When is the best time of year to float the Missouri River Breaks?

This is a question we get quite often. Just like almost everything in life, it depends on personal preference. While some people like warm days and cool nights, other people do not like temperatures below 60 degrees. Do you like long daylight or do you prefer shorter days where fires can be enjoyed in the evening? Are you wanting to swim or is that not a priority? These are all questions that we will try to answer. To start off, we are going to break the Missouri Rivers Floating season into 5 sub seasons (Spring, Early Summer, Summer, Late Summer and Fall). Below is a quick reference guide on what to expect throughout the floating season.

Spring on the Missouri

When: May 15th-June 15th

Average temperatures– Daytime (60-70 degrees) Nighttime (35-45 degrees)

Bugs: There are some mosquitoes and tics but they are not bad.

Spring is when everything is shiny and new. It is the time of year when we can find river morals, wild asparagus, and pick yucca flowers for pickling. Spring is when all the flowers and birds are in full florescence. It is common to see young wildlife such as bald eagle fledglings, owlets, beaver kit, and fawns. The river current is moving at a floaters pace where you can simply rudder to get to camp. There is more time for hiking, exploring, and listen to the wildlife activity around you. Always come prepared with rain pants and a raincoat because it is likely that it will rain at least 1 day a week. The riverbanks can be quite muddy and were described in the journals as tenacious mud with little to no reprieve in terms of gravel bars. However, you will not have much competition from other paddlers because it is quiet and allows for some solitude. There are rarely any fire restrictions and campfires are a great evening activity in the spring. Please be aware of the delicacy of riparian areas and give wildlife plenty of space. All islands and eagle nesting sites are restricted areas that you should avoid.

Early Summer on the Missouri

When: June 15th- July 15th

Average temperatures– Daytime (70- degrees) Nighttime (40-50 degrees)

Bugs: There are some mosquitoes and tics but they are not bad.

Early Summer will often get some spring runoff and can be an easy paddle. Along with spring runoff, it will also get some green grass and blooming flowers. The water is still a little cold for swimming but it’s perfect for taking your shoes off and wading in. There are usually no fire restrictions yet but there are motorboat traffic restrictions in place. The longer days make for ample hiking opportunities. Owlets frequent the camps and if you stay up late enough, they are easy to find. Along the banks you will often see goslings and ducklings swimming with their kin. The river traffic usually starts to pick up around the 15th of June and steadily gets busier. Don’t expect campsites to yourselves. However, with the fresh air in late bloom, you can get off the beaten path, hike more and avoid the crowds.

Summer on the Missouri

When: July 15th-August 20th.

Average temperatures: Daytime (75-95 degrees) Nighttime (50-60 degrees)

Bugs: Noseeums and wasps are out. Every year is different and the lower river has the most Noseeums

This is the hottest part of the summer but is also a swimmer’s paradise. If you don’t want to worry about bringing heavy coats or warm sleeping bags, this is the best time of year for you. The river is moving slow, and you will need to paddle. However, take lots of breaks to stop at gravel bars to swim. If you want to hike, bring plenty of water and take advantage of the morning and evening cool air. This is a busy time of year, but all the mosquitoes should be about done for the year. The days are starting to get shorter which can make for good late-night stargazing. It is usually too warm for campfires and campfire restrictions are often put in place. If there are wildfires in Canada or Montana, you will often get smokey air. Enjoy what a lot of people believe to be the best time of year were weather is more predictable and the grass has turned its golden hue the area is known for.

Late summer on the Upper Missouri River

When: August 20th-September 15th

Average temperature- Daytime (60-80) Nighttime (35-50)

Bugs: ground wasps are very active in popular camps with food sources.

Late summer is August 20th- September 15th and is one of the best times of year to stargaze in the breaks. With the daylight getting shorter and the evenings getting cooler one can completely immerse themselves in the sounds of coyotes, warm layers and looking up at the night sky. The weather can be unpredictable but that means it can bring in some amazing evening thunderstorms. The banks are dry, the gravel bars are plenty and the river is slow. Make sure to add on extra days to your trip for those slower days on the river. It is right before hunting season and it is the last bit of summer with motorboat traffic regulations in place. On the lower river the bighorn sheep are active as they are in the rut and moving around more. Chokecherry picking is nearing the end of its prime and you can see the seasons changing before your eyes. It’s usually relatively quiet on the river and you can expect to see a couple groups here and there.

Fall on the Upper Missouri River

When: September 15th-October 15th

Average Temperatures- Daytime (60-70 degrees) Nighttime (25-40 degrees)

Bugs: Very little

Fall is one of the most unpredictable times of year on the Missouri. One can expect anything from 100 degrees to snow. It is best to give yourself plenty of time and always have a backup plan when the weather changes. Due to the unpredictable weather, it is also the quietest times of year. Do not expect to see very many other people on the river. Motorboat restrictions are lifted and that means that you can see motorboats going up and down river. However, prime fishing season is in the spring and the motor traffic is only heavy in the prime hunting areas past Judith Landing. The elk are really active this time of year and you can often hear them bugling. Another advantage of fall are the spectacular colors of leaves changing right before your eyes. If you live in Montana and have an open schedule to watch the weather, this is one of the best times to be out there.

Temperatures on the Missouri River

Sunlight on the Missouri River

River flow on the Missouri River

This is just a quick look at one year. For a more in-depth view check out our current conditions page

Rainfall on the Missouri

From the professionals here at Missouri River Outfitters

“I’m a summer fan. The days are hot which make that end of the day plunge in the ‘oleMo all the sweeter. I love that the days are long and it stays light forever. I like not having to wear a coat in the mild evenings, yet it’s cool enough at night to want to pull up my blanket around me while sleeping.” ~ Lenette Edgerton (Queen-O-The-River)

“For me, I’d say the fall is my favorite time of year. Good temperate, no bugs, leaves are changing and the wildlife is on the move getting ready for winter.” ~ Randy Southard

“Late June is my favorite time of year for sure! Hot enough that it feels good to go for a cool swim and cool enough at night to have a fire.” ~Logan Tweet (Drouillard)

“Spring is my favorite part of the year because the river is full, which means more time for floating and less time worrying about getting to camp. The ground is alive and green and the mud is superb. The days are long but not too hot. I mean I love it out there all summer but if I had to choose…..” Heather Graham (Mamma Goose)

“I really enjoy the late summer. September is the best because it is so unpredictable. I love being able to see nature at its fullest and the weather near the end of the season has given us some of the most magnificent storms. Being able to witness a prairie storm can humble you.” ~ Isaac Graham (Owl)

“Spring is my favorite time of year because I love pointing out all the unique flora and fauna of the area. It is when everything is coming anew and the drab of winter has exploded to vibrant colors as far as the eye can see. I love making early morning coffee so that I can take time to watch the busy birds fluttering and chattering about. Rain or shine, I love the spring!” ~ Nicolle Fugere (Badger)

“My favorite time to be on the river is Early Summer. July is when the days are long and the water is usually still full from the spring runoff. The days are warm with lots of sunshine, while the weather can still be temperamental and surprise you with a quick shower. On top of that, the cows have not come down to the water yet and there are less cowpies to deal with.” ~Sarah Graham (Baby Swan)

“Early June is my favorite. The weather is unpredictable, flows are high, days are long, and the landscape is as lush as the area can be. It’s an exciting time as well as the most beautiful. It can also be rainy, windy, and overgrown; but for the adventurous (and those seeking smaller crowds), it’s the best time to be out there.” ~Kelly Engen