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Paddle to the Prairie: Missouri River Travel Tips

Adding a river segment to a trip to American Prairie Reserve is highly recommended and offers a chance to more deeply connect with the region's heritage. The Missouri River served as a highway of westward expansion in early America and as a thoroughfare for tribal nations for thousands of years. Today, you can spend as little as a day and up to a week or more traveling the river through the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Central Montana. This corridor is also officially designated as a National Wild and Scenic River.

Moving east from Fort Benton, there are different access points to consider depending on the desired length of your trip. If you're looking for a multi-day trip before visiting the Reserve, consider launching at Judith Landing north of Winifred and ending your trip at the James Kipp Recreation Area in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. This is one of the least traveled portions of the Monument, offering many quiet moments to observe wildlife and starry skies. If you (or an outfitter) has shuttled a vehicle to the take-out, it's an easy drive from James Kipp to the town of Zortman for fuel and supplies before heading to Buffalo Camp.

To learn about other river segments, including the famed White Cliffs area, visit this website. We've also compiled additional trip planning information and inspiration below. 

PLAN A RIVER-TO-RESERVE ADVENTURE

OUTFITTERS & ORGANIZED TRIPS
American Prairie Reserve often works with Lewis & Clark Trail Adventures for our canoe trip needs and logistics. They run several 3 and 6-day Missouri River Specialty Trips for beginners and experienced paddlers of all ages. You’ll also find experienced guides and outfitters in local communities like Fort Benton and with national tour groups:

 

A WILD AND SCENIC RIVER
According to the website for the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River (UMNWSR) section starts at Fort Benton, Montana, and runs 149 miles downstream, ending in the James Kipp Recreation Area at the Robinson Bridge, where Highway 191 crosses the river. The system was created in 1968 to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL MONUMENT
Floating the river here is also a journey through the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, which was created in 2001. Visit the Monument’s website to explore maps and learn about access, wildlife, geology, history, and more. When your trip is over, check out the Friends of the Missouri River Breaks to stay connected to this special place and find ways to get involved in its conservation.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS & STUDENTS
The Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center offers educational downloads like activity pages as well as teaching materials. Distinctly Montana has also put together a planning guide called “Floating With Kids: 15 Top Tips for Fun on the Missouri River.” And if you’re looking to send a high school-aged student on the river with a group, we recommend the Missouri River Exploration hosted by the Montana Wilderness School.

PADDLING TIPS
A beginner’s guide to canoeing the scenic and historic rivers of Big Sky Country 
Floating the Missouri River 

NEARBY TOWNS
Great Falls
Fort Benton
Winifred
Lewistown
Zortman
Virgelle

MORE TRAVEL & TOURISM INFO
Central Montana Tourism
Missouri River Country Tourism
Missouri Breaks Back Country Byway
Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

TRIPS IN THE NEWS

 

Photos courtesy of Henry Harrison