Floating Smith River in Montana

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DrNed

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Thread starter #1
Does anyone have experience floating the Smith River in Montana?

It looks like just the float trip I'm looking for.

It sounds like the it may be tough getting a permit, but the trip itself sounds
awesome.

Here's the site of one of the local outfitters.

Thanks
 

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Nick

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#2
It's been on my radar ever since seeing an awesome report on here from @AustinCronnelly. The no dog thing sucks though.
 

DrNed

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Thread starter #3
It's been on my radar ever since seeing an awesome report on here from @AustinCronnelly. The no dog thing sucks though.
Thanks Nick!

After reading that I'm more jazzed than ever. Also looking into Blackfoot and Bitterroot that one of the commenters
mentioned.

Thanks again.
 
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#4
My wife and I have done it several times but the most recent was at least 20 years back. It remains rather unique and very scenic but it was just getting too popular for us. No doubt the permit system remedied some of that.

General advice: go early if you can get the permit. There is usually a lot of very shallow water by August-irrigation sucks most of the water. Not sure how the only stretch of real white water is these days. It is right above the mouth of the canyon and used to require getting very well lined out if you didn't want a canoe full of water. The only other hazard consists of some very tight turns with cliff walls for boundaries. Inevitably, had to use an ore on the rock a few times. And maybe pestilent black bears.

The white water section was different every time we went. A lot of rock moving around in there during high water.

Worth the trip? Absolutely!!!! I have no idea where my Kodachrome is for those trips. Also have some slides of a trip there in the late 50's shot by my parents.
 
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#5
It is a fantastic trip that I would take annually.... if it were possible. A permit system is in place and in it's getting more more difficult to land one. It's become a yearly tradition to apply for the Smith in February. With that being said, my Dad has gone almost a dozen times.

Like @John Goering had mentioned, you want to try and get a permit for early in the season, while the water is still there. Otherwise you can expect to find yourself pulling your boat in spots (unless you are canoeing or kayaking I suppose). I usually apply for around Memorial Day weekend, but that also opens yourself up to rain and snow.

The fishing is supposed to be top notch, which might be better suited a little later in the season, but I can't really speak on that.

I'd be happy to answer any other questions, and if I ever score a permit and have extra spots I'll keep you in mind!

Also, you can float it before the permit season, April-ish, I know that's not uncommon for some.
 

DrNed

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Thread starter #6
Also, you can float it before the permit season, April-ish, I know that's not uncommon for some.
Interesting . . . so does the permit system kick in starting May?
How late in the year does it go?

I noted in your TR that you wished you had taken more days.
Is that to suggest that there is plenty of off river sites to see?

What's the system for obtaining camps sites if/when permit is secured?
What are the bugs like?

Do you have any experience on the Bitterroot & Blackfoot? If so what's
your impression of them?

Much thanks!
 
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#7
I'll do my best to answer your questions..

Interesting . . . so does the permit system kick in starting May?
How late in the year does it go?


The high-use season is May 15 to July 15. Low flows usually limit floating after mid-July. I believe it does begin in May, but couldn't find for certain.

I noted in your TR that you wished you had taken more days.
Is that to suggest that there is plenty of off river sites to see?


The river is 59 miles long and we broke it down into roughly 3- 20 mile days, only camping 2 nights on the river. The max they will allow is 4 nights/5 days. Personally I would have liked more time to for photographing Sunrise/Sunset around camps. I also saw nearly a dozen caves I would have like to pull over and hike up to from the river. There are visible archeological sites from the river but this PDF documents many, many more.
http://www.greerservices.com/mwg-in...d=ImLaHWl0LpXBq5CzCapcWBGKfB5sQTX7AcvSpDVz1qE
Generally, the more time I can spend in such a beautiful place the better. Plus more time for fishing, if you are into that.

What's the system for obtaining camps sites if/when permit is secured?

The morning of your launch you line up at the ranger station and select your campsites on a first come first served basis. There are many camp areas, so you do have a little bit of wiggle room for how much mileage you want to try for per day. Here is a little bit of info from the MT State Parks Website... Upon your arrival, report directly to the Ranger Station office to sign-in, which is located near the downstream launch area and the vault toilets. A sign-in sheet is located within a registration box on the deck of the Ranger Station. Please note: The earliest you are allowed to sign in is 7:30 AM on the day prior to your launch. Only one member of the group is required to sign-in and it does not have to be the permit holder. Registration, including fee collection and boat camp selection, will be completed the morning of your scheduled launch based on the order of sign-in. Registration begins at 7:30 AM in the campground and/or launch areas and lasts approximately 20 minutes per group, which includes a safety and orientation talk. Each group will be provided a registration form documenting declared boat camps, boat tags, a Smith River map for each boat and one floaters’ log.

What are the bugs like?


When I've gone in late May/ early June, bugs have never been an issue. Still a little cold for them.


Do you have any experience on the Bitterroot & Blackfoot? If so what's
your impression of them?


Unfortunately, no. I grew up in SW Montana so I spent all my time on the Jefferson, Madison and Big Hole Rivers. But the Blackfoot is a beautiful river, Bitterroot seems to have a little more whitewater from what I remember. Man, I miss those mountain rivers.



Do you have ties to Montana or how did the Smith spark your interest?
 

DrNed

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Thread starter #8
@AustinCronnelly Wow! Good info - thank you very much.

I have no ties to Montana. I've been searching for a mountain float trip that I would feel comfortable
managing, that had great scenery, off river hikes, etc and something I could turn into 4-6 day trip.

Honestly I don't remember how I found it. @Jackson refered me to the Flathead River in Montana. While I
was deep down the rabbit hole of Google searches I came across Smith River and said this is it!

So I'm hopping I"ve lived a good enough life, given proper homage to the river gods and I just get
lucky and end up with a permit. It really seems like a river trip of a lifetime. Even if I don't get
a permit, this looks like the kinda trip I'll keep putting in for until I do.

I have some home made skin on frame kayaks that are around 14 feet long. Do you think that they
would be able to handle this river?

Based on my above criteria, would the Jefferson, Madison & Big Hole be worth looking into?

It seems like Montana has some great mountain rivers!

Thanks again!
 

Jackson

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#9
Based on my above criteria, would the Jefferson, Madison & Big Hole be worth looking into
I've never floated the Madison before, but I've seen most parts of it, and I don't know that it would meet your criteria extremely well. It runs through some fantastic scenery, but it often runs right next to highways and private land, so I don't know of many places that would be good for camping or hiking along it. Between Quake Lake and Ennis is my favorite stretch, but it has some pretty insane rapids directly below Quake Lake, follows the highway, and a good chunk of the land nearby is private. It runs into Ennis Lake near the town of Ennis, and after the dam, it enters Beartrap Canyon with some decent rapids (II, III, IV). After that, it's not too rough, but again, I'm not sure about the ownership of the land nearby. It also becomes pretty braided the closer it gets to the Jefferson. Most of the people I've seen on the Madison just float it on tubes during the Summer or take day trips on the calmer sections.

I've always wanted to see someone run the spot below Quake Lake though.
 

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DrNed

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I've never floated the Madison before, but I've seen most parts of it, and I don't know that it would meet your criteria extremely well. It runs through some fantastic scenery, but it often runs right next to highways and private land, so I don't know of many places that would be good for camping or hiking along it. Between Quake Lake and Ennis is my favorite stretch, but it has some pretty insane rapids directly below Quake Lake, follows the highway, and a good chunk of the land nearby is private. It runs into Ennis Lake near the town of Ennis, and after the dam, it enters Beartrap Canyon with some decent rapids (II, III, IV). After that, it's not too rough, but again, I'm not sure about the ownership of the land nearby. It also becomes pretty braided the closer it gets to the Jefferson. Most of the people I've seen on the Madison just float it on tubes during the Summer or take day trips on the calmer sections.

I've always wanted to see someone run the spot below Quake Lake though.
Good to know - thanks!
 
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#13
@AustinCronnelly Wow! Good info - thank you very much.

I have no ties to Montana. I've been searching for a mountain float trip that I would feel comfortable
managing, that had great scenery, off river hikes, etc and something I could turn into 4-6 day trip.

Honestly I don't remember how I found it. @Jackson refered me to the Flathead River in Montana. While I
was deep down the rabbit hole of Google searches I came across Smith River and said this is it!

So I'm hopping I"ve lived a good enough life, given proper homage to the river gods and I just get
lucky and end up with a permit. It really seems like a river trip of a lifetime. Even if I don't get
a permit, this looks like the kinda trip I'll keep putting in for until I do.

I have some home made skin on frame kayaks that are around 14 feet long. Do you think that they
would be able to handle this river?

Based on my above criteria, would the Jefferson, Madison & Big Hole be worth looking into?

It seems like Montana has some great mountain rivers!

Thanks again!
I would agree with @Jackson , you aren't going to find the same multi-day, immersive experience on the other mentioned rivers as you would on the Smith. They are more suited for day trips, but each beautiful in their own right.

I don't think you would have a problem in your kayak. There is nothing technical about the Smith.
 
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#14
I've never floated the Madison before, but I've seen most parts of it, and I don't know that it would meet your criteria extremely well. It runs through some fantastic scenery, but it often runs right next to highways and private land, so I don't know of many places that would be good for camping or hiking along it. Between Quake Lake and Ennis is my favorite stretch, but it has some pretty insane rapids directly below Quake Lake, follows the highway, and a good chunk of the land nearby is private. It runs into Ennis Lake near the town of Ennis, and after the dam, it enters Beartrap Canyon with some decent rapids (II, III, IV). After that, it's not too rough, but again, I'm not sure about the ownership of the land nearby. It also becomes pretty braided the closer it gets to the Jefferson. Most of the people I've seen on the Madison just float it on tubes during the Summer or take day trips on the calmer sections.

I've always wanted to see someone run the spot below Quake Lake though.
It does get rowdy below Quake Lake!
 

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#15
It might have already been mentioned, but the Smith River has some new food storage rules for bears. I almost went this year, and we were going to either have to buy an electric fence, or buy a special type of cooler for our food.
 

DrNed

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It might have already been mentioned, but the Smith River has some new food storage rules for bears. I almost went this year, and we were going to either have to buy an electric fence, or buy a special type of cooler for our food.
In my searches I saw some headlines about this but haven't investigated. Thanks for bringing this up - I'll check it out.
 

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DrNed

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you aren't going to find the same multi-day, immersive experience on the other mentioned rivers as you would on the Smith. They are more suited for day trips, but each beautiful in their own right.
I did a superficial search on the Jefferson and I got the impression that it could work as a multi day trip.

http://www.jeffersonriver.org/floating_the_jefferson.htm

Based on your personal experience is that a misunderstanding on my part?

Thanks
 
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#19
I did a superficial search on the Jefferson and I got the impression that it could work as a multi day trip.

http://www.jeffersonriver.org/floating_the_jefferson.htm

Based on your personal experience is that a misunderstanding on my part?

Thanks
You are correct, you could certainly do a multi day trip along the Jeff. Especially with your kayaks. You will primarily be floating in a wide mountain valley along side farms and a few private residences. There is a one area where it narrows up a bit, but you share that section with train tracks and a road. I don't think you would find the same options for exploring off of the river or have the same type of solitude, but it would be an enjoyable trip nonetheless. No hassles with permits and an easy shuttle. My family has property near Silver Star so the Jefferson was my home river.
 
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#20
It might have already been mentioned, but the Smith River has some new food storage rules for bears. I almost went this year, and we were going to either have to buy an electric fence, or buy a special type of cooler for our food.
A few years ago there was a problem bear that popped a few rubber rafts. I believe this is what spurred the new regulations.
 

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