Smith River State Park
Frequently Asked Questions
Read these FAQs to answer any additional questions you may have about your trip on the Smith River:
Reminders for the 2018 float season
- FOOD STORAGE REGULATION: Food, garbage and other attractants must be stored securely in an IGBC approved bear resistant device such as a cooler, container and/or within electric fencing. Attractants may also be suspended at least 10 feet from the ground and 4 feet horizontally from a vertical support. Learn more ways you can Be Bear Aware. For a complete list of approved Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) products, see Certified Bear-Resistant Products.
- There is a $10 nonrefundable permit application fee. Float fees are payable at Camp Baker during registration.
- Applicants must be a minimum of 12 years of age when they apply for a permit.
- Applicants receiving a permit through the lottery for a peak season launch date (May 15 through July 15) will not be allowed to apply for a peak season launch date the following year. This restriction still applies in the case of a cancellation.
- The ability to utilize a permit may be affected by an emergency closure of the river and/or one or more boat camps to protect public safety. In the event of an emergency closure, every attempt will be made to promptly contact the permit holder.
- FWP will issue one Super Permit each year through a separate lottery ($5 per chance). The recipient of the permit may float on any date of their choosing during that year (Super Permit does not include launch fees).
- FWP does not notify unsuccessful permit applicants. Results are posted on the FWP website starting March 1, 2018 at MyFWP.
- Maximum group size per permit is 15 people including children.
- Float fees are applicable year-round.
- During the May 15 to July 15 peak season, all groups are limited to four nights on the river. Nights spent at private cabins or guest ranches are included in the four night limit.
- No pets are allowed on Smith River float trips with the exception of legitimate service dogs and dogs use for lawful hunting purposes.
- Sign-in at Camp Baker is limited to 24-hours in advance. Floaters may sign-in at Camp Baker beginning at 7:30 AM on the day prior to their launch date to secure a "place in line" for registration.
Q. When is the float season?
A. The float season varies widely depending on snow pack, rainfall and amount and timing of irrigation. The “typical” float season runs from mid April through mid July, with occasional floating opportunities in September and October. A permit and payment of fees is required to float the Smith River year-round.
Q. How soon do I need to arrive at Camp Baker?
A. Some groups prefer to arrive at the Camp Baker put-in the day prior to their launch date in order to secure a “place in line” for registration (registration is 1st come, 1st served) and to also get boats and gear organized and be prepared for an early start the following morning. Please note: The earliest you are allowed to sign in is 7:30 AM on the day prior to your launch. Other groups, typically those living in the surrounding area, arrive at Camp Baker the morning of their scheduled launch. Either option is fine. If you cannot make it to Camp Baker by 2:00 PM on the day of your scheduled launch, please notify the Rangers (406) 547-3893 that you are running late. If you do not notify them by 2:00 PM, your launch may be given away to a “Walk-On.”
Q. What is the procedure once I arrive at Camp Baker?
A. Upon your arrival, report directly to the Ranger Station office to sign-in, which is located near the downstream launch area and the vault toilets. A sign-in sheet is located within a registration box on the deck of the Ranger Station. Please note: The earliest you are allowed to sign in is 7:30 AM on the day prior to your launch. Only one member of the group is required to sign-in and it does not have to be the permit holder. Registration, including fee collection and boat camp selection, will be completed the morning of your scheduled launch based on the order of sign-in. Registration begins at 7:30 AM in the campground and/or launch areas and lasts approximately 20 minutes per group, which includes a safety and orientation talk. Each group will be provided a registration form documenting declared boat camps, boat tags, a Smith River map for each boat and one floaters’ log.
Please note: If a group does not have a representative at Camp Baker when it’s their time to register, they will lose their spot and be moved to the end of the registration order.
Q. How many days does it take to float the Smith River?
A. The river is 59 river miles from Camp Baker (put-in) to Eden Bridge (take-out). On average, floaters take 4 days to float. A minimum of two nights and three full days should be planned for normal water levels, which is 300+ CFS. Factor in probable river flows, distances you wish to cover each day and the type of experience you are seeking.
Q. Is there a limit to the number of nights allowed on the Smith River?
A. Yes. During the peak season of May 15 through July 15, floaters are limited to a maximum of 4 nights camping. The four night limit includes nights spent at private cabins and guest ranches. Layover nights (2 or more nights at the same camp) are permitted at mid-canyon boat camps (Two Creek to Upper Parker) however, only one layover night is permitted during the high use season (May 15 – July 15).
Q. Can we camp and fish anywhere on the Smith River?
A. No! Of the 118 miles of shoreline along the river, only 26 miles border public land. There are 27 boat camps with 52 campsites along the river located on National Forest land, FWP land, DNRC state land and leased private land. The boat camps are signed and marked on the Smith River maps, which are distributed at Camp Baker upon registration. Please camp only at the designated boat camps. The Montana Stream Access law allows walking and fishing along the river and tributaries within the ordinary high water mark. You may not walk above the ordinary high water mark that borders private property. As a courtesy to landowners, please refrain from stopping in front of cabins. Camp Baker is available for all Smith River floaters and their families to stay overnight prior to beginning their float.
Q. What types of fish are in the Smith River?
A. The Smith River is mainly a rainbow and brown trout fishery. Whitefish are also common. A complete list of the fishing regulations can be found in the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Fishing Regulations which can be found anywhere fishing licenses are sold. Please note that fishing licenses are not sold at Camp Baker, but may be purchased in the nearby town of White Sulphur Springs.
Q. What special regulations apply to floating the Smith River?
A. The Smith River is managed as part of the Montana State Parks system. Fees and rules for Smith River State Park and river corridor are established under the authority of the Smith River Management Act and the Smith River Biennial Rule. State Park public use regulations also apply to such activities as littering, restrictions on pets, fires, firearms and fireworks and disorderly conduct. See the Smith River webpage for additional information on regulations.
- Food Storage Regulation: Food, garbage and other attractants must be stored securely in an IGBC approved bear resistant device such as a cooler, container and/or within electric fencing. Attractants may also be suspended at least 10 feet from the ground and 4 feet horizontally from a vertical support. Learn more ways you can Be Bear Aware. For a complete list of approved Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) products, see Certified Bear-Resistant Products.
Q. Is there a maximum group size for floating parties?
A. Yes. The maximum group size for private and outfitted groups is 15 people.
Q. What services are offered on the Smith River?
A. The Smith River flows through a remote canyon. There are no public services from Camp Baker to Eden Bridge. You must carry all your own food, water, safety and camping equipment and fishing license. It is advisable to bring all the drinking water you will need for the duration of your trip, as there is no drinking water available at Camp Baker. There are no trash dumpsters at Camp Baker but two are available at the Eden Bridge takeout along with an aluminum-recycling center. You can obtain supplies, overnight accommodations, gasoline, water and information at White Sulphur Springs on your way to the put-in. You should top-off your gas tank while in White Sulphur Springs. Cascade, Great Falls and Ulm are the closest services to the Eden Bridge takeout, with gas stations at each town.
Q. Can I hire a person to perform services for me during my float trip (Example: Row gear boat, cook meals, camp set-up etc.)?
A. No. Hiring a person, group or organization to perform any type of service for compensation during a private permitted float trip on the Smith River is illegal outfitting. There are eight (8) commercial outfitters who are authorized and permitted by Montana State Parks and the United States Forest Service to conduct commercial float trips on the Smith River. However, these outfitters are allocated a specific number of launches on specific days throughout the float season and conduct fully outfitted float trips for persons not possessing a private float permit. They are not authorized to provide specific services for private permit holders.
Q. Is there whitewater on the Smith River?
A. Throughout its length, the Smith River moves quickly with sharp turns, rocky shallows and snags in/or partially across the river. There is one section of class II whitewater at river mile 47 and several sections of class II whitewater at mile 49. The current of the river can sweep you into sheer rock walls and in higher flows the eddies can be very strong. In addition, floaters may encounter float gates, downed trees and pieces of fence torn loose by high water. You should have at least intermediate rowing or paddling skills before floating the Smith River. Secure all equipment tightly in your boat and carry your gear in waterproof bags or boxes.
Q. What kind of boats can be used on the Smith River and at what river flows?
A. The Smith River is a non-motorized river. Rafts are used by about 75% of floaters; canoes by 10% and the remaining 15% of boats on the Smith River are other types of craft such as drift boats and kayaks. Rafts and canoes are the most appropriate craft, although inflatable and solid-body kayaks, rowboats and drift boats are also taken down the river. Hard sided drift boats are particularly difficult during low water conditions. To help floaters, Montana State Parks recommends minimum flows for different types of watercraft. Drift boats generally begin to have trouble at river flows below 350 CFS, rafts below 250 CFS and canoes below 150 CFS. This does not mean that different watercraft types will not have trouble floating at levels above those given. These are estimated levels listed to assist floaters in planning their trip. Remember that the river is always changing and you should adjust accordingly. Feel free to contact the ranger at Camp Baker (406) 547-3893 to ask about current flow levels and up to date information and advice on floating conditions.
Q. How can I find out about flow levels?
A. Visit the USGS website for data on Smith River flows.
Q. What other type of equipment should we bring?
A. Expect any and all types of weather conditions, especially in the spring. Snow is possible and quite common in April, May and June. The Smith River flows through the middle of the Little Belt Mountains, which are conducive to dramatic and quick weather changes. Bring good rain gear, a complete first aid kit, adequate warm clothing, sunscreen, an extra paddle or oar for each boat, boat repair equipment and supplies, an extra day of food, extra life jacket, extra firewood, and a bucket and shovel for extinguishing fires. In addition to the equipment you plan on using to comply with the mandatory Food Storage Regulation, we also strongly encourage you to bring bear pepper spray.
IN ACCORDANCE WITH STATE LAW, EVERY BOAT MUST HAVE A LIFE JACKET ON BOARD FOR EACH PERSON. IT MUST FIT THE INTENDED WEARER, BE READILY ACCESSIBLE AND IN GOOD CONDITION. CHILDREN UNDER 12 ARE REQUIRED TO WEAR A LIFE JACKET AT ALL TIMES WHILE IN A BOAT THAT IS IN MOTION.
Q. How do we dispose of human waste?
A. As with fires, you should learn and practice Leave No Trace techniques with respect to human waste disposal in the backcountry. All boat camps have open pit toilets; please use them whenever possible. If you can't use a pit toilet, pick a spot on public land with adequate soil cover at least 200 feet from the river and dig a “cat hole” six to eight inches deep. It is advisable to carry a small trowel to properly dig the hole. Bury your human waste and then fill and tamp the soil. Disguise the site by scattering leaves or grass over the disturbed area. Pack out your toilet paper. We encourage you to consider using one of the commercially available human waste pack-out systems.
Q.Can we have campfires along the Smith River?
A. Yes. However, firewood is scarce around the boat camps and no person may cut living or dead standing trees for firewood or other purposes. It's highly suggested that you arrive at Camp Baker with your own supply of firewood. Firewood is also for sale at Camp Baker for $5/bundle. Help to enhance the feeling of solitude in the canyon by not using a chainsaw. Please use the metal fire rings within each boat camp, make sure all wood is completely contained within the fire ring and that your fire is dead out before leaving. The most common type of litter left at campsites is half-burned plastic, aluminum foil, glass, eggshells, cigarette butts and metal left in the fire rings. Do not attempt to burn anything in the fire ring besides paper, wood or charcoal. Clean your fire ring after extinguishing your fire. If you plan on camping and having a fire at Camp Baker, the same Leave No Trace principles as above apply.
Q. Why are there fences across the Smith River?
A. The Smith River flows through a great deal of private land. Ranchers along the Smith River graze livestock, particularly during the late summer and early fall. In some places the fences have been installed across the river to control livestock. Most fences will have float gates installed with the cooperation of the landowner, allowing safe passage of your boat. Use caution when approaching and passing through the float gates. Please repay the favor by respecting the landowner's property rights. Don't cut fences, camp on private land without permission, litter or vandalize equipment. Please respect cabin owners' privacy by not stopping in front of cabin sites. Realize that only through cooperation between the landowner and floaters will the Smith River continue to be used and preserved by all.
Q. Are dogs allowed on the Smith River?
A. Dogs are NOT allowed on Smith River float trips. The only exceptions are legitimate service dogs that accompany someone with a disability and hunting dogs used for lawful hunting purposes during legal hunting seasons. Aside from these two exceptions, no dog or pet will be allowed on a Smith River float trip. Keep in mind that there are no kennel options at Camp Baker; if you bring a dog or pet to Camp Baker, they will not be allowed to accompany you down the river and you will not be permitted to leave the animal at Camp Baker.
Q. Are shuttle services available?
A. Yes. Several shuttle services can move your vehicle from Camp Baker to Eden Bridge.
Q. How do I get to the Camp Baker put-in?
A. White Sulphur Springs to Camp Baker is 26 miles. Take State Secondary Road 360 (Fort Logan Road) west from White Sulphur Springs 16.6 miles to the Camp Baker turn-off. Follow the directional signs 9.6 miles to Camp Baker. It takes two hours (75 miles) to drive from Camp Baker to Eden Bridge on Millegan Road (State Secondary Road 360). Driving this gravel road should not be attempted during wet conditions. Make sure to lock your vehicles and leave no valuables in your vehicle at Camp Baker or Eden Bridge. Eden Bridge is 28 miles from Great Falls via Ulm and Interstate 15. Great Falls to Camp Baker via White Sulphur Springs is 127 miles.
Q. Are commercial outfitters allowed on the Smith River?
A. Yes, but they are strictly limited, both in the total number of outfitters and the number of launches that each outfitter is allocated. Currently, 8 outfitters are authorized to conduct commercial use on the Smith River with a total of 73 launches allocated among them. The number of launches allocated was determined by analyzing historic use levels. The outfitters operate under a permanent launch calendar with their 73 launches scheduled on specific dates during the months of May, June, July and September. Two outfitted launches are allowed per day on Sundays and Wednesdays. One outfitted launch is allowed per day on other days of the week. [View outfitter launch calendar.]
Please note: It is illegal for any unauthorized outfitter or individual to provide commercial services to Smith River floaters (This does not apply to vehicle shuttles or bed and breakfasts). If you wish to hire the services of an outfitter, do not apply for a private permit in the drawing since the outfitters are allocated a specific number of launches on specific days of the week and month.
Q. What can floaters do to prevent the spread of noxious weeds and aquatic invasive species (AIS)?
A. Clean, Drain and Dry your equipment. 1. CLEAN: Completely remove all mud, water and vegetation and then use water to wash your equipment clean, before leaving the access area. 2. DRAIN: Drain all water from your watercraft and equipment. 3. DRY: Dry your watercraft and fishing equipment thoroughly; this will kill most invasive species. Brochures addressing noxious weeds and AIS are available at Camp Baker.