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Raft on Yellowstone River

Activities > River Recreation Tips for a Good Trip

Enjoying Montana's rivers and lakes

Your actions to help preserve our majestic rivers and lakes will be rewarded with an unforgettable experience in the last best place. Please follow these tips to help ensure a safe and memorable trip.

Before your trip

  • Research your route and destination.

  • Know the rules for all aspects of water recreation, including fishing, camping, and motorized use.

  • Acquire any required permits and licenses. 

  • Share your plan with friends or family and let them know when you intend to return.


What to Bring

  • Lifejackets.

  • Your permits and licenses, including a Conservation License.

  • Appropriate maps and a compass; know how to use them. Digital maps should be downloaded to your cellphone prior to launch, as service may not be available on the river.

  • Satellite communicators can be used for emergencies when cell phone coverage is not available; know how and when to use them.

  • Carry and know how to use bear spray.

  • Be prepared for changing weather conditions. Bring rain gear.

At the boat ramp

  • Exercise patience, communication, and friendliness.  

  • Prepare your boat and gear away from the ramp area until you are ready to launch your boat.  

  • Park politely in areas that do not damage vegetation, block other vehicles, or create safety hazards.

On the water

  • Keep in mind that you are an important part of the collective experience. 

  • Show courtesy and respect to those around you, including anglers and tubers. 

  • Communicate with others on the river if you intend to pass them. 

  • Minimize any loud noise or music that may disturb the peaceful surroundings. 

  • Refrain from engaging in any obnoxious or disruptive behavior that could spoil the experience for others. 

  • Be mindful that hazards and obstacles are constantly changing. 

  • View wildlife from a distance and remain quiet. 

  • Practice good catch-and-release techniques and observe harvest limits. 

  • Pack out everything you bring with you. 

  • Leave the areas you visit better than you found them.  

Overnight trips

  • Before embarking on your trip, check the camping requirements and regulations on the river you intend to float. 

  • When you reach camp, be sure to choose a stable location to anchor your boat. Use an appropriate anchor or stake with proper tension to ensure it won't drag or become dislodged during changing water levels. 

  • Set up your tent, kitchen area, fire pan, portable toilet, and the rest of your camping equipment on hard, durable surfaces, and avoid impacting the vegetation and natural beauty of the area. 

  • All river runners should pack-out solid human waste. Liquid waste should go directly into the main channel of the river to keep beaches and campsites clean and odor free. 

  • Wastewater from cooking and cleaning should be strained and then poured into the main channel of the river – keep side streams free of soap and oils. 

  • Always use bleach free, biodegradable soap and discard captured food particles with your packed-out garbage. 

  • To avoid unexpected visits from bears or other wildlife, keep your camp as clean as possible, and never discard, burn, or bury food scraps. 

  • Store your food, garbage, and other attractants in in bear-resistant containers approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. Those include bear resistant coolers or dry boxes that are bolted or locked on each corner, electrified fences, or established food storage boxes if provided. 

  • Food and attractants can be hung between two trees when feasible. 



Enjoy campfires safely

  • Bring a fire pan for all campfires.  

  • Use established metal fire rings in designated camp areas if provided. Don’t construct rock fire rings or build fires on beaches.  

  • Bring locally sourced firewood or collect and use only dead and downed wood.  

  • Burn only wood and paper and keep fires small.  

  • Allow logs to burn completely to ash, and as the evening concludes, make sure your fire is drowned using water, so the ashes are cool to the touch. 

When the trip is over

  • Pack out all garbage and litter, even if it’s not yours – and check for micro-trash that may be hidden, as well as unused wood and ash. 

  • Disperse rocks used for tents or left by previous visitors and ensure that you leave no trace. 

  • Clean, drain and dry your watercraft and gear. 

Montana River Recreation Safety

Montana has approximately 169,829 miles of river, which translates to a lot of opportunity of water adventures. This video highlights tips to have a safe and adventurous trip when exploring Montana's outdoors.