Ultimate Guide to River Etiquette in the Upper Missouri River Breaks

When one is new to boating, it can be really intimidating learning those unwritten rules and etiquettes. To some this comes naturally because they grew up in the outdoor community. While to others, they must learn from experience. As it goes, experience only comes to those who are willing to try something for the first time. Please note, there are different rules according to the river you are on, the watercraft you are using, the state you are in, and the people you are with.

1. Ramp Etiquette

We can almost all agree that ramps are one of the least favorite areas on the river. It is where people are in a hurry to get on or off the river. furthermore, it is the area that requires the most organization and patience. Just like most things, there are some simple etiquettes to follow that will make it easier for everyone.

Split the ramp in half– Importantly, almost every ramp can be split in half. There is the upriver and downriver side. No matter how large your groups is, you should only take half the ramp.

be organized– you should stack gear in a methodical way. Know how you are going to organize your group and the gear before you get to the ramp.

All hands-on deck– everyone in your group should be working diligently to get on and off the river as quickly as possible.

Help each other out- Without a doubt, this can be a touchy subject on most rivers. However, always offer to help other groups and be willing to allow others to help. Just remember that help is good but telling people how to do it is not.

Stick together- Your entire group should take out and put on at the same time.

Be patient. You are on river time.

Know the ramps before you get there.

Fort Benton Canoe Launch- The yellow marks the long-term parking, blue marks the ramp and red marks shallow water. When the water is low it is best to walk your boats upriver into the deeper channel.

Fort Benton Cement Ramp- The yellow marks the long-term parking. This ramp is suitable for non-motorized and motorboats alike.

Coalbanks Campground– There are 3 launching points at Coal Banks. Unfortunately, the cement ramp is unusable for most of the year due to the channel being too shallow.

Coalbanks Campground

Judith Landing– This is the busiest ramp and there is not a lot of room. All the property downriver from the ramp is private property and there is a fence telling people so. Vehicles stage themselves in the staging area marked yellow on the map. It should be noted, you must wait your turn. The lower map shows where the property line is and where the boundaries are.

James Kipp Recreation– All the yellow marks long term parking and the blue marks the campground that is located closest to the ramp. The ramp is about 3/4 a mile after you go under the bridge. Kipp gets really busy with motorboat traffic starting September 15th.

2. Etiquette on the water

The water is what everyone has come for. We love to tell people that they are now on water time. All you have to do is go with the flow and simply paddle. However, you may see other groups and there are some etiquettes to keep in mind.

Turn down the music– We all have different taste in music and some of us get into the outdoors to enjoy some silence. Feel free to play your music when others are not within ear shot. However, If you pass another group turn it down or turn it off.

Passing lane- Alright there is no such thing as a passing lane on the river. However, if someone is moving faster than you let them pass and get out of their way. We all paddle at different speeds just like we all hike at different speeds. No need to race down the river. Everyone gets there at their own pace.

Keep your group together- do not sprawl across the river. If you are a large group, please stay together. You only go as fast as the slowest person.

Motors– give groups a lot of space, slow down and pass as quietly as possible. Know the rules and regulations before you put on the water. Some sections ban motors while others have a no wake rule.

3. Camp Etiquette


Talk campgrounds- It is really helpful to know where others plan to camp and how many days they are on the river. by communicating, it allows groups the opportunity to split up and spread out. Helpful questions to ask other groups are;

  1. Where are you camping tonight?
  2. How many nights are you on the river?
  3. What time do you plan to take out?

Share Beta- Please let people know if there are hazards on the river, a rattlesnake hanging in camp, a storm coming, etc.

Acknowledge their presence- Make sure to greet other parties out there and say a simple hello. Be friendly and kind to everyone. River people are generally good people.

How to be a good camp neighbor?

Campgrounds are communal spaces that can hold more than one group. Sharing space really is not that hard and most campsites are very spread out on the Upper Missouri River. However, there still are some general rules that should apply when sharing campgrounds

Be compact– Your group should try to stay compact. Try not spread out into other potential campsites. Never take more than one fire ring no matter how big your group is.

Keep a tidy camp– When you pull into camp make a concerted effort to keep your camp and riverbank tidy. Chances are, you are not the only group using the landing. Keep your stuff together and compact.

Share the shelters- a select few campgrounds have 3-sided cement shelters. Each shelter is divided into two and should hold at least 2 groups. They are there for storms and bad weather. Do not be a shelter hog.

Keep dogs under control – We love dogs, but they need to be under control at all times. Please pick up after your pet, keep them near you at all times, don’t allow them to chase wildlife, and keep the noise down.

Quiet hours- Be aware of others. If you don’t have a camp to yourself try to keep reasonably quiet.

Fire Etiquette

Fires can be the ambiance of your evening camp. They are where people gather to tell stories, warm their souls, sing familiar tunes, and bond as a group. However, fires can also pose a real threat to the beautiful scenery if they are not cared for properly.

Fire restrictions– Always check fire restrictions before you put on the river. Here is a link to our local fire restrictions. Fort Benton to Judith Landing is in Chouteau County and Judtih Landing to Kipp is Fergus County.

Fire pits– Along the Missouri River are rock and metal fire rings. DO NOT under any circumstance build new fire rings with rocks or any other materials. If you are planning to have a fire in an unestablished camping spot, you must bring a fire pan. Here is a link to the pans we use. (Please note, there are a lot of options out there)

Check the weather- If there is a breeze you shouldn’t have a fire. If the wind picks up while you are having a fire put it out.

Be Prepared– ALWAYS have a bucket of water and a stirring tool ready to go- you never know when you might need it.

Watch what you burn– too often we find ourselves cleaning out trash from fire pits. Please be conciencious what you put in the fire.

Put your fire out! – Do not leave a hot fire. You should be able to put your hand down to gage if it is still hot.

Bathrooms Etiquette

Some of the bathrooms on the river have vault toilets while others have no toilets at all. It is mandatory that everyone practice pack-in-pack-out. That means that you must remove all your waste (your poop). The Missouri River often floods in the spring and the last thing we want to worry about are human feces. I cannot say it enough, come prepared! Here are some things that you should know about going to the bathroom on the Missouri

Be Prepared to pack out your waste- There are a lot of systems out there to pack out your waste. No matter what you bring, come prepared for your whole group and talk before you get here. Yes, there are vault toilets at some select camps. However, you never know when there is a bathroom emergency.

Peeing- We are similar to the Grand Canyon. The river is considered a desert environment. That means that everyone should use a provided bathroom to pee or pee in the river. It doesn’t rain much here and when you pee away from the water it stays there for a long time. imagine the smell if everyone peed wherever they wanted. Do your part!

Toilet paper– If you are using toilet paper, please dispose of it properly. Always bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer for the vault toilets.

Mixed groups– With few trees and bushes to shelter yourself, there is not much in the way of privacy. That can make going to the bathroom discreetly very difficult. Our rule is that girls pee upriver (skirts go up) and men head downriver.

Last but not least, leave good memories and positive experiences.