Upper Missouri River Breaks, White Cliff Section

We set off to float from Coal Banks Landing to Judith Landing of the Upper Missouri River, White Cliff Section, wihthin the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument; a state and federal park which is part of the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management.

The Missouri river is the longest river in the United States running over 2,500 miles from Three Forks, Montana to the Missippi River in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is 149 miles long and approximately 375,000 acres.  The White Cliffs section consists of a 47 mile stretch of river from Coal Banks Landing to Judith Landing

A stop in the Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center, at 701 7th Street, in the beautiful town of Fort Benton, Montana was quite informative, interpret this how you like.  Personnel at this location told me while they have heard people talk of rattlesnakes in the area, she had been out to all the locations along our float and had never seen any rattlesnakes.

Also, they will tell you that the BLM regularly patrols the river, do not bet on it.  I am in no way complaining but just to let you know on our four day trip there was no signs of patrol on the river.  We also only saw three other float groups (consisting of a total of 7 people) so the lack of patrol could be impacted by the lack of floaters.  All of this is probably due to weather conditions at the time, an unusually cloudy and rainy August.

Google Maps shows the drive from Coal Banks to Judith Landing as 55.2 miles and taking two hours!.  While approximately 36 miles of this trip are dirt roads, depending on conditions of the road (which I found favorable), the ability of the driver and vehicle I have heard its hypothetically possible to cut this time in half without danger or concern.

While the park is public land there is private land scattered throughout.  You will want to stick to the public land and easements, there are plenty to explore.

Please note that it is law (subject to fine and jail time) that if not using the toilets, you are to pack out your own waste with a reusable toilet or approved degradable bag system.

Also, cottonwood trees are everywhere and the limbs of these trees are known to break off without warning.  Evidence of this is all over the river banks, check the ground, check the trees, you can't miss it.


This stretch of the river has developed public access, developed boat,  and primitive boat camps.

Developed public access sites include parking lots, boat ramps, toilets, and campsites.  Coal Banks Landing, and Judith Landing are developed public access sites on this stretch of the river.

Developed boat camps contain toilets and fire rings and are only accessible by boat.  You may notice road access at these sites but this road access is for management of the site by the BLM.  Developed boat camps include Little Sandy, Eagle Creek, Hole in the Wall, and Slaughter river.

Primitive boat camps contain fire rings and are only accessible by boat.  These sites include Dark Butte, Pablo Rapids, and The Wall.  Dark Butte does have composting toilets although at the time (summer 2014) at least one of them was inoperational.

River Mile markers

River Mile 41.5  After a long drive we camped over night at Coal Banks Landing.  You will notice the darker colors in the land around here which is lignite coal from where the camp got its name.  Lignite comes from naturally compressed peat and is considered the lowest ranking coal due to its low heat content.

There are several campsites here with fire rings, picnic tables, a bathroom, and drinking water.  In the morning we registered at the boat ramp and set off in the morning.

This is when I noticed the rattlesnake sign, this coupled with the obligatory talk with the camp host (who stated hiking from hole in the wall camp to the hole in the wall trail is 'very snakey') made me think back to the helpful staff at the Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center in the beautiful town of Fort Benton.

River Mile 46.5  ABN Ranch, an example of an old homestead, many of which occupy the banks along the river.  The only thing there are more of along the trip are cows, I wonder why the waste management law doesn't apply to the cows?

River Mile 46.7  Little Sandy developed Boat Camp

River Mile 50  Terry Ranch

River Mile 52  This is where the Wild Classification of the river begins, this is where legally motorboat restrictions begin and the cliffs start to kick in.  No upstream motorized use from June 15 to September 15 and downstream use is limited to "no wake speeds".

River Mile 53.5  Horse Thief Cabin

River Mile 53.7  Monroe Island.  This was our first overnight stop, watch for snakes, and watch for shooting stars and other space activity such as space junk and or satellites, remember planes blink.  This site does contain a rock fire ring.

Day 2

River Mile 55  Burnt Butte  You will notice this on the hillside on the left.  Please note that while this is public land it is sate land (DNRC) and you can hike and camp on this land if you have a state lands recreations use license.

River Mile 55.7  Corps of Discovery Campsite.  These campsites are found up and down this river and refer to the journeys of Lewis and Clark.

River Mile 56  Eagle Creek Developed Boat Camp.  Originally named Stonewall Creek this campsite is an excellent place to stop and explore.  Towards the south of the camp (downstream) there is a path leading east towards the hills, taking this path and staying south leads you through Neat Coulee a narrow canyon with impressive scenery and a break from the sun.  In this area there are supposed to be petroglyphs and rock circles, both made by early Natives, due to time and being early in the trip we didn't continue on to search for these.

River Mile 56.9  Grand Natural Wall.

River Mile 57  Crawford Ranch

River Mile 59.6  Eagle Rock and Kipp's Rapids.  On the left Eagle Rock appears to be a perched eagle, Kipps rapids may be noticeable but nothing to worry about, nothing in this stretch is over Class I

River Mile 62  Citadel Rock.  On the right this rock is one of the most well known along the upper Missouri River.

River Mile 63  Hole-in-the-Wall Developed Boat Camp.  This was our second stop of the trip.  This camp contains fire rings and also open shelters consisting of a roof and 3 sides.  Another good place to explore,  I can tell you there is a geocache here but I wont tell you where as it is too easy to find.  I found it accidentally, all I will say is its not at the camp itself.  If you look downstream on the same side of the river you will notice hole in the wall, you can't miss it.  You can hike from the campsite or you can float down to the lone tree and hike from there.  Unfortunately not knowing what the rest of the trip had in store for exploring, weather, headwinds etc, we did not make this hike.

Day 3

River Mile 68.8  Dark Butte Primitive Boat Camp - Steamboat Rock  Dark Butte has composting toilets and campsites.  Behind the camp (to the north / north east) you will notice steamboat rock.

River Mile 69.8  Dark Butte and Archangel.  On the left side of the river these formations are self explanatory.

River Mile 71.3  Corps of Discovery Campsite

River Mile 72.8  Pablo Rapids Primitive Boat Camp

River Mile 73.3  Pablo Rapids and Wolf Island

River Mile 76.8

River Mile 76.8  Slaughter River Developed Boat Camp.  Another Corps of Discovery Campsite which was used multiple times by Lewis and Clark and my understanding this is a wildly popular campsite.  This was our third camp of the trip and offered great hiking / exploring opportunities.  Just prior to this point the camera died and at night the sky was threatening.  The next day we shoved off and made tracks.

River Mile 77.2  Arrow Creek

River Mile 80.7  Flat Rock Riparian Project

River Mile 81.3  The Wall Primitive Boat Camp

River Mile 84.5  Recreational Section of the Wild and Scenic River.  This is where the wilds classification of the river ends.

River Mile 84.5  Deadman Rapids.  not even noticeable but apparently in 1837 it was enough to capsize a canoe killing four men.

River Mile 84.5+  Judith Landing.  This is the second and only public access site of the trip.  If you are spending the night and continuing to float then bank early, before the bridge around the sign.  If this is the end of your float trip then bank after the bridge at the boat ramp.

If you like hiking and exploring, give plenty of time for this trip.  The water was mostly shallow and there was no danger what so ever in a LOADED canoe and kayaks.

Maps to come ...

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