Floating the Smith River, Montana


Butte Rat
Jan 18, 2012
I love Utah, but if there is one thing I miss about Montana, it's the long lazy mountain rivers. Before I moved, most weekends would be spent with friends and family leisurely floating along at 2 beers per mile.

The mother of all Montana river trips is the Smith, a 60 mile, permit only canyon. Last year over 6,000 people applied for 1,000 permits and that number seems to grow each year. I've read that scoring a Smith permit is equivalent to nabbing a private permit to float the Colorado through the GC. Due largely in part because the low amount of water shortens the window of opportunity. The river is unfloatable at 100 cfs and it hovered around 450 cfs during our trip over memorial day.

In our group we had 5 rafts and 1 large pontoon. Most people take 4-5 days to make the trip, but we decided on three 20-mile days. Next time, I will definitely take more time.

The canyon starts out in a beautiful forest of Ponderosa, Lodgpole and Hemlock trees.

Throughout the trip we encountered plenty of wildlife. Dozens of Geese and their goslings.

Ducks with afros...

Also Whitetail Deer and a few Elk. But this guys was the kicker. A nice big black bear less than 40 yards from the shore.

Ten miles in, the forest starts to give way to high, beautiful limestone walls.

I thought this would last maybe 10 miles or so, but it extended another 30 miles!

Our night one campsite.

I spent most of the second day behind the oars so my Dad could fish and so my sister could continue to get her day drunk on. The scenery was no less spectacular, but I only grabbed a few pictures.

A cool alcove in the cliff. We fit 3 full sized rafts in here.

Throughout the entire canyon their are roughly 10 significant sizes caves high above the canyon. We pulled over and I hiked up to this one with my sister. A few tricky climbing moves and 400 ft later we were at the top.

The Smith River drainage houses a significant amount of plains Indian rock art. Here is more information for anyone who is interested. http://www.greerservices.com/Assets/publications_pdfs/2001MAS_SmithRiver/2001_MAS_SmithRivermg2r.pdf

I believe the feature in the lower left is a turtle...

The rock art was cool, be the view was unbelievable. I was really kicking myself for not grabbing my tripod from the boat. Apparently I had a good day drunk going on myself because I proved incapable of taking quality shot. I was trying to hand hold GND filters.

Nonetheless, it was beautiful.

Across from campsite #2.

And one the best toilet I've used to date.

Day 3 it rained in typical Montana Memorial day fashion so I didn't take out the camera.

It was a great trip that I cant wait to do again.

Featured image for home page:


May 3, 2013
River trips are good for the soul. Incredible scenery!

+2 for the afro ducks.


Feb 8, 2012
aaahhhmazing! I am really sad I don't think I will make it back to Montana this year, I used to raft the Blackfoot and float the Bitterroot as a kid. But I do have a river trip coming up on the San Juan!


Watch yer top-knot
Apr 27, 2013
I only spent 1 summer in Montana but I always want to go back... even more so now! Looks like a pretty calm river from the photos, how would it be in a canoe?


Hike Hard, Tread Lightly
May 15, 2013
Fantastic trip. The country is beautiful and the scenery amazing. wow. Aren't river trips the best of car camping and backpacking? We've got to get up to Montana. Thanks for the TR.


Butte Rat
Jan 18, 2012
I only spent 1 summer in Montana but I always want to go back... even more so now! Looks like a pretty calm river from the photos, how would it be in a canoe?

There are only 3 sections of significant rapids and only class II at that. The group that put in after us has a few inflatable and regular canoes. I'm sure they had a no issues.


Feb 24, 2012
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