A pleasant self-shuttle.
Paddling and peddling are a great combination—not only can you and your friends drive to and from the river in a single vehicle, but you’ll get some exercise to counterbalance all that beer-drinking on the water. On the Jefferson River, one stretch in particular—the Drouillard access to Headwaters State Park—offers an ideal float and a pleasant ride back to the put-in. Both the paddle and the bike ride are about eight miles long, so set aside at least a half-day for this trip, depending on how often you stop on the river.
Though you can certainly drop the bike and get right on the water, we suggest making the pedal first, so you can get that pesky physical exertion out of the way, take your time on the float, and head for a fat steak at Willow Creek Café or Sir Scott’s Oasis afterward.
Drive to Drouillard (just south of the Hwy. 287 exit off I-90), drop the watercraft, then continue on to the Headwaters State Park boat launch, at the far north end of the Park. Double-check for forgotten items (i.e., sunscreen, bug juice, water), click into your pedals, and spin your way south. Follow the road over the Gallatin and along the Madison for about two miles; you’ll pass a day-use area and a campground before an excellent paved trail appears on the west side of the road. After crossing the Frontage Road, you’ll soon reach the Madison, where a cool footbridge arcs across the river. (This is the Blackbird fishing access; you can also put in here for a shorter float and ride.)
From here, the trail breaks up a bit and you’ll need to use your inner compass. Pick your poison when the trail forks—left winds around the ponds, right parallels the golf course, but both routes culminate at the high-school track. From there, hop over to the Sacagawea Hotel, turn to the west, and pedal to Front Street. Hang a left and you’ll eventually pick up the paved trail again, which meanders through open fields before snaking through a beautiful cottonwood forest. You’ll pop out at the Drouillard put-in where you can stash the bikes and take a long, lazy float through the headwaters of the Mighty Mo’—a place extolled in the Lewis & Clark journals, and the ostensible site of John Colter’s fabled escape from the Blackfoot Indians.