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Beat the crowds with a fall float on the Yellowstone River

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Yellowstone River

Boaters paddle down the upper Yellowstone River during a July thunderstorm. Being on the water if lightning is possible is unsafe.

Having the Yellowstone River largely to yourself on a summer day is unusual.

Due to the historic flood that shut down Yellowstone National Park’s North Entrance this year, there were significantly fewer people in the region, and therefore a lot fewer on the upper Yellowstone River. It may be because that section is largely used by whitewater outfitting guides in Gardiner. Locals typically steer away from the congestion.

We launched from just below Gardiner at Brogan’s Landing fishing access site and navigated downstream to take out at the Carbella access site, managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The trip had the added bonus of short sections of whitewater in Yankee Jim Canyon.

We were late getting onto the water this summer, because of the flooding and closures, so by then the rapids were much more navigable (and the river wasn’t running over the top of the highway), even if one wave did buck me slingshot-style out the back of the raft.

Along the way, as a storm blew in with an ominous black sky, we saw elk grazing next to the river, the colorful geological slope known as the Devil's Slide and newly piled up timber, household goods and severe erosion caused by the flooding.

One large washed-out bank indicated a previous flood had piled up sand 10 to 20 feet deep, much worse than what the mid-June flood had released, which was historic in our minds. Or maybe it was where sand settled when the valley was blocked off by a rock dam and a lake formed thousands of years ago. My geologist friends weren’t along to ask.

Fall can be a great time for a river float with the mild temperatures and changing color of cottonwood and aspen leaves dotting the bank and hills. Visiting the Yellowstone River will remind you of the beauty of nature, as well as its untamed force, making the trip educational and fulfilling.


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