The wild and scenic Missouri River is one of Montana’s greatest natural attractions. This river and many of its tributaries serve as prime locations for rafting, kayaking, fishing, paddle boarding, and other fun activities. “We have a great variety of outdoor opportunities here in Montana,” says Great Falls outfitter and store owner Craig Madsen. “People should take advantage of all that we have in the area.”
For 38 years, Madsen has owned and operated Montana River Outfitters, a business that rents and sells equipment to both amateur and experienced river adventurers, as well as offering guided float trips and fishing trips. Madsen and his staff also offer knowledge and advice to ensure that their customers have fun and stay safe.
“While there are many opportunities for everyone, there are some areas of the Missouri below Great Falls and tributaries of the Missouri that amateurs should not attempt to float,” warns Madsen. “The Sluice Boxes near Belt, for example, are beautiful to view on a nature hike but are dangerous and could be deadly for the inexperienced who may try to float this section of the river.”
Madsen has a wealth of knowledge about the Missouri and as an experienced river guide, he has a good feel for which parts of the river are safest for beginners and do-it-yourselfers. For instance, Wolf Creek Canyon offers a moderately calm and scenic float with multiple access points along the river. As an added bonus, there are over 6,000 trout per mile that anglers can attempt to catch.
The Smith River makes for a wonderful multi day trip and some sections of the Dearborn, Sun, and other rivers are exciting waterways, suitable for intermediate level boaters.
For Montanans who are interested in floating a river but lack experience and are nervous about going on their own, Montana River Outfitters and other businesses around the state offer guided trips of some of the most beautiful parts of the Missouri.
“A lot of people love to take guided tours through the White Cliffs section of the wild and scenic Missouri River,” says Madsen. “It’s one of the most spectacular, scenic, and remote rivers in the state, with only one inhabited building in 47 miles. It cuts through a national monument, prairies and plains, and has exceptional scenery, including many fascinating sandstone rock formations.” The White Cliffs section of the Missouri is awe-inspiring with an abundance of Native American, Lewis and Clark, and steamboat history, as well as remnants of former homesteads that shape the stories of the men and women who attempted to make lives for themselves in this isolated region.
Besides exploring the beauty of the river, Madsen and his guides take groups for hikes so that they can see many hidden aspects of the area. “Floating and hiking in the White Cliffs allows you to see some spectacular scenery that has changed little since Lewis and Clark passed through the area,” says Madsen. “I once took a group hiking to the Hole in the Wall, and a man who was in his fifties told me that the hike was a life-changing experience.”
Whether you’re on the water, hiking above it, or even driving alongside it, the Missouri River offers beauty and adventure to all who explore it. This summer plan a fishing or float trip. Take an impromptu riverside walk or bike ride. Go to a part of the Missouri you love or visit a tributary you’ve never been to before. Just make sure you have the proper equipment and a good understanding of the area you’re visiting so that you can stay safe and have fun on and around this majestic waterway.