River Retreats

Overnight floats in the Bozeman area.

Finally—the sun is shining and it’s time to get out on the water for a good, long float. Many rivers in our area are best suited for a single day in the boat, but why not extend the adventure? Here are three possible overnights that will allow you to go beyond a simple day on the water. These stretches are a good starting place, but they are just that. All these rivers offer more miles to float for those who have the time. River difficulty and risk varies based on water levels—make sure to check the current flow and get advice from experienced floaters before heading out.

Jefferson River
Stretch: Cardwell Bridge to Williams Bridge
Days: 2
Distance to Put-in (from Bozeman): 54 miles
River Miles: 17
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Recommended Camping*: Near Limespur
Accessibility: Ramp at put-in and take-out
Wildlife: Moose, great blue heron
Caution: Sharp rocks at spillover below Sappington Bridge 

Yellowstone River
Stretch: Gardiner to Emigrant
Days: 2
Distance to Put-in: 78 miles
River Miles: 31
Difficulty: Moderate-difficult
Recommended Camping: Near Joe Brown or Carbella
Accessibility: Short hike to river for town-stretch rapids in Gardiner (Class III) or boat ramps downstream at McConnell Landing or Brogan’s Landing
Wildlife: Osprey, kingfisher
Caution: No portage through Yankee Jim Canyon rapids (Class III) 

Madison River
Stretch: Madison Dam to Grey Cliff
Days: 2
Difficulty: Most difficult
River Miles: 20
Recommended Camping: Near Warm Springs
Bozeman to Put-in: 52 miles
Accessibility: Boat slide-ramp at put-in; boat ramp at take-out
Wildlife: Black bears in Bear Trap Canyon, rattlesnakes
Caution: Bear Trap rapids include the Kitchen Sink (Class IV), which can be portaged. Whitehorse rapid is a good Class III test at the canyon’s entrance. 

*Note: All campsites are first come, first served.

Safe & Sound
When it comes to packing, floating is a bring-one-bring-all activity. While you’ll need the standard equipment for running any stretch of water (PFDs, dry bags, etc.), there are some additional safety items not to forget and some luxuries you can squeeze in. 

Safety First
1. Layers. Spring in Montana: hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
2. Rope and cam straps. Throw bag, anchoring lines, tie-downs, and extra for emergencies.
3. First-aid kit. A no-brainer, sure, but easily forgotten.
4. Firewood. Grab driftwood as you float or pack some bundles.
5. Blue tarps. For a canopy shelter from the elements. 

Lap of Luxury
1. Upgrade the camp kitchen. Bring the bigger stove, more beer, and all the fixins for river burritos. Pack the JetBoil, too; it’s great for a quick cup of coffee.
2. Sweeten your dreams. Thicker camp mattress, spacious tent, maybe even a pillow.
3. Campfire comforts. Down booties, folding chair, hammock, camp clothing (feels good to get out of the quick-dry stuff), full-sized axe.
4. Two coolers & a dry box. One cooler for food, one for drinks; dry foods and extra camp gear in the dry box.
5. Entertainment. Speakers and music, Frisbee, and a volleyball or badminton set.