Where Rivers Run

Elizabeth Anderson

Living in this beautiful town, we may not always realize how truly fortunate we are to have as much access to the rivers as we do in and around the Gallatin Valley and in such short distances. Around this time, as July comes to a close and August arrives, we ask ourselves the same question: Where did summer go? As much as I could dwell over the short summer remaining, I’d like to approach August with an open mind. Even with the harsh high temperatures, fire-inducing wind, and ever increasing back-to-school advertisements in the newspaper, the fleeting days can still be enjoyed outside.

If you can relate to any of these feelings, I share this list with you in the hope you will share with others, and they will inevitably share their go-to August adventures with you. We Montanans didn’t endure eight months of snow to succumb to an abbreviated version of our beloved summer. June is fleeting and often wet and gloomy, July is booming, and August is all the sweeter, knowing what is sure to follow. So, in a short salute to August in Montana, be sure to partake in every last best thing what’s left of the summer has to offer.

Seeking relief from the heat, most of us run to the nearest body of water. Rivers abound within a short drive from Main Street. For professional or amateur fishing, floating, rafting, kayaking, or just simply jumping in for a swim to relieve the heat of the day, I recommend the following:

Gallatin River ~ 16.1 miles from Bozeman
With a wide-ranging variety of water to experience, the scenery and serenity on the Gallatin is hard to beat. Thanks to the increasing number of pullouts on the side of the highway, fishing along the uppermost section requires as little as pulling off the road and walking down to the river. Whitewater rafting is popular in the wild currents near Big Sky. Below the Gallatin Canyon, there are many access points to wade and cast lines. Best fishing recommended is around mid-to late summer, but fish can be caught on any given day of the year on the Gallatin.

Madison River ~ 26.8 miles from Bozeman
A stretch of this river is known as “The Bikini Hatch” because of floating popularity from Warm Springs to Black’s Ford. This is a crowded section, so fishermen need to go early in the morning or further downstream from the Bikini Hatch into the lower Madison towards Three Forks. A boat can be helpful to cover the vast distance from one hole to the next.

Jefferson River ~ 51 miles from Bozeman
The Jefferson runs along state highways starting from Twin Bridges and to Whitehall, Willow Creek, then Three Forks. It flows through mainly private land, but there are eleven official access sites, seven with boat ramps. The gentle flows also make for a peaceful float, and the Williams Bridge is the ultimate ending of the float to do some bridge jumping. Even though it’s the shortest (83 miles) of the three tributaries that make up the Missouri, the Jefferson is big and wide with a slow and steady flow. It’s an ideal destination to cool off in these summer months.

Yellowstone River ~25.9 miles from Bozeman
The expansive landscape and big open water make the stretch of the Yellowstone from Livingston to Big Timber a favorite with guides and locals. The size and braided channels makes drift boating an unforgettable experience. It is very much known to be a fisherman’s paradise from early August until the cooler days of September, considered to be the most amped up time to fish the lower Yellowstone. Casting oversized grasshopper flies to rainbow and brown trout is about as good as it gets.

Firehole ~105.5 miles from Bozeman
You’ll find a local favorite swimming hole toward the end of Firehole Canyon Drive past West Yellowstone and through the park entrance. Beaches line the side of this stretch to lay out on. The water is warm and brilliantly blue, flowing through a deep canyon for a unique experience in swimming.

Boiling River ~ 75 miles from Bozeman
Located just 2.9 miles south of the north entrance to Yellowstone, you’ll find this must-stop spot where Mammoth Hot Spring enters the Gardiner River, making the hot and cool waters collide and create just the right temperature to soak in. This natural spring makes a great place to stop and relax in the daytime along the way (to or from) adventuring in the park. The only period of time the hotspot is closed is during the spring when the river rises and becomes dangerous, sometimes not even opening 'til mid-summer some years.  

People come from all over the world to fish Montana’s rivers. It can be intimidating at first for a beginner, but there’s no other feeling quite like hooking a fish on the end of a line and reeling in the first one. Fly-fishing is a purely recreational activity. The best rivers in Montana to fish are right in our surrounding area. Many of us find therapy and meaning through fishing. It is something we choose to get out and do. We are lucky we get to fly fish and have access to streams and other waterways. Whatever it is you decide to do, whether it’s fishing, boating, or floating, take advantage of every day on the water and live it up. Be kind to your fellow boaters, anglers and non-anglers alike, and kind to the environment.  

August brings the heat, but it is also the perfect time to wade in rivers and streams as the water recedes just enough after the long winter (and wet spring) we’ve had. Missouri Headwaters State Park encompasses the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers. The geography, history and natural beauty of the confluence is an ideal August destination. Weather can often be unpredictable and change fast, so pack some snacks, water, rain jacket and water shoes, and venture out. No doubt it will feel great to say you’ve seen these places and done these fun things before summer comes to a bittersweet end.

“They say you forget your troubles on a stream, but that’s not quite it. What happens is that you begin to see where your troubles fit into the grand scheme of things, and suddenly they’re not such a big deal anymore.” –John Gierach

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