Rafting the Smith River in Montana
USFS putting in some cold early-season hours on the Smith River. Photo: FSNR / Flickr
The run on the Smith River is a mellow 4-day float through a beautiful, remote canyon in western Montana. It runs through the edge of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, where the highlight is the wildlife viewing and fly fishing. The river is full of hungry, medium-sized brown and rainbow trout that rarely see any traffic other than boaters. Pilgrimage-worthy hatches include the stonefly hatch (end of April – mid-May), followed by a salmon fly hatch that can sometimes last into June. Fall is the best time to chase browns as the weather cools off. Throughout the length of the popular float – from Camp Baker to Eden Bridge – expect mellow water (which might get a bit more exciting in an inflatable kayak) postcard views, and abundant wildlife (there is a reason all food must be stored in bear-safe containers). Expect to camp at designated campsites along the route as well. June is a target month on the Smith but keep an eye on river flows – a deep snowpack mixed with a late spring mean high water in early summer. So May through July is a good target because by August, it is only runnable in kayaks or canoes. April might be the best time to be on the river if you can handle the gamut of weather; it could be sunny and warm or it could snow.
The Smith River is controlled through a permit lottery by Montana State Parks. Check out our River Lottery Guide for dates, put-in and take-out locations, and more.