Floating is a favorite Missoula pastime and a great way to enjoy Montana on a dime. We’ve assembled some tips and tricks for planning a great float – along with a few cool (no pun intended) float recommendations and a couple places to just hang out! Enjoy your last stretch of summer.
#1 – Find the Proper Tube
How much time you plan to spend in your tube should factor into what kind of tube you purchase. Ace Hardware, located on Brooks Street and East Broadway, sells a simple tire tube for $10-$15. For a quality, longer-lasting tube hit The Trail Head, REI or Outdoor Supply.
#2 – Park Your Car Appropriately
You just enjoyed a relaxing float, now how are you going to get back upstream? You will need to shuttle a car to both the put-in and take-out locations! Parking lots located in popular floating stretches will have signs about towing – don’t try pushing the envelope with those. Do not park by Taco Bell or the DoubleTree hotel, as their towing rules are definitely enforced. You may end up having to walk farther than you had initially planned, but it’s worth not having to pay the price of retrieving your towed car!
#3 – Plan Ahead
Whether you’re floating with a large group or just two people, a little bit of planning goes a long way. Make sure to double check that both drivers have their set of keys either with them or hidden in a safe location. Attaching the key to your swimsuit works well, and so does bringing a dry bag to strap to the tube. Speaking from personal experience, as part of the generation that doesn’t remember most phone numbers by heart, tracking someone down to give you a ride can be tricky if you forget your keys.
Insider Tip: Watch the water levels and try to go with someone who has floating experience. If the water levels are too high or too low it can be unsafe to float.
#4 – Keep an Eye Out
During your majestic floating experience you will come across several bridges where people may be jumping. Make sure you both acknowledge each other to avoid any accidents. And, as long as your eyes are peeled, watch for trash in the water. If it’s convenient and safe, give back to the river by picking up and packing out trash.
#5 – Shoes are Nice
Although they are not a necessity, shoes are convenient when getting in and out of the water to avoid sharp rocks and maintain stability. Shoes with straps are better to hang onto than flip flops that may float away from you!
COOL PLACES TO FLOAT:
#1 – Clark Fork: East Missoula (Sha-Ron) to Albertsons on East Broadway
This is a very common float and a little bit shorter if you’re running low on time. Leave one car near the Albertson’s on East Broadway and drive the other to East Missoula to the Sha-Ron fishing access point. You will almost certainly be accompanied by other floaters on this route!
Insider Tip: This is close enough to shuttle with a bike. Just remember, your car will need room for a bike and tubes! Floaters seeking a lengthier trip may also opt to take out at Brennan’s Wave / Caras Park, McCormick Park or at the Osprey stadium boat ramp.
#2 – Clark Fork: Tamarack to East Broadway Albertsons
This float adds another great stretch of water above the Sha-Ron boat ramp! Take the same route out to East Missoula and continue until you spot Tamarack Road – then turn right.
Insider Tip: You’ll pass through an extra set of small rapids which can be fun!
#3 – Blackfoot: Johnsrud to Rainbow Bend
Head east on I-90 and take the Highway 200 exit for Bonner. Keep going for about 10 miles and then turn right onto Rainbow Bend Drive to drop off the take-out car. Next, get back onto Highway 200 and keep driving for roughly 10 miles then turn left (north) onto Johnsrud Road and drive .4 miles until you reach the parking lot.
Insider Tip: Be on the lookout for cool cliff jumping spots and also a zip lining area – but be sure to factor low water levels into your decision-making later in the summer. Floaters seeking an all-day experience may also put in 6 miles above Johnsrud at Whitaker Bridge; simply follow the dirt road above Johnsrud until you reach the boat ramp – and be on the lookout for the class II+ Thibodeaux Rapids!
#4 – Clark Fork: Kona Ranch to Harper’s Bridge
From Reserve Street, drive northwest on Mullan Road for 8.2 miles and then take a left on Harper’s Bridge Road for a mile – leave a car at the take out. Next, drive back out to Mullan Road and drive southeast for roughly 3 miles. Take a right at Kona Ranch Road, (which is marked by a sign for the Deep Creek Shooting Range) then cross the bridge and you will see the sign for Kona Ranch put-in on your left.
Insider Tip: Brntly’s video intern, Zach Falen, recommends staying on the right side of the river to be closer to deeper channels as water levels decrease.
COOL PLACES TO CHILL:
Maybe you aren’t feeling like tubing down the river, but still want to get near some water. Nimrod Warm Spring is a great place to swim, explore an underwater cave and relax by a small waterfall. Take I-90 East toward Butte and drive for about 30 miles. Just after the Bearmouth Exit, you’ll see what looks like a waterfall on the opposite side (east) of the road. Take the next available left-hand turn to get on the other side of the interstate and then park by the guardrail. Walk about 100 feet and you will see the waterfall!
Maclay Bridge is a tucked-away Missoula treasure. It was originally built in 1893 to make moving farm animals across the river more accessible. Now, it’s a great place to relax on the rocks and swim, while still being in town. From campus, drive south on Brooks Street and take a right onto South Avenue. Drive west along South Avenue for about 3 miles. Next, turn right onto Clements Road and drive for .2 miles, and then turn left onto North Ave. after .8 miles.
Insider Tip: Less than a block away from the bridge is Dale’s Dairy – a restaurant and gas station that has a giant cow monument outside of it. A great place to grab lunch after a day in the sun!