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Boulder River in Montana

Trip Overview

The Boulder River of the Jefferson Drainage is a small stream which flows from the mountains east of Butte to the Jefferson River near Caldwell. This is a description of the float from the Elkhorn road turnoff to the Lower Valley road bridge.

This is a very lightly used stretch of river. It flows through cottonwood bottoms through an agricultural valley with working cattle ranches. The float is away from the roads and there is little sign of human activity during the float so it has the feeling of remoteness. It is very unlikely that you would see anyone else on this trip. Wildlife is abundant. During my last float I floated right by a pair of sandhill cranes, passed a heron rookery, and saw numerous raptors including three immature great horned owls. Deer are abundant in the area also. Gamefish include rainbow and brown trout and mountain whitefish.

This is all through private land but there are lots of gravel bars below the high water mark suitable for a rest stop or lunch break.

You will have to set up your own shuttle for the trip. From the Elkhorn Bridge to the Lower Valley road bridge is about 7-1/2 miles. It took me 35 to 40 minutes to do the shuttle with a mountain bike. The stream winds enough that this gives a four hour float with a kayak.

There are a few hazards on the stream. There are 2 diversion dams in this stretch which need to be portaged (you can drag your watercraft over them), 2 places where barbed wire cattle fences cross the stream (the first of these has a cutout for floaters on river left), and some tight bends with sweepers which are easily avoided, but which occasionally cross the deepwater channel and require dragging on the inside bend. This is why I have given this a moderate rating. If the stream flow is less than 200 cfs you probably will be dragging bottom a lot, also. This is a small stream suitable for a kayak or small canoe.

Overall this is a beautiful float on a stream close to Helena and Butte, which has an easy shuttle for a delightful afternoon float.


Boulder has gas, groceries, and restaurants.




From Helena or Butte take I-15 to Boulder, then Hwy 69 to the turnoff to the ghost town of Elkhorn. There is a dirt turnoff for parking on the west side of the bridge. For the shuttle, continue over the bridge, and go towards Elkhorn. Turn right at the lower valley road intersection and proceed about 6 miles to the Lower Valley road bridge. There is a pull off past the bridge where you can leave your vehicle.


Floating and Recreation on Montana Rivers by Curt Thompson.
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip