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Kayaking destinations for beginners

Even if you’ve already rowed a raft, cast a line, or floated a tube down a southwest Montana river, there’s another exciting option for anyone wanting to try something new: kayaking. This means of waterborne transport allows you to see the river from a different perspective, and is becoming more popular as gear improves without drastically affecting cost.

Whether you’re just starting out or want to hone your skills, consider taking a kayak lesson with a local whitewater company to help ease your learning curve. Many companies offer half-day lessons on the Gallatin and Yellowstone rivers, ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced. Lessons typically include safe-boating protocols, recreational river skills, and how to read water.

If you decide to go on your own, check the weather forecast and water level before loading the shuttle rig. Buy a map and know where potential hazards are, like diversion dams, fallen trees, and boulder fields. And always paddle with a partner, scout your line, and prepare for emergencies.

Local guides typically start beginners in mellow water like Moose Creek Flat on the Gallatin, or on a local pond or pool. Here, new paddlers can learn about river dynamics, entering and exiting the kayak, effective paddling techniques, and boating safety in a relatively controlled environment. To ensure a fun and relaxing time, safety protocols are followed at all times and river etiquette is a key subject. Most often, boaters are not alone on the river, and it’s only respectful to give other river enthusiasts their space.

If you’ve advanced enough to paddle beyond flat water, start off on mellow sections of the Yellowstone River like the “town stretch,” or Yankee Jim Canyon during lower flows. These areas are known for easy river access, moderate rapids (Class II-IV), and decent waves to surf.

Another great spot to hone newly acquired skills is the “upper stretch” of the Gallatin River. The Gallatin—aka, the “Shallowtin”—can be daunting, but with a dependable “combat roll” and conservative lines, the upper Gally is perfect for practicing technical kayaking skills. For this stretch, put in at Moose Creek and take out at the Lava Lake trailhead.

Now that summer is here, the rivers are ripe for a classic Montana experience—from the cockpit of a kayak.

Katie Ransom is a guide with Montana Whitewater. Learn more at