Upper Missouri Breaks River Trip

When we left home in early June we only had three things scheduled for the summer: a couple of nights at Fire Point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on our way out of Arizona, the July 4th weekend with our boys at Mt Whitney in California, and a three day river trip down a section of the Missouri River with Pam’s sister’s family. Their youngest son had done it last year with another group and convinced us all to go.


We camped at the Coal Banks put-in spot the night before so we could get an early start. It has been awhile since Pam and I have been tent camping.


The seven of us loaded the three canoes and kayak with all of our coolers and dry bags, which contained all of the equipment and clothes, and took off down the river. It’s amazing how much stuff a 17-foot canoe can hold and still float. Unfortunately, they can’t hold the Roamer so we had to leave it behind.


Luckily, Pam and I had two recent river adventures on our way here so we had enough practice to stay afloat. The river was wide and smooth, but running at about 3 miles per hour. We didn’t encounter any fences either. Pam’s scratch is all healed now and not looking so colorful anymore.


This section of the Missouri River is part of the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument and becomes a geological wonderland quickly as you head down the river.



Sections of the river are still privately owned by ranchers and farmers. We saw many herds of Montana Angus “bears” in the wild.


We had a boater’s guide map that noted many of the interesting items along the way. The Corps of Discovery, Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the west, traveled this route where their camps in May of 1805 heading west and July of 1806 heading east are noted and the spots are still used today due to their beauty.


Our first night’s stop, after covering 15 miles on the river, was one of these historic locations, Eagle Creek Camp. There were hikes into the local slot canyons that were very beautiful.



Sunsets are always nice on the water. There were many birds and deer along the river to keep us busy looking as we floated along. Several huge eagles and osprey were hunting along the banks. We ran into some BLM rangers heading down the river and they had seen some beavers. One of the older, cranky rangers was quoted as saying the baby beaver was “adorable”. Who can resist a baby? There are otters, muskrats and nutria as well, but we didn’t spot any.


There was a lot of volcanic activity in this entire area long ago, where the ground split and igneous rock flowed up through the fissures to create vertical walls of rock. This looks really interesting in the horizontal layers of white sandstone that also dominate the area. One of the more interesting vertical rock structures is call hole-in-the-rock.


The hole eroded through the rock, creating a distinct geological feature. The kids climbed up onto the rock wall, while the older folks relaxed in the shade of a huge cottonwood tree during the afternoon sun.


Our second night was at Slaughter River, another Corps of Discover camp along the river in a nice cottonwood stand. That name was given to the place due to the buffalo carcasses found there on their way up the river. They assumed it was a “buffalo jump” used by the local Blackfoot Indians, driving the herd over the cliff to their death.


That night we had some serious card playing until sunset. We didn’t bring camping chairs or a cooking table with us, but they will be a nice addition the next time we do this.


There was a forest fire well south of Missoula, but the smoke was blowing east and began to cover the evening sky a few hundred miles away where we were.


The morning was clear and the calm wind made the river look like glass. We rowed the last 13 miles into the take-out point at Judith Landing to finish our river adventure.


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