Western Montana’s rivers are among our most treasured natural assets, and these pristine waterways offer endless adventures. From fly-fishing and canoe floats to whitewater thrills, there’s an experience for every water enthusiast. As winter melts away and the rivers swell with snowmelt, both locals and visitors are drawn to the promise of peak-season rafting. Whether you’re here for the adrenaline rush or the tranquil floats that come later in the summer, Glacier Country’s rivers offer an unforgettable experience.

Western Montana adventurers make their way through the raging waters of the Flathead River.


The Bitterroot River—one of Montana’s more scenic waterways—offers a peaceful float down the panoramic Bitterroot Valley, with views of the Bitterroot and Sapphire mountains. Flow is slow to moderate, which makes for a gentle, pleasant trip, ample wildlife viewing and plenty of fishing. Don’t forget your camera on this picturesque float.


The Clark Fork River’s Alberton Gorge is a popular rafting destination and serves as a whitewater headquarters in this part of the region. The 16-mile Class III rose-colored canyon stretch is perfect for beginners and families looking to get their feet wet (literally) on a hot summer day. The Gorge is close to Alberton, Superior and Missoula, offering paddlers and rafters adventure on and off the water.

The Alberton Gorge is a mixture of calm stretches and epic whitewater. Photo: Andy Austin


This remote northwest corner of the state is worth the drive and offers Class I scenic floats on the upper and lower Kootenai River, but adrenaline seekers can navigate the middle Kootenai River for Class IV+ whitewater and a view of the rowdy Kootenai Falls—some of Montana’s biggest water. 


The Flathead River is a unique glacial river consisting of three different branches: the North, Middle and South forks. All are designated Wild and Scenic Rivers, a federal designation that’s our nation’s strongest form of protection for free-flowing rivers and streams. Looking toward Glacier National Park, The Middle Fork is popular for whitewater rafting, with rapids named Jaws and Bonecrusher. The waters of the Middle Fork are fed by groundwater and glacial streams and eventually create the southern boundary of Glacier National Park. 

The North Fork of the Flathead River comprises Glacier’s western borders and offers breathtaking views into Glacier National Park. Whitewater difficulty varies with flow levels for the North Fork, however the scenery is always stunning, and the water is an unforgettable crystal-clear aqua (due to mineral runoff from the glaciers).

The South Fork begins in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and flows north for 57 miles into Hungry Horse Reservoir. Its upper 50-mile stretch—from the headwater to the Spotted Bear River—is classified as a wild river, and primary access to the river is by backpacking in or riding in on horseback.

The West Fork of the Flathead River runs through West Glacier. Photo: Emily Hall


For 30 years, Montana River Guides has been more than just guiding whitewater rafting trips and scenic floats. They’re storytellers, stewards of our public lands, and purveyors of unforgettable experiences on Western Montana’s treasured waters.

Founded by Mike Johnston in 1994, Montana River Guides (MRG) began with just a van, a raft, and an innate desire to help people experience part of what makes Montana so darn special. Today, MRG is one of the most reputable outfitters on the Clark Fork’s Alberton Gorge. “We treat every raft trip like it’s that person’s only day on the river for the entire year, and that’s something special and to be handled with care,” said Sam Johnston, Mike’s son. Over 70% of MRG’s guests have run rapids with them before or booked a trip because they heard about them from a friend.

A group receives information and safety instructions before taking to the river. Photo: Andy Austin

What’s more, MRG is the only company in Montana certified to teach River Rescue. For the Johnston family and everyone else at Montana River Guides, it’s not just about providing thrilling adventures—it’s about instilling a sense of appreciation for the land they call home. As Sam reflects, the river is not just a playground; it’s a teacher, a constant reminder of the importance of preserving access to our natural treasures. “It’s so valuable that we have these public access points to these amazing places, and we need to do everything we can to protect that access.” Sam hopes to inspire others to cherish and protect Montana’s resources for generations to come.


Guided rafting trips are always your best bet and the safest way to explore Western Montana’s rivers. If you’re new to rafting, but you’re ready for the adrenaline rush, go with one of Glacier Country’s many experienced rafting companies. Western Montana outfitters and guides customize floats to your comfort level, whether you’re looking for the thrill of our biggest runs, a scenic raft trip or a family float.

Water is wild and safety is a priority. In addition to knowing how to swim, please wear a personal floatation device, be sure to wear the right clothing, a hat and sunscreen for a hot sunny day on the water, or possibly a wet suit (provided by most guides) during spring, which usually means colder water and cooler temperatures. Ensure your chosen activity matches your skill level and water comfort level. Don’t drink alcohol while recreating in and on the water. If you go without a guide, make sure you understand river flows and currents and be prepared for water hazards. Learn more about water safety here.

Whitewater rafting is one of the best ways to cool off on a hot summer day in Western Montana. Photo: Andy Austin

Guide companies rarely ride just one river. To help you sort through your options, here’s a list of some of our region’s finest guides and outfitters, all of whom have made their life’s work out of ensuring your river adventure is second to none.

Please note: We ask that all our visitors and residents Recreate Responsibly by being mindful of the following: know before you go; plan ahead; play it safe; leave no trace; tread lightly; and help build an inclusive outdoors.

April 29, 2024

Related: Alberton, Essex, Fall Fun, Family Fun, Flathead Corridor, Getting Around, Glacier National Park, Missoula, Montana, Outdoor Fun, Spring Fun, Summer Fun, Superior, Uncategorized, Water Fun, West Glacier, Whitefish


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