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Canoeing in the Wild and Scenic Upper Missouri River Wilderness

Program Number: 20626RJ
Start and End Dates:
7/15/2013 - 7/22/2013; 6/13/2016 - 6/20/2016; 7/4/2016 - 7/11/2016; 8/8/2016 - 8/15/2016;
Duration: 7 nights
Location: Fort Benton, Montana
Price starting at: $2,077.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Water Sports Activity Level: n (see description)
Meals: 20; 7 Breakfasts, 6 Lunches, 7 Dinners    
Meal Options: Vegetarian    

Discover the same wilderness that awed Lewis and Clark as you explore by canoe the 107-mile White Cliffs stretch of the Missouri River. Led by outfitters and professional educators, challenge your mind and body as you canoe and hike. Then savor a gourmet meal and relax under a tapestry of stars at day’s end.


• Camp in the precise locations of the Lewis and Clark Expedition on a stretch of the river virtually unchanged since they traveled here 200 years ago.
• Miles away from civilization, savor the silence, view abundant wildlife and bald eagle nesting sites and bask under a canopy of a million stars.
• Hike into a slot canyon, view Native American pictographs and explore abandoned homesteads.

Activity Particulars

Canoe four hours a day on flat water. No prior experience required. Hiking up to 2.5 miles, some climbing over rocks.

All canoeing and camping supplies provided.

Itinerary Summary

Arrival Fort Benton, Mont., 1 night; coach to Missouri River, camping, 5 nights; coach to Fort Benton, 1 night, departure.

Coordinated by Road Scholar.

Fort Benton

Originally the last fur trading post on the Upper Missouri River, Fort Benton was once an important hub for steamboats carrying goods, merchants, miners and settlers from New Orleans, Memphis and St. Louis. The town’s National Historic Landmark District was established in 1961 and today explorers of the Upper Missouri use Fort Benton as their base.

Historic hotel; two-person tents with cots.

Road Scholar Instructors
These instructors are participating on at least one date of this program. Please note that changes may occur.
Keith Edgerton

Keith Edgerton teaches early American and Montana history, and environmental history at Montana State University in Billings. Holder of a Ph.D. in American Studies from Washington State University, Keith’s passion focuses on explorers Lewis and Clark. However, he is writing a book on a 19th-century Montana copper baron, William A. Clark, who is not of Lewis and Clark fame. This William Clark became a U.S. Senator in a scandalous 1901 election and died one of the world’s wealthiest persons.
Meals and Lodgings
   Grand Union Hotel
  Fort Benton, Montana 1 night
  Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River 5 nights
   Grand Union Hotel
  Fort Benton, Montana 1 night
 Grand Union Hotel
Type: Boutique Hotel
  Description: The Grand Union Hotel's history began in 1882, just 36 years after Fort Benton was founded and 7 years before Montana became a state, and was built at the height of Fort Benton's prosperity and the steamboat era on the Upper Missouri River. It ran continuously for over 100 years, then remained empty for over a decade until it was elegantly restored to its original splendor in 1999.

The Grand Union Hotel provides 26 exquisitely restored rooms, many of which enjoy a view of the Missouri River and park. Guestrooms are accessed by either the original black walnut grand staircase or by elevator. The hotel has a riverside restaurant with seasonal outdoor dining, a lively brewpub and a unique gift shop. Due to its award winning restoration, the Grand Union Hotel has preserved the historical character of Montana's oldest operating hotel and one of its most famous landmarks.

  Contact info: 1 Grand Union Square
Fort Benton, MT 59442 USA
phone: 888-838-1882
  Room amenities: Each room has a deluxe private bath, direct dial phone with voice mail, auto wake-up, wireless internet, cable television, writing desk, and individually controlled heating and air conditioning.
  Facility amenities: The hotel has a riverside restaurant with seasonal outdoor dining, a lively brewpub and a unique gift shop.
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights prior: contact hotel for current rate Additional nights are available pre and post trip; contact hotel for information
  Check in time: 4:00 PM
  Additional nights after: contact hotel for current rate Additional nights are available pre and post trip; contact hotel for information
  Check out time: 11:00 AM

Type: Tents
  Description: Five of the nights will be spent camping alongside the river. Each tent will house two people. The tents are Springbar Outfitter 3. Each night the group will be camping at a different location. See itinerary for additional information.
  Contact info: 701 7th St
Fort Benton, MT 59442 USA
phone: 999-999-9999
  Room amenities: Please note that the first and last nights of the program are at the lovely Grand Union Hotel, and nights 2-6 will be camping along the Upper Missouri River. Double or single occupancy can be booked for hotel nights but camping nights are double occupancy only (in two-person tents).
  Smoking allowed: No
  Bathroom: The outfitters carry a portable folding toilet and privacy tent. However, the camp sites we’re staying at have vaulted toilet sites maintained be the BLM. Campgrounds do not have showers. There will be opportunities to rinse off in the river.

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
Hotel check in and program registration begin at 4:00 PM. Program orientation begins at 4:30 PM. You will be staying at Grand Union Hotel that night.
  End of Program:
After breakfast. Shuttle to Great Falls departs at 9:00 AM. You will be staying at Grand Union Hotel the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. The Missouri River Outfitters requires a signed waiver for each participant. Please return this form to the Road Scholar office in advance of the program. We will turn in completed forms as a group.
  Parking availability:
Parking is free at the hotel, however, if parked for more than two nights, a ticket may be issued. There is a town parking lot a short distance down river from the hotel. We suggest you leave your car there while the group is away from the hotel.
To Start of Program
  Location:  Fort Benton, Montana
  Nearest city or town:  Fort Benton
  Nearest highway: Highway 87
  Nearest airport:  Great Falls, Montana
  From End of Program
  Location: Fort Benton, Montana
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
Travel Details

Fort Benton from Great Falls


From Airport




Commercial Van/Shuttle
Missouri River Outfitters
phone: 866-282-3295
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


$25 one way, per person
Prices are subject to change.




45 miles


Please contact Missouri River Outfitters BEFORE making your flight arrangements. The best arrival time in Great Falls is most likely between 12:00 and 2:00 PM.


Fort Benton to Great Falls


To Airport




Commercial Van/Shuttle
Missouri River Outfitters
phone: 866-282-3295
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


$25 one way, per person
Prices are subject to change.




45 miles


The shuttle will depart the hotel at 9:00 AM the last day of the program. Please book flights out of Great Falls no earlier than 1:00 PM. Contact Missouri River Outfitters in advance to reserve your spot.

Driving Directions
  Grand Union Hotel (Fort Benton, MT) from Great Falls Airport Head west on Terminal Dr toward Airport 2nd St (0.3 mi) Take the 2nd right onto Airport Dr (0.6 mi) Turn left to merge onto I-15 N (2.5 mi) Take exit 280 toward US-87 N (0.3 mi) Turn right onto Central Ave W (1.2 mi) Turn left onto 3rd St NW (1.4 mi) Continue onto Smelter Ave NE (0.6 mi) Turn left onto Old Havre Hwy (0.9) Turn left onto US-87 N/15th St Continue to follow US-87 N (35.7) Turn right onto State Hwy 386 (1.4) Continue onto St Charles St (0.2 mi) Turn right onto 13th St (0.3 mi) Turn left onto Front St (302 ft) Take the 1st right onto Grand Union Square (85 ft) Destination will be on the right
Equipment Requirements: All river equipment (canoes, paddles, life vests, tents, cots, sleeping bags, dry bags, pillows) is provided by outfitter. Participants will need to bring only the clothing preferred for hikes, swimming, canoeing and sleeping. A detailed list will be provided in program preparatory materials.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Orientation/Missouri River Historical Presentation
(Monday, July 15)
 Afternoon: Check-in and registration at the lovely historic Grand Union Hotel begin at 4:00 PM, followed by program orientation with our group leader at 4:30 PM, and with Mike and Meredith Gregston of the Missouri River Outfitters at 5:30 PM.

Our outfitters have been lauded by famed Lewis and Clark scholar, Stephen Ambrose, who even mentioned them in his work "Undaunted Courage," saying "The White Cliffs can be seen only from small boat or canoe. Put in at Fort Benton and take out three or four days later at Judith Landing. Missouri River Outfitters... rents canoes or provides a guided tour... of all the historic and/or scenic sights we have visited in the world, this is number one. We have made the trip ten times."

 Dinner: A delightful welcome dinner at the Grand Union Hotel
 Evening: Our guide and history professor from the University of Billings, Dr. Keith Edgerton, will orient us to our upcoming adventure with a regional and historical overview this evening.

Then relax, and get to know your fellow adventurers on the patio at the Grand Union.

Accommodations: Grand Union Hotel
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: On the River/View Native American Habitation/Geology Overview/Coal Banks Landing/Camp Where Lewis & Clark Camped
(Tuesday, July 16)
 Breakfast: Enjoy a hearty breakfast to set us off right on our adventure!
 Morning: Load vans/school bus for travel to Coal Banks Landing, the departure point, a trip of about 40 miles. History overview along the way includes stopping at the junction of the Marias and Missouri Rivers (Lewis and Clark “Decision Point”) a beautiful, scenic and strategic place where the expedition spent nearly 10 days in 1805 determining which river fork to take.

Even if you've never been in a canoe before, our expert guides will show you the ropes and you'll be comfortable by noon!

Our expert team of guides includes Professor Keith Edgerton, with a PhD in History from the University of Montana-Billings; Renee Macdonald, with an MA in teaching; Nicole Warren, educator; and Keith Edgerton, instructor.

 Lunch: Lunch at Coal Banks Landing
 Afternoon: After our delightful lunch, load canoes and depart on the river. We will be flowing with the current the entire journey. Along the way we will stop and view Native American habitation sites and we will have geology overview discussions at several key spots.
 Dinner: Gourmet dinner provided by Meredith, one of our outfitters and former gourmet chef.
 Evening: Camp at Eagle Creek in the precise spot that the expedition camped, May 31, 1805, facing the famed White Cliffs of the Missouri, and experience what Lewis called “scenes of visionary enchantment.” We’ll spend plenty of time talking, reading, journaling and reflecting around the campfire at night.

It is one of the most beautiful and enchanting spots in America enhanced considerably by the care and attention provided by the Missouri River Outfitters. One has not truly lived until they’ve been served fresh brie and chilled chardonnay while lounging in a camp chair, ankle deep in the refreshing waters of the Upper Missouri River.

Accommodations: Camping
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Eagle Creek Hike/Native American Pictographs/Wildlife Viewing/Bald Eagle Nesting/Hole in the Wall
(Wednesday, July 17)
 Breakfast: Full delightful breakfast to start our day of adventure on the river.
 Morning: Spend the morning at Eagle Creek including hiking into several natural geological wonders in the small canyons above the campground. Also view fascinating Native American pictographs.

We'll do an incredible hike through a slot canyon behind our campsite of about 2.5 miles round trip....up and over several small rocks, that require us to "scramble" and help each other.

Although it's always optional, everyone wants to take this hike which runs through river bottom and into the river sandstone that abuts the river. (Even those with knee and hip replacements find no problem on this hike!)

 Lunch: Lunch at Eagle Creek
 Afternoon: After breaking camp, we’ll canoe downriver to Hole in the Wall geological formation where there will be abundant wildlife viewing opportunities, including numerous bald eagle nesting sights. Every day there will be water birds galore, including the majestic and ubiquitous Missouri River pelicans.

We'll hike up to the famed Hole in the Wall, a natural feature in which a window has, over eons, been carved through the sandstone. Don't forget to bring your camera!

After the hike we'll canoe through the seemingly endless white cliffs of the Upper Missouri to Slaughter River campground, a place where the Lewis and Clark expedition camped twice on its journey - once on its way to the Pacific in May of 1805 and then again on its return in July of 1806.

 Dinner: Another sumptuous dinner by our chef extraordinaire
 Evening: Camp at Slaughter River. There will be plenty of opportunity for swimming, reading, writing, reflecting (complete with happy hour and appetizers served by the river guides), socializing, and even singing (!). In the evening, as is the case every evening, around the campfire we’ll talk more of the regional history, the geology, and the Native American perspective of the land that surrounds us.
Accommodations: Camping
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: On to Judith Landing/ Camp Where Lewis & Clark Camped - McGarry Bar
(Thursday, July 18)
 Breakfast: Another hearty breakfast of Chef Meredith's gourmet design!
 Morning: Break camp and canoe to Judith Landing, named for Captain Clark's future wife, Ms. Julia Hancock. Learn about the fascinating steamboat era as we travel today.
 Lunch: Lunch after a nice hike - time to delight your palate!
 Afternoon: As we proceed on our journey on the lower river which is less-travelled, the scenery will begin rapidly to change to even more wild, scenic and dramatic landscapes.
 Dinner: Gourmet dinner preceded by happy hour and appetizers.
 Evening: History takes on a new perspective as our expert regales you with stories from the Lewis & Clark journey from the very location where they camped overnight in May of we camp tonight at McGarry Bar, following in their footsteps.

Plenty of time tonight for discussion and journaling, and perhaps even to watch bighorn sheep grazing along the riverbanks.

Accommodations: Camping
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Famed Missouri "Breaks"/ Bighorn Sheep/ Abandoned Homestead/ Camp at Gist Bottom
(Friday, July 19)
 Breakfast: Leisurely breakfast on the banks of the Missouri
 Morning: Break camp and canoe through the famed Missouri "breaks" where the river has seemingly broken through the rough country. Spectacular scenery and numerous bighorn sheep sightings throughout the day.
 Lunch: Pull out for a picnic lunch on the riverbank.
 Afternoon: Back on the river, pass through a number of islands in the river and visit an old abandoned homestead or two as we continue through stunning scenery.
 Dinner: What will our delightful dinner be tonight? How often do you have a gourmet chef cooking for you on a camping trip?
 Evening: Camp at Gist Bottom, the site of an abandoned homestead. A delightful evening of relaxation under the stars....with time for discussion, personal reflection, conviviality, campfire songs and readings from the Lewis and Clark journals.
Accommodations: Camping
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Hike in the steps of William Clark/ Canoe past Chief Joseph History/ Camp where Meriwether Lewis camped
(Saturday, July 20)
 Breakfast: Another great breakfast to get us off right this morning.
 Morning: Hike up to a point above the river where William Clark first beheld what he thought were the Rocky Mountains in 1805. Stunning views of the river and the surrounding prairie lands. We'll also see a "diatreme" - volcanic formations where most of the world's diamonds are found.
 Lunch: Lunch at Gist Bottom
 Afternoon: Continue on the river, canoeing past Cow Island where the famed Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Perce crossed the Missouri in 1877 while attempting to flee to Canada from the U.S. Army.
 Dinner: Fine wine and another gourmet meal await us tonight!
 Evening: Camp at Woodhawk Campground where Lewis camped on his return in 1806. Hike to a restored homestead. As always, the campfire will be stoked and stories will abound on our last night on the river.
Accommodations: Camping
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7: Canoe through Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge/ Kipp Campground/ Geological Wonders/ Return to Grand Union
(Sunday, July 21)
 Breakfast: At our campsite
 Morning: Break camp and canoe through the last portion of the National Monument, having traveled, all told during our journey, 107 miles. Pass through a portion of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge before we pull out at the Kipp Campground, ending the river portion of our journey.
 Lunch: Picnic lunch at Kipp State Park
 Afternoon: Load gear on shuttles/bus (air-conditioned) and then travel back to Fort Benton through scenic prairie lands. Numerous geological features line our return trip, including Square and Round Buttes, two volcanic formations that dominate the local landscape. Our educators will paint a historical picture of this beautiful country and its lore as we travel.

Check in at the Grand Union and grab a nice shower before dinner. The outfitters will deliver non-river luggage to you. Refreshments will precede our dinner on the patio next to the Missouri River.

 Dinner: Delightful dinner at the Grand Union Hotel, a perfect end to our great Upper Missouri River adventure!
 Evening: Celebrate your historical adventure with your new friends. Relax and recall the highlights most memorable to you.
Accommodations: Grand Union Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 8: Farewells/ Shuttle Back to Great Falls
(Monday, July 22)
 Breakfast: Sumptuous breakfast at the historic Grand Union.
 Morning: Independent departures after the program ends but most participants find it most convenient to book with the Missouri River Outfitters to take their shuttle service back to the Great Falls airport ($25 per person).

Plan your airline departure time after 1:00 PM, as shuttles will depart Fort Benton about 9:00 AM. You'll arrive at the airport with ample time to go through the security check.

Meals Included: Breakfast

Free Time Opportunities
  Fort Benton, Montana Fort Benton Chamber of Commerce
Visit the Fort Benton Chamber of Commerce for information on the town history and things to do and see. For additional information, visit
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents

Author: Donald Jackson

Description: All of the other miscellaneous material related to the expedition.

Lewis and Clark Among the Indians

Author: James P. Ronda

Lewis and Clark: Pioneering Naturalists

Author: Paul Russell Cutright

Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery

Author: Dayton Duncan & Ken Burns

Lewis and Clark: Voyage of Discovery

Author: Ambrose

Description: National Geographic coffee table book that serves as a visual companion to Undaunted Courage.

Only One Man Died: The Medical Aspects of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Author: Eldon G. Chuinard

Passage Through the Garden: Lewis and Clark and the Image of the American Northwest

Author: John Logan Allen

Description: A good analysis of geography and cartography before, during and after the expedition.

The Journals of Lewis and Clark

Author: Bernard DeVoto

The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition: Volumes 2 – 11

Author: Gary Moulton

The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (PBS)

Author: Ken Burns

Description: 2 part series on video.

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

Author: Stephen E. Ambrose

Voyages of Discovery: Essays on the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Author: James Ronda

Description: Some recent and classic essays on many different aspects of the expedition.

We Proceeded On

Author: Caroline Patterson ed.

Description: This journal is solely dedicated to aspects of Lewis and Clark.

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