridden with trust, courage and ease. It is a deeply respectful partnership, river and guide, but both know, the river holds the power. Power of water surging onward, falling, cascading. The sound, the energy, the flow, tumbling toward its destiny. We’re all tumbling toward our destinies. Truths, moments, lessons constantly revealing themselves. The ripple, the current, can’t slow it down, must move at its pace or it will drown you. The river arranges her shores into rock faces, exposed pastel colors displayed on towering surfaces. Teaches us vulnerability is beautiful. Teaches us, there’s nothing wrong with turning inside out and showing what we are made of.