Best River Spots for Montana Whitewater Rafting
Some of my favorite Montana memories are rafting down rivers. From calm rafting down the gentle rapids of the Yellowstone River near Billings, to navigating the rapids of the Stillwater River near Red Lodge with an experienced guide (who’s luckily a family friend!), there was so much fun and excitement to be had careening down Montana’s rivers on an inflatable watercraft.
While these rivers are personal favorites for whitewater rafting in Montana, there are so many more excellent spots to give rafting a try during your Montana vacation. We’ll get to some of the most popular whitewater rafting places in Montana for visitors below.
Important Note: Before we get to those places, it’s important to note that the rivers in Montana can be wildly unpredictable and what looks like a calm river can be very dangerous due to fast rapids underneath the surface that you can’t see. Always wear a life jacket even if you’re a strong swimmer. If you’re planning to go out on fast, steep rapids, consider booking an excursion with a local outfitter company so an experienced guide can lead you through the rapids.
Top Places to Go Whitewater Rafting in Montana
Gallatin River, Big Sky Canyon
The Gallatin River running through Big Sky Canyon between Bozeman and West Yellowstone has incredible scenery, with mountain vistas looming all around you. The upper portion of the Gallatin River is calmer while the lower section closer to West Yellowstone is home to class 3 and 4 rapids.
For those really looking for a thrill, make sure your whitewater rafting adventure on the Gallatin includes the Mad Mile, a challenging section that consists of 13 rapids over a 98-foot decline. Rapids can reach Class 4. Don’t attempt the mad mile without a guide unless you’re a very experienced paddler who has navigated class 4 rapids before.
Yellowstone River, Paradise Valley
If you’re spending time in Yellowstone National Park or Bozeman, the Yellowstone River is a great whitewater rafting destination to check out. The Yellowstone River flows through the incredibly scenic Paradise Valley, which is the valley between the north entrance of Yellowstone in Gardiner and the city of Livingston.
Rapids along this stretch of the Yellowstone River vary between Class 1 to Class 3.
Yankee Jim Canyon is an especially popular section of water to raft down in the Yellowstone River. It’s located about 13 miles north of Yellowstone in the Custer Gallatin National Forest and has some exciting dips and turns.
Flathead River, Flathead Valley/Glacier National Park
The Middle and North Forks of the Flathead River offer some excellent whitewater rafting and is ideally situated for those visiting Glacier National Park. The Flathead River runs right along the western border (North Fork) and southern border (Middle Fork) of Glacier National Park.
And remember the movie “River Wild”? Parts of it were filmed along the Flathead River so this is also a fun whitewater rafting adventure for Hollywood buffs.
Whitewater Rafting Outfitters and Guides in Montana:
Many things come into play when whitewater rafting in Montana and it can be dangerous to try navigating the rapids on your own. Keep in mind, too, that water levels can change the class number of different rapids so be sure you’re aware of current conditions before heading out.
A good way to make sure you’re handling the river rapids correctly? Hire a guide. There are tons of whitewater rafting guided tours offered throughout Montana. Here are some outfitters to check out that operate on the above mentioned rivers.
Montana Whitewater: This rafting outfitter and guide company offers whitewater rafting tours out of Gardiner for the Yellowstone River and out of Big Sky for the Gallatin River. They offer Less Challenging and More Challenging guided tours for every level, and depending on water levels, can accommodate age six and up on the Less Challenging routes.
Geyser Whitewater Expeditions: Located in Big Sky, Geyser Whitewater Expeditions has several choices for whitewater rafting excursions along the Gallatin, including options that include rafting and another activity, such as horseback riding and ziplining.
Wild River Adventures: Located in West Glacier, this rafting outfitter offers whitewater rafting adventures along the Flathead River that range from just a few hours to overnight trips.
Glacier Raft Company: Another outdoor outfitter that is based in West Glacier and offers rafting trips along the Middle and North Forks of the Flathead River. This family-owned company also has rafts available to rent.
Great Northern: This is a great option for visitors to the Glacier Country area of Montana who really want to immerse themselves in rafting since Great Northern also operates a resort. You’ll conveniently be close to kayak and raft rentals as well as the guided tours — some of which include fishing and farm-to-table dinners.
Adventure Whitewater: A rafting outfitter based out of Red Lodge, MT with their own private launch on the Stillwater River. They offer half-day rafting trips as well as full-day “Paddle n’ Saddle” excursions that combine whitewater rafting with horseback riding.
Most guided tours for whitewater rafting will include life jackets and wet suits, but double check what’s included and what you’ll need to bring with you for the adventure.