Paddling Montana's Blackfoot River & Clearwater Chain Of Lakes

As I sit here in rainy Washington, catching up on blog posts – this one specifically about lakes and rivers in Montana that we got to spend part of our summer swimming in – I realize that summer is almost gone. The daylight that lasted until 11 PM and the wild berries that were abundant in Montana and Washington have all been picked and the branches are now bare of fruit. As soon as we can get back on the road, we may try to catch whatever is left of “summer” somewhere else along the west coast or down southwest.

This is a travel recap of the Blackfoot River and lakes that are so worth the visit when you’re going through Montana. We accidentally ended up close to the Blackfoot River and the Clearwater Chain of Lakes when we rolled into Montana to stay with our friend Niff who had land for us to park the Toaster on. The Chain of Lakes is made up of half a dozen lakes in Clearwater Valley. The largest of them is Seeley Lake, which is about 53 miles outside of Missoula, but a lot closer to us at Niff’s place. The Blackfoot River is a snow and spring-fed river that is featured in the novel (and film) A River Runs Through It. For us, the river and lakes were the perfect way to spend 90°+ summer Montana days.


Blackfoot River

We paddled the Blackfoot River several times while we were in Montana and did two different sections of the river. Here is a list of the fishing access sites along the river. The first section we did was from Johnsrud to Angevine: 

Then we checked out the Whitaker Bridge to Johnsrud section. We liked this section of the river better because it doesn't follow Hwy 200, which is a really busy road. This section is a lot more narrow and remote; there's only the one gravel road that connects the Johnsrud put-in to the Whitaker Bridge put-in alongside the river.

Salmon Lake

As much as we enjoy the river, Tyki is not a big fan of the front of the boat (where he sits) getting tossed up in the air as we go through rapids and him getting face full of water. Tybee is always the calmest, chillest dog - sitting behind me and between Jerud's legs in our Alpacka Raft.  She rests her face on the side of our packraft and simply enjoys the scenery. Jerud and I decided to check out Salmon Lake so Tybee could get some swimming in and Tyki could actually enjoy being in the boat. 

There are a bunch of houses on the south end of the lake so we went as north as we could. Salmon Lake State Park has a put-in but there's a fee. We're fans of free and found a spot on Google maps that looked like we could put our boat in with enough parking for the truck. Turned out that it was a legit free put-in spot. Just go further north of the state park and you'll see a road to your left. That area has a small put-in for non-motor boats and enough space for several cars to park.

Clearwater River Canoe Trail

We were excited when we learned about the Clearwater River Canoe Trail. It's a 3.5 mile canoe trail that loops back to the trailhead with a 1.5 mile hiking trail. This would be a perfect way to utilize the packraft as it was intended and the hiking distance is just about right for Tybee. Let's just say it didn't go as we hoped.

The canoe trail is located on the northern end of Seeley Lake and meanders through marshes on the slow-moving water of Clearwater River. While we only saw one deer and a handful of birds, there are supposedly a lot of wildlife viewing opportunities in this remote part of the river. The end of the trail puts you into Seeley Lake and the take-out is behind the Seeley Lake Ranger Station. We actually had a really hard time spotting the take-out. It wasn't under we got closer to shore that we noticed the take-out is marked by a couple of shiny gold ribbons tied to the trees on each side of it.  The gold color just doesn't stand out much so keep your eyes out for it.

We packed up the boat and started our hike back to the car. Only to be attacked - seriously, ATTACKED by tons of mosquitoes. It was miserable. We couldn't hike fast or run because of Tybee. Finally about half a mile into the hike, when we just couldn't bear it a second more, we decided to split up. Jerud took Tyki and the boat and ran back to the truck. While Tybee and I bushwhacked through the woods and waited by the road for Jerud to pick us up. Sadly, our idyllic plan of paddling and hiking back to the truck wasn't so perfect.

Lake Alva

I love this lake. It was secluded, quiet, no motorboats are allowed on it, and it's a real looker. It's further north, past Seeley Lake with Lake Inez in-between them. There is a campground at Lake Alva and I think we saw RVs parked there, but we didn't take the time to check it out. We had a lot of fun hanging out and swimming in this lake.

Let us know if you recommend any other lakes or rivers to check out in that area!


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