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 Bitterroot Valley.
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!
Valley Montana Activities, Sports and Things To Do
Camping | Canoeing
| Conservation |
Cross Country Skiing
| Downhill Skiing |
Fly Fishing |
Hiking | Horse
Care | Hunting |
Look Outs |