Float the Yellowstone

Starting in Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park, and flowing northeast for about 692 miles, the Yellowstone River snakes its way past Billings in an effort to reach the Missouri River near Williston, North Dakota. The entire length of the river is yet to see a dam making it a great habitat for trout, catfish, paddlefish, bass, and a host of other fish species. But on a hot summer afternoon there is something for which the Yellowstone is even more suited: inner tubing. Nothing beats spending a few hours lazily floating the river, keeping cool, and enjoying the company of good friends.

The river is really quite huge, and there are a great number of places to put your tube in the water and to take it out. It really depends on how long you plan to be floating. One of my favorite trips is to put in at Riverfront Park, and wrap around the southeastern corner of Billings to Coulson Park.  If you want a little longer in the water, keep going to Two Moon Park. For a different route, you can put in at Duck Creek Bridge and take out at Riverfront Park. There are many different possibilities; you might as well try them all during this period of hot weather.

During your trip there are a few things to be aware of. During years of higher water, the trip will go much faster than during low water (it is best to avoid the river during the spring when flooding occurs). Regardless of how fast the river is moving, make sure to wear a life jacket, there are plenty of currents that can take you under quickly. In an effort to keep your whole group consolidated, tie your tubes together, that way you won’t drift too far apart. Make sure you bring a cell phone for emergencies, but put it in two zip lock bags to keep it from being damaged by the water. Then, just enjoy the scenery. See sights on the river you would never see before, marvel at how the south hills drop sharply into the river, feel the warm water coming out of the power plant, and above all have some fun.

There are a number of places on the river you can get in or out. The important thing is make sure you have told people of your plans so if you are not heard from they can find you stuck on an island because your tube popped. Try to avoid private land, there are plenty of public access sites, there is no need to disturb anyone’s privacy. After you have completed your float trip, make sure to call for your ride, or let someone know that you have made it safely to your pickup point. Floating the river is a lot of fun, but can turn into a nightmare pretty quickly if you are not careful.

by Scott Sery
Scott is a writer, outdoor enthusiast, beer snob, and woodworker. When he is not out exploring all of the wonders around Billings, he loves to sit down for a frosty brew at one of the many great breweries we have available to us. You can read about most of his adventures, and many of the fine brews he has sipped right here. Find out more about Scott at ScottSery.com