The rivers and lakes that grace western Montana are ribbons
and pools of life. So far from the ocean, it’s strange, but
comforting to know that there is so much water around us. And
with a little skill, we can enjoy that water in a truly amazing
way — by floating along in a canoe.
A canoe is perhaps the simplest, most pure
water vessel ever invented. It has no motor, no moving parts,
but can tackle an array of water bodies. Around here, those
bodies include rivers and lakes such as the Bitterroot River
and Lake Como. If you’re new to the area or new to paddling,
why not try canoeing?
But where do you find one of these things?
Well, there is a good chance a neighbor has one leaning against
the barn; ask if you can join them on a paddle some time. You
can also find canoes to rent from resorts and guest cabins near
Lake Como, which is just outside of Hamilton. Also, there are
paddling and outdoor shops that will sometimes allow you to
demo a canoe before you buy one.
If you’ve never canoed before, it’s best
to start on a lake. Even a flat river — one without rapids —
like the Bitterroot can be tricky. Canoes are a bit “tippy”
if you’re unfamiliar with them and it’s best to practice on
easy water. Canoes can be paddled solo, but many are designed
to be paddled by two people, a stern paddler and a bow paddler.
The paddler in the stern, or back, is the person in charge of
steering the boat. It’s best to put the more experienced person
back there. When you first step in, make sure you move about
keeping your weight, or center of gravity, low. Let one person
get settled before the other climbs in.
Once you have shoved off, the stern paddler
should call the shots and make sure that each paddler is paddling
on opposite sides of the boat. That helps stabilize the boat
and avoid that tippy feeling. The reason the boat feels like
it could dump to one side is because it has a keel, the spine
on the bottom that helps the boat track, or move strait through
the water. Coordinate your strokes and you’ll be amazed at how
smoothly and quickly you can move across the water!
When you’re ready, you can dip your paddle
into the Bitterroot — but be warned, paddling on moving water
is very different than moving on still water. Even calm and
flat water is tricky. But as you paddle in rivers, you’ll learn
to use the force of the moving water to your advantage, helping
you move quickly and safely across the current. Learning can
be instinctive to some, but many benefit from a paddling lesson
from a friend or instructor, of which there are a few in the
Learning to canoe is something everyone
can do, and paddling is a sport for all ages. But mastery can
take a lifetime! The benefits of canoeing are too numerous to
list, but those that attract so many people include the ability
to go places hikers and bikers can’t, to travel away from roads
and trails into some of the areas’ most scenic and wild territory
— while never venturing too far from home, unless you want to.
Even an afternoon floating the calm Bitterroot River can lead
you away from the highway and homes to a place that looks much
like it did 200 years ago, with deer and birds all around.
And as with any outdoor pursuit, learning
how to do it safely can mean years of fun and adventure. Always
wear a life jacket when paddling rivers, and don’t try anything
you’re not ready for — know what you’re getting into before
you shove off. And don’t forget the binoculars!
Discover Bitterroot Valley
Montana Activities, Sports and Things To Do
Camping | Canoeing
| Conservation |
Cross Country Skiing
| Downhill Skiing |
Fly Fishing |
Hiking | Horse
Care | Hunting |
Look Outs |