This is a summary of the ways in which Montana's 1985 stream access law affects the recreational use of the state's rivers and streams and incorporates the ways the law has been interpreted by the courts in Montana.
The law states that rivers and streams capable of recreational use may be so used by the public regardless of streambed ownership. It also states that certain activities require landowner permission. Because the law affects your rights and responsibilities as a landowner or recreationist, the information that follows may be of interest to you.
Stream Access in Montana Brochure ( 433 KB)
Recreational mining must adhere to closures and restrictions indicated in the Instream Mining Stream Classification list. This document can be found in the Ponds & Streams table under Stream Permitting.
Under the Montana Stream Access Law, the public may use rivers and streams for recreational purposes up to the ordinary high-water mark. Although the law gives recreationists the right to use rivers and streams for water-related recreation, it does not allow them to enter posted lands bordering those streams or to cross private lands to gain access to streams. Complete rules are available at any FWP office.
House Bill 190 , passed during the 2009 Legislative Session, confirmed that the public has access to surface waters by public bridge or county road right-of-way. The Department, in cooperation with the affected landowner and county, is responsible for providing public passage around or through a fence preventing such access. A typical access feature would be a stile, gate, roller, walkover, or wooden rail fence.
Certain waters on national parks, indian reservations, or wildlife refuges may have special rules. Specific information may be obtained from the headquarters of the park, reservation, or refuge involved.
For further information concerning the contents of this brochure, please contact the Department's Communications & Education Division in Helena at (406) 444-2535, or one of the Department's regional offices.
Copies of the law may be obtained by sending a request to the Montana Legislative Council, Room 138, Capitol Building, Helena, MT 59620, or by calling (406) 444-3064.