Upper Missouri River trip

My son and I are planning a trip to the upper Missouri the last two weeks in June. We are planning on doing the whole 149 miles from Ft. Benton to James Kipp. My son goes to college in Duluth Mn so we have made a few trips into the BWCA, the Apostle Islands and other shorter river trips in Mn and Wi. So we are not total novices when it comes to kayak tripping.

I’ve only seen pictures of the area on the BLM web site and following leads from this web site. I noticed a lack of trees; this looks more like a high desert area, never paddled that; always had lots of trees and brush and poison ivy.

We plan on taking water with us about 5 gal. each kayak and a filter as a back up. Is the river water drinkable after filtering or is there agricultural/mining runoff to be concered about?

The BLM said there was a lot of wildlife to be seen, but they didn’t mention bears. Do I need to bring my bear spray and ropes to hang the food?

What’s the weather like at that time of year?

Who would you recomend to shuttle our car to Kipp?

Any other words of wisdom would be very helpful.

Upper Missouri
Great Trip!

You will really enjoy this river trip. There are two very good outfitters in Ft Benton. Both have web sites. Check under Missouri River Trips-Montana. They give you pictures and lots of information on the river. I ran this section four years ago in the first week of June. You will find excellent campsites on the section from Ft. Benton to Judith Landing. Beyond Judith Landing the sites are more primitive. Bring your five gal of water. It can be refilled at four places on the river. It is possible to filter the Missouri’s water, but it is so silt ladden that you would need to let it settle before prefiltering it.

The weather in June is usually in the 70’s with many days of high winds blowing up river in the afternoons. Local thunder-lightning showers are common. I spent my first day in 5" of rainfall followed by a day of 75 degree sun. The river will be at full volume running at about five mph. There are oak and willows along the river. You will see Eagles, Pelicans, Osprey, deer, antelope, coyotes, and other small game like rabbits. There are no bears to worry about.

You will need a permit from the Bureau of Land Management. Avoid camping on private land on the stretch below Ft Benton the first 20 miles.

The outfitters can provide all your canoes etc, guide service if you want it, and pick up or car shuttle service.

Thanks Murph
Thanks for the info on the bears; didn’t want to bring along any more equipment than needed.

I remember reading somthing about bears when Lewis and Clark past through there; but that was over 200 years ago.

The weather sounds perfect for paddling but we will bring along dry tops and pants just in case.

With the river flow at about 5 mph, we should have plenty of time for hiking or even an extra day or two if we get blown out. We have 10 days available on the water.


A write-up I did in 2001…
The upper Missouri is a muddy, slow moving (typically 1-3 mph) river. It has some areas of faster water but nothing up to Class 2, and is a good river for people who haven’t much river experience. We paddled from Coal Banks down to James Kipp rec. area. It was somewhere around 110 miles. We had planned to take 6 days to do it on advice of outfitters there.

The scenery is quite spectacular in places with some very rugged country. The first three days were filled with high canyon walls with the “white cliffs” emerging from the land. The second half had more of the same shapes but was earth colored. We saw some wild goats, heard Coyotes in the night and saw lots of bird life. There was evidence of beavers, but alas we never spied one.

It is common for temperatures to be in the high 90’s in the summer in this area (and it was felt like it probably was) .If one wanted to, the run could be cut in half, as there is road access at Judith landing.

The second half of the run (Judith landing to James Kipp rec. area) seems to have much muddier banks then the first half of the trip. When getting out of the kayak it was pretty common to sink about 8 or 10 inches into the mud (which made it less desirable for an afternoon/evening swim after setting up camp). And while the whole trip had plenty of flies, the lower section of the river had much worse conditions (not sure why). We came prepared with head nets, but lost one of them along the way, and had to take turns with the remaining one. The no-see-ums were so bad that we cut the trip short and paddled extra miles to do it in 2 days, instead of the planned three. For some reason the No-see-ums were not bad in the first 3 days of the five-day trip. The river is low this year due to drought conditions, so maybe the high concentration of bugs is not at a typical level. I don’t know if this has any bearing on it.

It was very beautiful, quiet, and relaxing. But If I were to do it again, I think I would bring some hiking boots, and spend 5 days drifting and exploring (hiking) the first half only (about 50 miles). There are so many cool looking canyons to explore. I feel like we just kind of raced through some of the best parts. A definite “don’t miss”, is the hike up to “Hole in the Wall”. Only about 25 minutes to the top, and just beautiful.

Also, if I was going to do it again, I would find a way to carry a good quality bug tent, with a floor and fine mess screen as privacy is not an issue there, (the No-see-ums were able to slip through the large mesh of the one that we had) and tall enough to stand up in. This would give you a bug-free place to cook, relax and read in the afternoons. The smaller tent we took to fit in the kayak worked for this, but it was too hot, and too confining during the afternoon.

The best part of it was the profound sense of isolation out there. Camping is open on all BLM or government land so it is easy to just pick a spot along the stands of Cottonwoods that show up along the river and not have anyone around for miles."

If you bring your own shade you’ll have more options on camping locations.

All the best,


Murph gave good info
The only thing I’d take issue with is the “oak” trees, more likely cotton wood. L&C’s “bears” were grizzly’s, they have moved west to the mountains and live in my neighborhood now. Be sure to check out the slot canyon at Eagle Creek (across from “eye of the needle”, which has been vandalized). You will have a good time. I did it a few years ago at the same time of year, no mosquitos but don’t count on that, take some repelant.

Upper Missouri
I agree that the stretch of river from Ft. Benton to Judith Landing is the more spectacular of the two stretches. The lower section to Kip Landing is more remote. The distance from Ft Benton to Judith Landing is 95 miles. I covered the upper section in my 16’ canoe in two and a half days paddling about five hours per day. The first day I actually went 47.5 miles. In a kayak you ought to have lots of time for exploring places like Hole in the Wall.

May and June have better paddling conditions I believe than July-Sept. Once the end of June arrives temperatures on the river jump into the 90’s and the no see ums can pose a problem. With the end of July until Sept. the river flow decreases and sand bars start appearing and the river slows. It is always full of silt. Winds shift frequently in summer, but are always higher in the afternoons making headwinds on the river a factor for covering more milage. It is much less a problem for a kayak than a canoe, but still a factor.

There are numerous old homesteads along the river, and a couple of Native American sites as well.

Regarding the mud situation. Much of the time I was on this stretch of river it was raining so mud seemed to me to be just part of the situation. I wore neoprene mukluks up to my knees which handled the mud well. They are easily cleaned off, offer great traction, and waterproofness. I carried my two man Kelty Teton Three Season Tent. Half my nights were spent in shelters, the best of which was at Hole in the Wall Campsite. Get there before 1:pm or you may have to use your tent. Big canoe groups like to stay at this campsite. If you want more seclusion there is another campsite on the opposite bank about seven miles beyond Hole in the Wall.

My favorite trip
My wife and I do this trip every year or 2. No bears, cottonwod trees not oaks. Forget water filter, to muddy. See if you can get a copy of Montana’s Wild and Scenic Upper Missouri River. By Glenn Monahan and Chanler Biggs. This is the premier book for this trip. It gives mile by mile info + camping info. Last years trip was the best. we went the3rd week in june and the river was at flood stage. Flood just means higher water and faster 8mph there are no rapids. With the lack of snow and rain so far I don’t think that will be likely this year probably 4mph flow. Bring your camera,rain gear,(rain or sunshine or both in 15 minutes). They saay this is rattlesnake country but I’ve only seen one at this time of year in 5 trips. Get this book it will answer all your Q’s. Enjoy your trip I may do it again this year myself.

Missouri River

– Last Updated: Feb-10-09 4:03 PM EST –

Did the Virgil to Judith Landing stretch (48 miles) two years ago in early June with my wife, our teenage son, and a neighbor boy. MY GPS indicated that current speed was two to three miles per hour. It was warm and sunny, temps were moderate and bugs were at a minimum. It's an absolutely beautiful section of the river. One afternoon we experienced very high DOWNSTREAM winds in the afternoon. We pulled into our campsite for the evening just before the wind started to blow so hard that it would have made it pretty much impossible to control a canoe, probably not as much of problem for kayaks, especially if equipped with skegs or rudders. Because you never know when the winds might come up, it's probably a good idea to get your miles in early, then do hikes from camp in the afternoon. Take your fresh water with you. You wouldn't want to filter and drink river water unless it was an emergency.

The boys had a blast finding frogs, turtles, and, yes, rattlesnakes. We saw three snakes in three days on the river. Two of the snakes were directly in our path on walks, one less than 50 feet out of camp. Prairie rattlers don't seem to be at all aggressive, quite mellow in fact. Still, watch where you place your feet, and don't go recklessly chargeing into tall grass.

I can't wait to do it again, including the badlands section next time.

you guys are great!
Lots of good info. Between what I’ve learned here and the BLM site, I think we have it covered. Come on spring!

Thank you


I forgot to mention
The shuttle service to use is Johns shuttle service. Great guy and reliable. Here is the link http://www.fortbenton.com/johns/index.htm One last thing I,ve done this trip in both canoe and kayaks and I have to say if you have access to a canoe this trip lends itself to canoes. Kayaks work but you cant bring as much comfort stuff. And lastly forget what the others say. The river between Judith and Kipp is the best part of the trip and truly beutiful. A GPS might be helpful to find campsites and you can find the waypoints in the book I talked about in the letter above. Have a great trip My wife has informed me we will be doing it again this June.

me me me
CHeck trip reports. I just did that section in December in the snow. Ive done it a bunch including upstream. COntact me for more details ok.

High Desert

Few trees, but some huge cottonwood groves,where i can tell you to camp etc.

Water still sitying maybe…it doesnt get that silty since its dam controlled out of Great Falls. You can get water at the store at Judith Landing a few days down.

NO bears to worry about, never heard of any there, but sure there is but no worries about hanging food etc.

Email me and i can get more specific


Missouri River trip
Good trip report well written with lotsa good info.

We are planning on the last 2 weeks of June. I hope the water is high and the bugs are low. I’ll take you up on the e-mail invite and get with you as we get closer to June.

Can’t see a trip in Dec. too cold. You would think that wouldn’t bother a Minnesota boy. But I moved back here a few years ago; lived in Florida for 20 years. I never will get used to the cold again.

keep me posted, maybe if you run into logistcal problems i can help as a back up for a car shuttle but dont count on it. Its a LONG expensive shuttle with the high gas prices. Google any of the outfitters in Ft. Benton for shuttle rides etc. ALl about the same price. If you are coming out with two vehicles, then drop one off at the take out. If you want to do the shuttle youself, which i have done, is drop everything off in Ft. Benton, then one of you take the car to the take out, bring a sign, and paddle when you hitchhike to get a quick ride. It will be about a 5-6 hour round trip to do the shuttle but will also save you a couple hundred bucks is my guess.

June is a good time. Not too hot some bugs but not a lot. There may not be many this year anyway…since its a dry lacking snow winter. I live in S. montana and there is NO snow in my yard. Not good!

You can get water, icecream, minor snacks at Judith landing.

Bring a copy of lewis and clarks journals since its unchanged since they went through there.

Many great camps…some MARKED for camping, others just go to the cottonwood groves, plenty of firewood but not necessary.

There are TWO shelters in case you need to dry out where you can pictch tent inside a three sided cabin and pit toilets. YOu can do the trip quickley but take your time. I wouldnt paddle more than 15-20 miles a day which is about 5 hours max of paddling.

In winter two months ago. I camped leaving Ft. Benton just below Marias River, Next night (two nights actually since river froze over) just down from Coal Banks. Next night below Citidel Rock, Next night at Slaughter Creek Lewis anc clark camp of aug 29 (?). Next night just above Mcloud Ferry ( i think thats the name), next night at the NEz Perce Crossing…great camp. Last night at the take out. Remember this was december and it gets dark at 430 pm so we had plenty of time.

Dont make a major planning production out of it…its all basic and simple and you really dont need a map. There are many rapids listed on all maps…there is basically NOTHING there, a riffle. These rapids have been on maps since the 1800’s since they DID affect steamwheeler paddle boats which would sink and break up on the shallow “rapids” every “rapid” i encountered two months ago in winter I would have felt comfortable paddling through going sideways or even backwards down them. Class 1! Novice paddling trip. Take lots of photos.

what about…
bugs? Is there a point when the bugs die off? I plan my BWCA trips for September, when the crowds are reduced, but more importantly, the bugs are dead. I don’t think I’ve seen a single insect in the two September trips I’ve taken to BWCA.

So… do the bugs die and is the river still doable by canoe in the first part of September?

no offense
but i havent used bug dope in about the last 18 years of paddling.

Dont worry about bugs in montana…its not the bwca or the yukon! ive hung out at many ah camps during bug season wearing nothing but shorts.

dem bugs
I wasn’t sure what to expect in Montana in June. By the photos I’ve seen, not much standing water. That usally means less bugs.

I’ve been in N. Minnesota in August and had no real bug problem. But in June or July, them skeeters will almost fly the canoe over the portages. One week the’re so thick you’re inhaling them; the next week nothing.

hows planning going?
yeahs its a hit and miss on bugs, depends on rain and heat that time of year. Never heard them being bad up there. This winters been dry snow wise so unless there is a buttload of rain the next couple months you should be good. You wont have anything like the bouddary waters.

Let me know how the planning is going. I know some really good camp areas, hikeing, sights, historic stuff etc. Get the guide book on the history of the upper missouri, lots of good pics, history info etc.

email me if you need anything…