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Take Me To The River...

Ashley Nettles  |  Sunday Jul. 1st, 2018

Air conditioning used to be unheard of in Montana. There was absolutely no reason to have it since you might use it once or twice a year. Most houses around here are still not built with A/C. But there’s no doubt it’s getting hotter. Seeking relief from the heat, most of us run to the nearest body of water. Here, we’re pretty lucky. Rivers abound within a short drive from Main Street. For your summer fun and heat relief, I recommend the following:

The Madison
A great float you can take your grandma on, the section from Warm Springs to Black’s Ford is calm and straightforward. Running low in the height of summer, there is little to worry about other than where the cooler went and who brought the Bluetooth speaker.

Awesome: Close to Bozeman and easy to do in an afternoon. Gentle enough that nearly anything, including the oft-seen air mattress can ride down it. 

Caution
: This place is a party and everyone is invited. Including your drunk creepy cousin. If you’re looking for a quiet ‘get-back-to-nature’ experience, this is not it. Carpool or take a shuttle (Madison River Tubing) as parking can be impossible on the weekends.

Fish
: There are some nice rainbow and brown trout as well as mountain whitefish to be found in the early morning or late evening. Any other time you’re likely to be fighting absent minded tubers out of your spot on the lower section. Just past Ennis Dam or below Black’s Ford will afford a little more peace. 

Food
: Hit up Mama Mack’s in Four Corners for delicious sandwiches
to go. 

The Gallatin
If you’re looking for adventure, the upper stretch has plenty of heart pounding rapids. The lower stretch near Manhattan peacefully winds through farmland and trees.

Awesome
: The scenery changes rapidly, from canyons to meadows and into the valley. Parts of the movie A River Runs Through It were filmed here. 

Caution
: Named the “Mad Mile,” the upper stretch is no joke. Go with an experienced guide (Montana Whitewater). The lower stretch is surrounded by private property and there are often downed trees in areas that will require some technical maneuvering. Stay alert. 

Fish
: Sections of this river are classified as “Blue Ribbon,” a designation by the government to identify high quality fisheries. There is no boat fishing allowed on the upper Gallatin, but there are points in the canyon you can easily access on foot. 

Food
: The Inn on the Gallatin has breakfast to die for and generous helpings. Stacy’s in Gallatin Gateway has your classic steak and potatoes, along with country dancing in the evening.

The Jefferson
Similar in size to the Madison, the third tributary of the Missouri has gentle flows after spring run-off. Gently curving through farmland, this is a peaceful float. 
Awesome: Like the Madison, there is little to worry about on this river other than forgetting the sunblock. 

Caution
: Late summer can lend to low flows and plenty of moss making your float a little more work. The typical take out point at William’s Bridge is a popular spot for bridge jumping and parking can overflow. 

Fish
: Brown trout, Mountain Whitefish, and Rainbows all lurk in these waters. As mentioned above, the moss and low flows can make things difficult late summer. 

Food
: Willow Creek Café & Saloon has the best ribs around. Call ahead to make a reservation (406) 285-6398.

The Yellowstone
Over the Bozeman Pass, you’ll find a river that offers it all- whitewater, fishing, and scenery for days. 

Awesome
: This is an incredible river that has something for everyone and is large enough it never feels crowded. There are plenty of islands to land on and are a rock hunter’s paradise with everything from agate to petrified wood. 

Caution
: Yankee Jim Canyon has large rapids aptly named “Boat Eater” among others. While the lower stretch is much calmer, this river is known for serious undertows and bizarre eddies that can send you back upstream. Go with someone that can read the water. 

Fish
: This is a fun one to fish where you can try out all the weird things in your tackle or fly box. What worked yesterday won’t necessarily work today, and you might be surprised what will pull them in.

Food
: Mark’s In and Out in Livingston has been serving up the best old school burgers, corn dogs, malts and shakes for decades. There is always a line but it moves quickly. 

The Smith
The crème de la crème of rivers and on State Park land, you’ll need to win a permit to access it. The lottery runs from January 2nd to February 15th with June and early July the hardest dates to pull. If you are able to go on a moment’s notice, you might be lucky enough to snag a cancelled permit. Call (406) 454-5861 to see if today is your lucky day.

Awesome
: Truly an incredible scenic adventure, this stretch will take your breath away. With no cell service and limited access, you’ll feel that you’ve discovered your own private paradise.

Caution
: This is a 5-day camping trip in which you need to be prepared for variable Montana weather, no access to resources and zero support. Careful planning is required. 

Fish
: A game of timing. Early season the river can run muddy and fishing will be difficult. However, high flows mean the time between camp sites goes quickly. Late season the fishing can be ‘lights-out,’ but you need to carefully time your days so you can get to the next camp before dark. 

Food
: Bring your own. There are no resources, no cell service and little to forage for. That said, there is a hidden paradise halfway through your float that offers ice cream sandwiches. Follow
the signs.  

About the Author(s)

Ashley Nettles

Ashley Nettles is a Bozeman native that enjoys all the outdoors has to offer. In her pack you can find plenty of La Croix, a novel, a high heel or two, and financial plans for her clients. She can be contacted at anettles@dadco.com.

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