Upper Missouri River in Montana

by  guest-paddler

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

The upper Missouri is a muddy, slow moving (typically 1-3 mph) river. It has some areas of faster water but nothing up to Class 2, and is a good river for people who haven't much river experience. We paddled from Coal Banks down to James Kipp rec. area. It was somewhere around 110 miles. We had planned to take 6 days to do it on advice of outfitters there.

The scenery is quite spectacular in places with some very rugged country. The first three days were filled with high canyon walls with the "white cliffs" emerging from the land. The second half had more of the same shapes but was earth colored. We saw some wild goats, heard Coyotes in the night and saw lots of bird life. There was evidence of beavers, but alas we never spied one.

It is common for temperatures to be in the high 90's in the summer in this area (and it was felt like it probably was) .If one wanted to, the run could be cut in half, as there is road access at Judith landing.

The second half of the run (Judith landing to James Kipp rec. area) seems to have much muddier banks then the first half of the trip. When getting out of the kayak it was pretty common to sink about 8 or 10 inches into the mud (which made it less desirable for an afternoon/evening swim after setting up camp). And while the whole trip had plenty of flies, the lower section of the river had much worse conditions (not sure why). We came prepared with head nets, but lost one of them along the way, and had to take turns with the remaining one. The no-see-ums were so bad that we cut the trip short and paddled extra miles to do it in 2 days, instead of the planned three. For some reason the No-see-ums were not bad in the first 3 days of the five-day trip. The river is low this year due to drought conditions, so maybe the high concentration of bugs is not at a typical level. I don't know if this has any bearing on it.

It was very beautiful, quiet, and relaxing. But If I were to do it again, I think I would bring some hiking boots, and spend 5 days drifting and exploring (hiking) the first half only (about 50 miles). There are so many cool looking canyons to explore. I feel like we just kind of raced through some of the best parts. A definite "don't miss", is the hike up to "Hole in the Wall". Only about 25 minutes to the top, and just beautiful.

Also, if I was going to do it again, I would find a way to carry a good quality bug tent, with a floor and fine mess screen as privacy is not an issue there, (the No-see-ums were able to slip through the large mesh of the one that we had) and tall enough to stand up in. This would give you a bug-free place to cook, relax and read in the afternoons. The smaller tent we took to fit in the kayak worked for this, but it was too hot, and too confining during the afternoon.

The best part of it was the profound sense of isolation out there. Camping is open on all BLM or government land so it is easy to just pick a spot along the stands of Cottonwoods that show up along the river and not have anyone around for miles.


"Canoe Montana" shuttled our auto. We used sit-on-top style kayaks made by "Ocean Kayak" The models were "Scupper Pro".


Fort Benton is about 40 miles northeast of Great Falls, MT.


BLM supplied river maps (Cost was $8.00 for the pair of very good quality water resistant maps)

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: Extended Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location