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Montana Birding and Nature Trail
Discover the Nature of Montana...

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Bitterroot River Float

Stevensville to Florence Refuge Float

Adventures not just on foot, but with a paddle or oars in hand.

This float is an 11-mile trip past the Lee Metacalf Natinoal Wildlife Refuge.

Bitterroot River Float Site Map

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Field Notes

Canoeing or rafting downriver in June, western tanagers fly across the river like a splash of sunset. Bank swallows nest in high cutbanks. Float past Lee Metcalf refuge and listen to Canada geese honking. A great blue heron flaps by. Mergansers drift in the current. Mayflies dance above the ripples. Anglers cast for trout in eddies. Backwater pools can be thick with tadpoles of Columbia spotted frogs or western toads. In the fall glow of yellow cottonwoods, the river drops lower as young osprey try their wings. Morning mists on the river lift to reveal the glory of the Bitterroot Range.

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Habitat Link

The river gathers strength as it flows downstream, joined by tributaries flowing from the Bitterroot Mountains to the west and the Sapphires to the east. In this stretch, the river tends to stay to its channel more than it does upriver. The broad floodplain is dominated by cottonwoods and ponderosas.

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Cultural Link

The Salish knew the Bitterroot river as Spitlem Seukn or "waters of the bitter root." For centuries, the women harvested roots of what would become Montana's state flower.

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Viewing Tip

Watch for wildlife at every level - on the water at the water's edge, in shrubs, treetops and overhead. Mornings and evenings are most active for birds. In midday, look for butterflies and dragonflies hovering above the sand.

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Helpful Hint

This float covers 11 miles. Allow 3 or 4 hours.

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Getting There

The Stevensville launch is on the east side of the river below the bridge. The Florence take-out is upstream of the bridge on the left.

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Contact

Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, 3201 Spurgin Road, Missoula, MT 59804; (406)542-5500

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Site Information

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