The Blackfoot River
The Black Foot River is Montana’s Big Sky River and is also Missoula, Montana’s most famous and beautiful river which flows into the Clark Fork River. You’ll love the exquisite scenery and the soul-nourishing lunch served on every Blackfoot River trip!
A River Runs Through Montana
Author Norman MaClean popularized the Big Blackfoot River, “a river of age and rawness, unparalleled in notoriety and beauty,” as he penned in his novella A River Runs Through It ~
“On the Big Black Foot River above the mouth of Belmont Creek the banks are fringed by large Ponderosa pines. In the slanting sun of late afternoon the shadows of great branches reached from across the river, and the trees took the river in their arms. The shadows continued up the bank, until they included us…
…. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise…
…. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”
Enjoy Montana ’s scenic landscapes, beautiful wildlife and enchanting water on a rafting trip down the legendary Blackfoot River. Made famous by Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, the Blackfoot River offers a wide variety of adventure, from gentle scenic floats to wild whitewater fun. Enjoy this famous river from a raft, with a catered lunch (included on full day trips). No experience necessary!
The “Big” Blackfoot River
The Blackfoot River is sometimes called the Big Blackfoot River to distinguish it from the Little Blackfoot River. It begins in western Montana 10 miles northeast of the town of Lincoln, then flows westward until it enters the Clark Fork River 5 miles east of the city of Missoula at the town of Milltown. The river canyon and the valleys below were formed by what geologists refer to as “Missoula Floods”– the result of an enormous break of an ice jam, draining a gigantic lake.
The whitewater portion of the Blackfoot River starts at Russell Gates and is more than 45 miles long with numerous possibilities for different floats. During the high water season, the Blackfoot River is a good class II-III river with exciting wave trains and a few exhilarating holes. The result is a dashingly beautiful stream that provides outstanding whitewater excitement and incredible scenery.
Blackfoot River Statistics
132 miles long from Anaconda Creek near Rodgers Pass to its junction with the Clark Fork near Milltown.
Class I and II except at peak flows. The best whitewater lies between Russell Gates and Johnsrud Park.
Annual mean flow: 1,573 cfs near Bonner. Floatable all year below the North Fork of the Blackfoot.
Where To Start
Blackfoot floats can start as high in the drainage as a few miles east of Lincoln, where the Landers Fork meets the main river. Between Lincoln and Russell Gates FAS, the main Blackfoot offers outstanding scenery as it meanders through undeveloped river bottoms, occasional farmland, and secluded canyons. It’s an excellent area to see bald eagles, as several pairs nest along the river.
Between River Junction and Russell Gates…
gushes a 5-mile section of river known as Box Canyon. One of the most memorable scenes in Norman MaClean’s excellent book, “A River Runs Through It,” takes place here (most of the movie was filmed on the Gallatin River). Steep cliffs rise from both sides of the river and thick timber blankets surround the hillsides. Cliff swallows construct mud nests on the cliff walls, as do hawks and eagles. While the river has several rocky ledges and drop-downs, the canyon has only one moderately difficult rapid.
Russell Gates and Roundup
Between Russell Gates and Roundup, it’s all Class I and Class II water at normal flows, but the drops bump up to Class III during runoff. Immediately upstream from the Highway 200 bridge at Roundup lies a big rock garden that lasts for several hundred yards. Easy access makes it a popular kayak spot.
Whitewater continues for several miles below Roundup, with plenty of big rocks. At high flows, the rapids can be fairly continuous, allowing little time for recovery if there’s an upset. But you can catch your breath in the six-mile stretch of quiet water between Ninemile Prairie and Whitaker Bridge. Right after Whitaker, look for the Blackfoot’s best-known piece of whitewater, Thibodeau Rapids. Look for big rocks and a drop; the safest route is on the right. Watch for several other frisky rapids in the next few miles below Whitaker and Johnsrud Park. Most of the river between Roundup and Johnsrud is Class I or II except during high water when the larger drops become Class III. At high flows, even the 10-mile section between Johnsrud Park and the weigh station at Bonner can be exciting. It’s mostly Class II or less, but high waves can develop and the current is very fast.