Weekend temperatures in the Billings area are expected to hit daytime highs around 100 degrees. A great way to cool off is the Yellowstone River and one popular way to do so is by spending an afternoon floating on the river. Now that the flood waters have resided and water levels are near-normal, it's a great time of year to hit the water.

Each year, the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office responds to multiple river rescue calls. Their crews are well trained and equipped and they frequently assist with calls in neighboring counties. Thankfully, fatalities are usually low, but being stranded or almost drowning on the river can be a terrifying experience.

Photo by Nick Rickert on Unsplash
Photo by Nick Rickert on Unsplash

Unexperienced floaters, take note.

As summer is starting to wind down, perhaps you want to take the kids out for some summer fun before school returns. Maybe you're new to the area and have never floated our stretch of the Yellowstone River. You might be a river rat pro with years of experience on the water. Either way, the YCSO reminded river recreators last week about the dangers of cheap pool toy floaties and no life jackets. It's a really bad idea. The department wrote,

The Sheriff's Office would like to remind everyone of the dangers the river poses. Individuals with no river experience should take note. Lightweight tubes/floats with no life jackets is a recipe for disaster. There is still a lot of debris in the river with dangerous conditions.

The Yellowstone river channels really do change. Sometimes it's fairly dramatic ("Hey, where did that island go that was here last year?") and other times it's more subtle. I have not been on the water yet this year, but I can imagine the flows and channels have been significantly altered in many areas.

Photo by Michael Foth, Townsquare Media
Photo by Michael Foth, Townsquare Media

Know the basics before you go.

Always have a proper float and a life jacket. A quality raft is awesome. Kayaks are great. But if you choose other types of inflatables made for swimming pools, be extremely cautious. That ridiculous oversized flamingo floatie you thought was awesome, will pop on the first sharp twig. Automotive tires are a much better choice for tubin'.

  • Allow for ample time. What looks like a few short miles on a map can take hours on the river. A longer float, say from Sportmans (near Park City) to the Lockwood Bridge can take all day. Like 8 hours. Some popular shorter floats are from Laurel to Duck Creek (about 2 hours on a kayak) or Riverfront Park to Two Moon Park.
  • Alcohol. Beers and floating seem to go hand in hand, but getting falling-down drunk on the river is never a good idea. If you do consume alcohol, have a sober driver pick you up at your exit point.
  • Hydrate. You gotta' drink water on a float. Spending a day in 100-degree heat will dehydrate you in no time, even if you don't feel thirsty.
  • Bug spray & sunscreen. Seems like a no-brainer, until you forget to bring it.
  • Dry bag. If you insist on bringing your phone, wallet or other valuables consider picking up a dry bag.
  • River shoes. Flip-flops on the river suck. Get a pair of cheap water shoes and your day will be so much more enjoyable.
  • Don't litter. It's gross. Be a better human and pick up your filth. I don't want to see dirty diapers and beer cans everywhere. Who does?!
Michael Foth - Townsquare Media
Michael Foth - Townsquare Media

Not sure where to go?

Locals know the best spots to launch and exit the Yellowstone River, so don't be afraid to ask if you're new to floating in Montana. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks provide this handy interactive map. There are around 10 public fishing access sites between Park City and Worden. Many are walk-in access only this year due to flood damage. Check before you go.

Hit the water and have fun! Just do it safely. I don't want to write another article about a drowning death on the Yellowstone that could have been prevented.

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