- Missoula is a hot spot for canoeing and kayaking.
- Practice your moves at Brennan's Wave in downtown Missoula.
- The Blackfoot River offers water for amateur and pro canoers and kayakers alike.
- Don't have a boat, no problem, just rent one from one of the local gear stores.
The bountiful amount of water, between the rivers and lakes in and around Missoula make it the perfect place for the professional canoer and kayaker or those aspiring to join the sport. The area boasts spots for all levels so no one will be left behind.
For beginners, the lakes in the area provide a great place for a bit of confidence building. Also check out the lower Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers for practice on slower, calmer water. And for the pro's looking for a rush, the upper portion of the Blackfoot near Thibodeau Falls offers some technical lines and fast water.
Where to go Canoeing/Kayaking around Missoula
Missoula Kayaking and canoeing, is the perfect summer time recreation. Pick your spot and hit the water.
With water levels constantly changing and hazards popping up, it's a good idea to check with the locals for current water conditions. Stop in one of the many gear shops for information from the folks that paddle these waters daily.
Missoula is the starting point for all directions listed below.
Frenchtown Pond State Park
This 5-acre, spring-fed pond is the perfect place for beginners as you practice your rolls or your strokes. From Missoula, take I-90 west to the Frenchtown exit. The lake is one mile up the frontage road.
Brennan's Wave is it for Missoula kayaking. Named after a local kayaker who died while paddling in 2001, Brennan's Wave is the kayaker's playground. This man-made whitewater play pool is an awesome spot to perfect your spoons, cartwheels, loops, and helixes. Located right in downtown Missoula under the Higgin's Street Bridge. Water access is from Caras Park.
This glacial river, lined with large rocks and coniferous shorelines, is great for all levels. For the more experienced, canoe and kayak the level II to III rapids that are raging from May to mid-June. Still working on balance no problem, the water levels drop greatly after spring run-off.
- Ninemile Prairie to Whitaker Bridge: This is an easy and picturesque paddle for beginners or those looking for a mellow ride. This stretch isn't known so much for the water as for the nude beach you pass along the way. Take I-90 east to Hwy 200 east to milepost 26, then 4 miles west.
- Whitaker Bridge to Johnsrud Park: For more of a wild ride, this stretch of river will take you through Thibodeau Falls, the Blackfoot's most popular rapids. A few more rapids will greet you before you pull out at Johnsrud. Just 11 miles east of Bonner, take I-90 east to Hwy 200 east. Turn north onto Johnsrud Park Road, take this for six miles to the parking area.
- Johnsrud to Bonner: This 10-mile stretch of river is very popular. Sometimes the Blackfoot is a bit shallow here, but it offers nice, calmer, but sometimes fast moving waters for a leisurely day of canoeing or kayaking. Take I-90 east to Hwy 200 east and turn west at Mc Namara Bridge and continue about one mile on Blackfoot River Road.
With the Bitterroot Mountains to the west and the Sapphire Mountains to the east, the Bitterroot River is one of the most beautiful places for canoeing and kayaking in Montana. This river will be more crowded with fisherman then boaters. Although the water is slower than the Clark Fork or the Blackfoot, there are often in-stream obstacles. There are also a number of dams near Hamilton that you will have to portage around. Be aware, don't let the tranquility of the river and its surroundings catch you off guard.
- Hannon to Darby: This 6-mile paddle is through fairly straight forward portion of river, but perfect if you just want to hit the water for a quick outing. Take Hwy 93 south, past Hamilton to milepost 27, where you will find the fishing access put in.
- Florence to Lolo: Close to Missoula and picturesque, this portion of the Bitterroot is a great stretch of water. This 13-mile paddle and 200-yard portage to the parking lot is one that will leave you feeling nice and tired. Take Hwy 93 south to Florence and look for the fishing access.
- Maclay Flat to Harpers Bridge: Here, the Bitterroot River can sometimes be too shallow for canoeing and kayaking. When the waters are right, this is a great paddle due to its proximity to Missoula. Take Hwy 93 south to Blue Mountain Road and follow the signs to Maclay Flats.
Clark Fork River
The Clark Fork River receives less use then other rivers in the area, due to its past and continuing environmental problems. With water levels that resemble a creek instead of a river, the headwaters can be impossible to paddle. If your thinking about giving it a try, only inflatable kayaks will work.
- Superior to St. Regis: Pack the canoe and spend a night under the stars. This 15-mile stretch of river is perfect for the late start, early out overnight. The river is calm and perfect for canoes or touring kayaks. Take I-90 west to Superior and a right at the exit, turn right on Mullen Road East, and the put in, Big Eddy, will be on the right.
Located on the Clark Fork River, the Alberton Gorge is the kayaker's home for whitewater adrenaline, as it stretches 12-miles through a steep-walled canyon. Including, five major rapids and several smaller rapids, the gorge will challenge even the most experienced kayaker. Take I-90 west to the Cyr exit. The main put-in is at Cyr Bridge to Triple Bridge or do Triple Bridge to Tarkio or Ralph's.
The largest lake in the western United States, Flathead Lake offers 200 square miles of open water for canoeing and kayaking. Flathead Lake is very popular and offers a lot of amenities and rental options. Take I-90 west to Hwy 93 north.
Flanked by the Swan and Mission Mountains, Seeley Lake is a beautiful lake for still water paddling. Practice your rolls or your strokes as you take in the lovely scenery. Plenty of amenities and rentals available in the town of Seeley Lake. This lake is also very popular with motor boats and skiiers. From I-90 east, take Hwy 200 east to Hwy 83 north until you reach Seeley.
The banks are covered in thick stands of ponderosa pine and western larch, creating a scenic back drop as you paddle the open waters. Conveniently located just off Hwy 83 north.
Placid Lake is small and quaint, with conifer shorelines and an isolated feel. Sometimes a bit busy on weekends, but don't let that stop you from paddling these pristine waters. From I-90 east, take Hwy 200 east to Hwy 83 north, then take County Road 69 for three miles.
The Clearwater River chain of lakes connects Salmon, Placid and Seeley Lakes. This scenic and mellow paddle will take you down river to the Seeley Lake Ranger Station. This is the perfect day trip. Take I-90 east to Hwy 200 east to Clearwater Junction, look for the large cow. Turn left, go .8miles past the ranger station and continue to the put in. Don't worry, there are signs.
Rentals and Fees
Whether you are new to the sport or an old pro, sometimes you don't always have your boat on hand when you want it. Don't let that stop you from hitting the water. Missoula is full of outdoor gear stores that offer canoe and kayak rental. Options vary so do some research to find the best boat for you!
Rental prices vary according to the type of boat and accessories you need. Day rental prices can range $15.00 to $40.00 a day. Get out there and enjoy Missoula kayaking and canoeing!