Water Gone Wild

Water Gone Wild

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Wetlaufer, Karl

Now that winter has come to a close, it’s time to start thinking about hitting the rivers again—and all signs are pointing towards a fantastic paddling season. Bozeman’s favorite little girl, La Niña, treated us well this winter with mid-season snowpack in southwest Montana reaching 120% of average and 140% of last year’s level.

All the local rivers appear ready to accept us into their good graces, including Beartrap Canyon on the Madison, which was closed off to boating for several weeks last year due to a car-sized boulder damaging the Ennis Lake dam. The Beartrap is definitely the place to head for those who need to scratch an early season whitewater itch. Minimum flow below the dam is maintained at approximately 1,200 cfs year-round, providing an excellent day trip far before the Gallatin begins to rise. The Gallatin can be run year-round in a kayak or canoe, but becomes much more fun (and manageable in a raft) at flows higher than 1,000 cfs.

For those in search of a tamer warm-up for the season, Yankee Jim Canyon on the Yellowstone is a great option. From put-in to takeout, this four-mile section of whitewater resides about 17 miles north of Gardiner and at low flows (below 3,500 cfs), provides a great Class II run. Make sure to check the flows before you go, because at levels higher than 8,000 cfs, this constricted section of river can create powerful hydraulics and should be approached with caution by novice boaters.

If you’re looking to enhance your whitewater safety knowledge and skills, take a swiftwater rescue course on the Gallatin. Montana River Guides (montanariverguides.com) has courses scheduled May 21-22 and May 28-30. If you’re already swiftwater certified and looking to expand your skill set, Montana Whitewater (montanawhitewater.com) has an advanced rescue course on May 14-15.

For more information on local classes, current river conditions, or questions about specific stretches of river, stop by the Barn on Huffine Lane or call 585-2090. Paddle well Bozeman, and if that doesn’t work out, keep your feet downstream and grab the rope—not the bag!



Karl Wetlaufer has been running rivers his entire life, and has been doing so in Bozeman for the past six years. Karl graduated from MSU in snow science and is currently the boating buyer for Northern Lights.

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