Coming from Wyoming, most of my paddling exploits have taken place on the homefront or in Colorado, but with U.S. Team Trials taking place in Missoula Montana this year I was excited to make the trip up, not only for the event but to do a little paddling along the way. I was able to make a stop in Bozeman and put a lap in on the Gallatin and Upper and Lower Hyalite Creeks with by good buddy Mike Perry http://vimeo.com/13224587 . Also on the schedule was a trip up to the Slave River in the Northwest Territories after Team Trials, so heading a few hours north of Missoula to Kootenai Falls was pretty much on route. I had heard briefly about Kootenai before, but really had no idea what it was all about. From the descriptions I was getting from Leif Anderson on our way to the put in it sounded pretty incredible.

He wasn't lying. After a short half-mile hike in with a nice trail, i walked into one of the most majestic and powerful settings i've ever seen. Kootenai Falls is a river wide waterfall with multiple channels that range from 15 to 25 feet tall. It was running a healthy 13,000 cfs the day we were there. The center ledge is about as clean a drop as they come, as Leif determined with an excellent 20 ft freewheel. As the river approaches the lip it also splits around a small butte that we didn't end up exploring, but which Leif assured me contained another runnable drop on the far side.

A clean 20 footer doesn't sound to horrific by a lot of paddlers' standards, but a swim afterward off of the center ledge would be extremely unpleasant due to a very heavily recirculating hole at the exit of the pool. Another interesting twist that I had never experienced with running a waterfall was in the lead-in. The river begins to channelize 150 to 200 meters upstream with small diagonal ledges running across the length of the river. While the ledges were maybe only a couple inches tall, they made your scout a little more interesting, because of the necessity of knowing which channel you'd need to be in to get to the section of the falls you wanted to run. Heaven forbid you flow one to many channels down, because you wouldn't be able to get back up and that could mean very bad news when you make it to the lip of the falls. But don't let this description deter you from checking it out, it is actually extremely easy to make it into the channel you want and the drop is one of the most fun i've ever ran. And besides if you don't come at least take a look at it you might miss out on one of the best waves in the Western U.S.



Directly downstream from Kootenai Falls, some 300 meters is Superwave, about a 7 foot standing V wave that'll send you sky high all day long, with excellent eddy service. We camped out there the rest of the day, shreding til our hearts were content. It was an awesome way to begin our trip to the Slave and relax before the rediculously long 16 hour drive north to Fort Smith, NWT. If you're ever up in Northwest Montana don't miss out on this incredible stretch of river. Kootenai has some of the most astounding geology i've ever seen on a river that makes for some surreal scenery and sweet whitewater. It instantly become one of my favorite places to paddle.

What do you think? Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

About Us

We're a group of whitewater kayak, raft, and stand up paddleboard enthusiasts committed to stocking the highest-quality gear and deliver it to you as quickly as possible.

Learn more about us