Where to Go Kayaking on Montana’s Rivers and Lakes
Kayaking in Montana is one of the quintessential water activities of the state since it can easily be done on either lakes or rivers.
As with all sports, skill is required for certain journeys, such as along Montana’s fastest river rapids. But there are also many places for beginners to try their hand (make that paddle) at kayaking in Montana.
In this article, we break it down into two sections: the best places for kayaking in Montana’s lakes and where to kayak down Montana’s rivers. We also recommend places to rent kayaks or hire a guide.
Read on to find your ideal Montana kayaking spot!
The Best Lakes in Montana for Kayaking
Looking for calmer waters? Head to one of Montana’s magnificent lakes for an unforgettable kayak ride over clear water while surrounded by mountain views.
This serene lake is one of the easiest to get to in Glacier National Park since it’s a short drive from the west entrance, with lots of parking by Lake McDonald Lodge and in Apgar Village.
The mountain lake framed by majestic peaks is especially incredible in the early morning hours when the sunlight is hitting the lake just right. Early morning also increases the opportunity to see animals sniffing about the edges of the lake.
If you bring your own kayak with you to Glacier National Park remember you’ll need to get it inspected by the park service (there’s an inspection point just outside Apgar Village near Lake McDonald) and bring the documentation with you when kayaking. There’s also a place to rent kayaks right in Apgar Village.
St. Mary on the east side of Glacier National Park provides a similar kayaking experience.
About an hour south of the west entrance of Glacier National Park is Flathead Lake, a beautiful lake that also just happens to be the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River.
Flathead Lake has numerous public entry spots, but for ease of parking and getting close to launching spots so you don’t have to walk as far lugging your kayak, it’s worth it to pay the day use fee for one of the six state parks located around Flathead Lake.
One of our favorite things about kayaking on Flathead Lake is the water trail that connects many of the lake’s landmarks and also lets you access some parts of the shore that are paddle in only — including campgrounds.
Another great way to spend the day kayaking in Montana on Flathead Lake is launching from Big Arm State Park and paddling across the water to Wild Horse Island where you can dock your kayaks and do a hike for the chance to see the wild horses that call this island home. Hence the name! You’ll also have gorgeous views of the lake from Wild Horse Island.
Flathead Lake’s little cousin is Swan Lake, located about twenty minutes east of Bigfork (one of our favorite towns located on the northeast corner of Flathead Lake) off of Highway 83.
Swan Lake has an excellent day use area for paddlers and you can park your car and be to a launch point in under a minute. Swan Lake also doesn’t get as busy with tourists as Flathead Lake does so you should have a pretty peaceful paddle — maybe followed by a picnic lunch on the shore.
Keep heading south down Highway 83 and you’ll come to Holland Lake near Condon, another great place for some easy lake kayaking.
Highlights of paddling on Holland Lake include the opportunity to kayak near Lower Holland Falls, a large waterfall on the eastern side of the lake. There are also opportunities for stream kayaking and land hikes near the falls.
For an instagram-worthy detour amid your day kayaking on Holland Lake, look for the rope swing on the southeast corner of the lake.
The Best Rivers in Montana for Kayaking
Want a bit more of a thrill with your Montana kayaking adventure? Montana’s rivers with their rapids and speed can deliver just that. There are also calmer stretches of river flow for those who aren’t ready for whitewater kayaking yet.
If you’re not sure which part of the river is best for you, it’s best to hire an experienced guide who knows these rivers and can take you out on stretches of water best for your skill level.
Lewis and Clark Paddle Trail on the Missouri River
Want to feel like Lewis and Clark? The Missouri River is for you. You can follow the same path the two explorers took when canoeing through Montana over two hundred years ago.
A great spot to do this is the Lewis and Clark Paddle Trail along the part of the Missouri River that flows through Great Falls, MT.
This 6.25 mile river trail takes you along some prominent spots in the Lewis and Clark expeditions with info signs located along the riverbank for those who want a history lesson alongside their paddling. Click here for more info about the Lewis and Clark Paddle Trail.
Jefferson River Canoe Trail
The name may say canoe, but you can still kayak down this section of the Jefferson River that has a dedicated trail for paddlers. To access the trail, you’ll launch at Jessen Park in Twin Bridges. To do the entire trail will take about six days with campsites along the way; you’ll pull out at Shoshone Landing near Three Forks.
The Jefferson River Canoe Trail is known for its scenic beauty and wildlife viewing opportunities with moose, eagles, and other forest animals often making appearances.
Brennan’s Wave, Clark Fork River
Don’t want to kayak down river rapids, but love watching others try it? We have the place for you! Brennan’s Wave in Missoula.
Brennan’s Wave is a man-made section of the Clark Fork River near downtown Missoula. It’s right by Caras Park so you can sit on the grassy hill on the edge of Caras Park and watch local kayakers “surf” the wave breaking right at this point.
You’ll also see actual surfers riding the wave — it’s like a wave simulator machine, but in the open river!
Montana Kayak Rental Companies:
If you need a kayak rental or are interested in a guided excursion, here are some rental companies and kayak outfitters to check out in Montana. These companies also may offer multi-day kayak trips, which are an especially memorable way to get out into nature in Montana and experience the allure of Montana’s rivers.
Go Glacier Outfitters: Located right in Apgar Village in Glacier National Park, this rental company is especially convenient for those kayaking in Lake McDonald.
Sky Eco Rentals, Columbia Falls: Serves the west side of Glacier National Park and will even deliver equipment to your lodging.
Sea Me Paddle: Locations along Flathead Lake and Whitefish Lake with single and double kayaks available to rent as well as guided kayak tours.
Action Rentals: With a location 10 miles north of Whitefish in Olney, Montana, this rental company services those visiting Glacier National Park as well as Whitefish.
Enjoy your time kayaking in Montana and don’t forget your life jacket! You also may want a helmet for river rapids. Have fun!