Off the Map: Canoe in the Remote Upper Missouri River Wilderness

Canoe and hike in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark to explore Montana’s untouched wilderness, discover Native American pictographs, learn about local wildlife and camp under the stars.
Rating (5)
Program No. 20626RJ
8 days
Starts at
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8 days
7 nights
20 meals
7 B 6 L 7 D
Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Fort Benton, Montana
Grand Union Hotel

Activity note: Hotel check-in from 4:00 p.m.

Afternoon: Program Registration: 4:00 p.m. After you have your room assignment, join us at the Road Scholar table in the hotel lobby to register with the program staff and get your welcome packet containing the up-to-date schedule that reflects any changes, other important information, and to confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet when you check in. Remember to bring your name-tag (sent previously). Orientation: 5:30 p.m. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. After a regional and historical overview, we will also meet our outfitter and the outdoor experts who will be joining us on the river, and they will go over what to expect on the river over the program. We will canoe between 15-20 miles each day, depending on the distance necessary to reach our campsite. Everyone will participate in setting up and breaking down camp at each stop along our river journey. Before dinner each evening, we’ll have a “happy hour” with appetizers and drinks (wine or beer). Camp meals will be prepared by our experienced leaders, and will typically include a variety of delectable items with a focus on local fare. Please note that cell phone service is not available while we are on the river. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: In a meeting room at the hotel, we’ll enjoy a delightful welcome dinner with plated meals including entrée, salad, side dish, vegetables, and dessert, plus lemonade, soft drinks, coffee, tea, water; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure. Continue getting to know your fellow adventurers on the hotel patio, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

Coal Banks Landing, Board Canoes, Lewis & Clark Camp
Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River

Activity note: Getting in/out of van; driving about 40 miles to put-in location; approximately 1.5 hours.. Getting in/out of canoes; paddling about 14 miles throughout the day; exact duration dependent on local conditions. Difficulty dependent on daily circumstances, such as headwinds, but are always downstream with the current; even without paddling, the canoe usually floats at 3.5 miles per hour. Campsite location may change due to unforeseen circumstance.

Breakfast: In the hotel dining room, the breakfast buffet includes eggs, breakfast meats, fruit, breads and muffins, jam and butter, an assortment of juices, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: We will load into our air-conditioned vans with our team of experts and ride to our departure point, Coal Banks Landing. En route, our Group Leader and our outfitters will provide an overview of area history. Our first stop will be at the junction of the Marias and Missouri Rivers — “Decision Point” for Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery — a beautifully scenic and strategic place where the expedition spent nearly 10 days in 1805 deciding which river fork to take. Next, we’ll load into the canoes and enter the river. We will be flowing with the current the entire journey. Even if you've never been in a canoe before, our experts will show everyone the ropes during a safety and technique session and you'll quickly become comfortable.

Lunch: At a nearby campground as we will enjoy sandwiches on the river, our Group Leader and outfitters will use this time to brief us on safety and provide helpful paddling instructions.

Afternoon: We will stop at various points to view Native American habitation sites, as well as to have geology overview discussions at key spots. We will arrive and set up camp at Eagle Creek, in the same spot as the Corps of Discovery on May 31, 1805, and experience what Lewis called “scenes of visionary enchantment” facing the famed White Cliffs of the Missouri. Many consider it one of the most beautiful and enchanting spots in the United States.

Dinner: This evening’s delectable dinner will be made even more enjoyable because we dine at our campsite along the river, far away from civilization.

Evening: At leisure. One has not truly lived until enjoying chilled wine and savory cheese while lounging in a camp chair, ankle deep in the refreshing waters of the Upper Missouri River. We’ll spend plenty of time at night talking, reading, journaling, and reflecting around the campfire.

Eagle Creek Hike, Pictographs, Wildlife, Hole in the Wall
Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River

Activity note: Hiking up to 2.5 miles roundtrip; approximately 1.5 hours depending on the group speed and weather conditions; elevation of about 300 feet; uneven dirt path. Getting in/out of canoes; paddling about 23 miles total throughout the day; exact duration dependent on local conditions.

Breakfast: To start our day of adventure on the river, we’ll have a tasty breakfast with hot and cold choices, plus coffee, tea, water.

Morning: We’ll pack up our camp at Eagle Creek and paddle to Hole in the Wall where we will hike into the natural geological wonder in the small canyons. During this incredible hike into sandstone abutting the river, we’ll view fascinating Native American pictographs. On previous programs, even those with knee and hip replacements have had no problem. We'll continue our hike up to the famed Hole in the Wall, a natural feature in which a “window” has been carved through the sandstone over eons. Don't forget to bring your camera!

Lunch: At Hole in the Wall, we will stop to have our picnic lunch.

Afternoon: At Hole in the Wall, there are typically abundant wildlife viewing opportunities, including Bald Eagle nesting sites. Every day there will be water birds galore, such as the majestic, ubiquitous Missouri River pelicans. After making our way back to our boats, we'll resume canoeing 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 1805 and then again on its return in July 1806.

Dinner: At our Slaughter River campsite, we’ll have another delicious meal prepared by our experienced outfitters.

Evening: At leisure. While camping at Slaughter River, there will be opportunities for swimming, reading, writing, reflecting — complete with happy hour and appetizers, socializing, and even singing! In the evening, as is the case every evening, we'll talk around the campfire about regional history, geology, and Native American perspectives of the land that surrounds us.

Judith Landing, Camp Near McGarry Bar
Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River

Activity note: Getting on/off the canoes; paddling about 23 miles throughout the day; exact duration dependent on local conditions. Minimal group walking throughout the day.

Breakfast: At camp, we’ll have another hearty breakfast prepared by our experienced cooks.

Morning: After breaking camp, we’ll canoe to Judith Landing, named for Captain Clark's future wife, Ms. Julia Hancock. We’ll learn about the fascinating steamboat era as we travel today.

Lunch: During a stop midway through our journey, we’ll have a tasty lunch.

Afternoon: As we proceed on our journey along the less travelled lower river, the scenery will begin to change to even more wild, scenic, and dramatic landscapes. We’ll camp tonight near McGarry Bar, following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, where we will enjoy a happy hour and appetizers before dinner.

Dinner: At camp.

Evening: From near to the very location where they camped overnight in May of 1805, history will take on a new perspective as our expert regales us with stories about the expedition. Afterwards, we’ll have time for discussion, journaling, and surveying our surroundings, where Bighorn sheep have been known to graze along the riverbanks.

Missouri Breaks, Bighorn Sheep, Gist Bottom
Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River

Activity note: Getting in/out of canoes; paddling about 22 miles throughout the day; exact duration dependent on local conditions. Minimal group walking throughout the day.

Breakfast: At camp on the banks of the Missouri.

Morning: We’ll break camp and canoe through the famed Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument where the river has seemingly broken through the rough country. Spectacular scenery will greet us throughout the day, with a possibility of Bighorn sheep sightings.

Lunch: We'll pull out at a suitable spot for lunch on the riverbank.

Afternoon: Back on the river, we’ll pass by a number of islands in the river and visit an old abandoned homestead or two as we continue through the stunning scenery. We’ll camp at Gist Bottom, the site of an abandoned homestead.

Dinner: The delicious fare at camp may make you forget this is a canoeing experience in the near wilderness.

Evening: At leisure. We’ll have 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.

Hike, Chief Joseph History, Woodhawk Campground
Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River

Activity note: Getting in/out of canoe; paddling about 19 miles throughout the day; exact duration dependent on local conditions. Hiking about 4 miles; approximately 2.5 hours total; roughly 800 feet in elevation.

Breakfast: At camp, we’ll have another great breakfast to get us going right.

Morning: We’ll then hike up to a point above the river where William Clark first beheld what he mistakenly thought were the Rocky Mountains in 1805. While here, we’ll enjoy stunning views of the river and surrounding prairie lands, as well as see a “diatreme” — a type of volcanic formation in which most of the world's diamonds are found. We will then continue canoeing on the river past Cow Island. This is 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. We’ll then stop at Woodhawk Campground, where Lewis camped on his return trip in 1806.

Lunch: At a good stopping point on the shore of the river, we’ll have lunch.

Afternoon: After lunch, we will continue downstream and, upon arrival, settle in at Stair Step Camp in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Reserve.

Dinner: At camp, we’ll enjoy delicious food, fine wine, and the great outdoors.

Evening: At leisure. As always, the campfire will be stoked and stories will abound on our last night on the river.

Missouri Breaks Natl. Monument, Wildlife Refuge, Grand Union
Fort Benton, Montana
Grand Union Hotel

Activity note: Getting in/out of canoes; paddling about 6 miles total throughout the day; exact duration dependent on local conditions. Driving about 150 miles to return to Fort Benton; approximately 2.5 hours. Minimal group walking throughout the day.

Breakfast: At our campsite.

Morning: We’ll break camp and canoe through the last portion of the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument. We’ll continue through a portion of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge before we pull out at Kipp State Park Campground, ending the river portion of our journey having traveled – all told during our journey – 107 miles.

Lunch: At Kipp State Park, we’ll have a tasty picnic lunch.

Afternoon: We’ll load our gear into air-conditioned vans and ride back to Fort Benton through scenic prairie lands. There are numerous geological features along our route, 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. Checking in at the Grand Union, we’ll have time to freshen up and relax before dinner. Non-river luggage will be delivered to you.

Dinner: At the Grand Union Hotel, our plated farewell dinner is a perfect end to a great Upper Missouri River canoeing adventure. Lemonade, soft drinks, coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase. Share your favorite experiences with new Road Scholar friends.

Evening: At leisure. Say farewells, then prepare for check-out and departure in the morning.

Program Concludes
Fort Benton, Montana

Activity note: Hotel check-out by 11:00 a.m.

Breakfast: In the hotel dining room, the breakfast buffet includes eggs, breakfast meats, fruit, breads and muffins, jam and butter, juices, coffee, tea, water. This concludes our program.

Morning: If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!

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