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Rivers rule



By Megan Paulson Staff Writer

Whether it’s spring, summer or fall, southwest Montana offers an abundance of river fun. Here’s a quick guide to exploring notable whitewater in our area.

Gallatin River

With origins in Yellowstone National Park, this free-flowing river cascades through the Gallatin Canyon and is one of the most exciting and accessible whitewater rapids in the state. Because it’s largely class II – III, the Gallatin provides a great introduction to whitewater.

Numerous put-ins and take-outs along Highway 191 allow boaters the option to choose their whitewater experience. Below Moose Creek Campground in the canyon, the river picks up its gradient and hosts over 20 named rapids like Screaming Left, Thumper and Straightaway. The most technical is House Rock—a class IV rapid requiring precise maneuvering; the “Mad Mile” begins here and includes a mile of fun, continuous rapids below House.

The Gallatin is fed mainly through snowmelt, so more challenging and dangerous conditions exist during runoff in the spring when water temps hover around 38 degrees and fills the banks, becoming very turbulent. The water tends to be more friendly and crystal clear in July, August and September.

Most of the rapids can be scouted from the highway, so be sure to check out your line on the drive to the put-in.

Madison River

World renowned its fly fishing, the Madison also offers exciting whitewater through Bear Trap Canyon and flatwater on the lower section for leisurely summertime floats.

Scenic and remote, the rapids in the Bear Trap vary from Class II – III, to the class IV Kitchen Sink. Many technical maneuvers are required in the Kitchen Sink, so it’s best to scout from river right above the rapids to see what you’re in for. It takes some work, but rafters or kayakers can also portage this rapid if flows or skill level necessitate.

Above the Bear Trap and Ennis Lake, just below Earthquake Lake, the Madison releases from a natural dam created by a 1959 earthquake into a section of class IV – V whitewater not commercially guided and run less frequently by locals.

The section below the Bear Trap running from Warm Springs to Blacks Ford is the most popular non-technical float.

With origins in Yellowstone National Park at the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon rivers at Madison Junction, water temperature in the 183-mile Madison is usually warmer than other rivers in the region due to its shallower depth and contributions from the Firehole. Rapids tend to be less affected by runoff, as flows are managed by the Hebgen and Madison dams.

Yellowstone River

With some of the best family-friendly whitewater in the area, the Yellowstone is the longest un-dammed, free-flowing river in the U.S., and has famous blue ribbon fly fishing. While the Yellowstone is affected by runoff, it tends to receive more sun and warm more quickly than the Gallatin. Whitewater rafting on the Yellowstone is popular from late May through September.

The Yellowstone has two main whitewater stretches near Yellowstone National Park, one beginning in the town of Gardiner and another just north, in Yankee Jim Canyon alongside Highway 89.

The rapids on the Yellowstone generally run class II – III, have big, rolling waves, and some short, quick drops. At high water, Yankee Jim has strong eddy lines and numerous holes and pour-overs to avoid; watch out for tricky laterals off the narrow canyon that can be dangerous during spring runoff.

Whitewater activities are dangerous, so please raft or kayak at your own risk. Be sure to follow proper safety techniques and always wear a PFD. For current water levels and streamflow information, visit

Geyser Whitewater

Looking for a hassle-free guided river trip instead of planning your
own? Look no further than Geyser Whitewater, in Big Sky.
Experienced guides handle the logistics, while you relax or get your
adrenaline fix—depending on which trip you choose. They’re happy
to do some handholding for the newbies, or find fun surf spots or
creative routes through the rapids for the adventurous.

While Geyser’s
guides take
safety seriously,
they also enjoy
what they do,
which makes
the entire float
no matter what
the class of rapids
is. Laughter,
cheering, and
paddle highfives
every raft trip.

Paddling a
wave train, pin
balling through the Mad Mile, and the showstopper, maneuvering
around House Rock, are all enough to get your heart racing on a
trip down the lower Gallatin.

If your group would prefer a lighter adventure, try the upper Gallatin
or a scenic float instead. The smaller rapids will still keep you focused,
and because they’re a little more relaxed, these trips allow
you to take in the beauty of the river, an eagle soaring above the
trees, a moose hiding in the willows, or a bighorn sheep grazing
beside the river.

No matter what you decide, a day spent on the river is a day well

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