You Know it’s Spring in Montana When: Runoff Rafting

As the deep winter snowpack wanes away, Montana’s rivers will begin to rise and the whitewater season will arrive in the blink of an eye. During this time of year, the morning ritual of Montana’s outdoor enthusiasts will switch from waking up to check the local ski reports to monitoring river levels in anticipation of the big spikes in flow that create optimal whitewater kayaking and rafting conditions.

The Gallatin Canyon: Scenic and Rowdy

Following Highway 191 from Yellowstone National Park to Bozeman and beyond, The Gallatin River is home to some of the most diverse and accessible whitewater rafting runs in the area. The more tame “Upper” section meanders through sagebrush pastures at a conservative rate and provides great views of the local wildlife and surrounding mountain ranges. It’s an ideal setting for families or those looking to enjoy a section of the river without having to contend with any substantial rapids.

As the river continues north into Gallatin Canyon however, the grade increases and the rapids intensify. But, just because the rapids get bigger, doesn’t mean the scenery gets any smaller. The Canyon section of the Gallatin is lined with towering cliff walls, dense old growth forest and abundant wildlife, so bring your waterproof camera.

The Gallatin’s whitewater jewel is located in the lower section of the Canyon and is known as “The Mad Mile.” As you’re driving 191, you can’t miss it—it’s the steep, bouldery section of river downstream from Lava Lake and is easily identified by its most famous rapid, “House Rock.” House Rock and the rapids that make up the mile-long section of river below it are notorious for tossing rafters and kayakers from their boats and it is for this reason that we recommend hiring a guide service for your first trip through to lessen the chances of any unplanned swimming.

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Beartrap Canyon: Wilderness Whitewater

The Madison River might be the most famous trout fishing river in the world—and that could be the reason why it doesn’t get the credit it deserves as a whitewater destination. The Madison’s whitewater section, Beartrap Canyon, makes up less than 10 of the river’s 180+ miles of water, and is also arguably the most scenic part of the river. Unlike most of the other whitewater runs in the area, there are no roads running through Beartrap Canyon, and the level of solitude found here is unparalleled as a result.

This raft run is the most advanced and consequential in our area, meaning that it has the biggest, most difficult rapids to navigate. For that reason, most guided trips down this stretch are run in large rafts with oar frames. Leaving the tricky rowing to an experienced guide ensures both the safety and enjoyment of river goers here, as the already-scenic canyon is home to relatively large populations of moose, bear and eagles that can be easy to miss when you’re preoccupied with navigating the rapids.

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Yankee Jim Canyon: The Yellowstone Classic

Named after the crusty prospector who would charge a toll to those passing through his property on their way to Yellowstone Park in the 1870s, Yankee Jim Canyon is where you’ll find some of the Yellowstone River’s biggest whitewater. Being the longest freestone (not dammed) river in the USA, the Yellowstone serves as the outlet for a huge drainage basin and, as such, has the ability to grow larger than twice the volume of the Madison and Gallatin rivers combined during runoff season. To rafters, this means two things: The river flows fast and the river flows deep. Fast, deep rivers create powerful waves and hydraulics, conditions that are highly sought after by recreational whitewater enthusiasts because these features are fun to navigate, while posing less of a hazard than shallow, rocky rapids create for those who accidentally (or intentionally) fall out of the boat.

If you’re in the Yellowstone area and would prefer to raft a section that is slightly more tame, try the upper “Town Section” that runs through Gardiner, Montana. Tackling this stretch of river is a good litmus for those new to whitewater rafting and provides scenery that is every bit as good as Yankee Jim, with more time to enjoy it.

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By | 2019-04-11T16:15:38+00:00 April 11th, 2019|Big Sky, Bozeman, Far From Ordinary, Wildlife|0 Comments

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