The Dearborn River is a little known but beautiful tributary of the Missouri, and is one of Montana’s most scenic rivers. It is a small, remote river that carves a spectacular canyon through rugged, volcanic rock. The highly picturesque Dearborn gets its start high in Scapegoat Wilderness, and carves a deep and beautiful path as it winds its way out of the mountains and onto the open country that once was the buffalo hunting grounds of the Blackfeet Indians.
The Dearborn impressed Meriwether Lewis, and he made this observation after a brief exploratory trip on July 18, 1805: “At the distance to 2.5 miles we passed the entrance of a considerable river on the Stard. side; about 80 yds. wide being nearly as wide as the Missouri at that place. it’s current is rapid and water extreamly transparent; the bed is formed of small smooth stones of flat rounded or other figures. it’s bottoms are narrow but possess as much timber as the Missouri. the country is mountainous and broken through which it passes. it appears as if it might be navigated but to what extent must be conjectural. this handsome bold and clear stream we named in honor of the Secretary of war calling it Dearborn’s river.”
The most popular and scenic Dearborn float is the 19-mile section that runs from the US 287 bridge to the Missouri River. Although the distance is less than 12 miles as the crow flies, the river twists and turns through a narrow canyon. Here the river carves a magnificent and scenic canyon through rugged volcanic rock, with sheer cliff walls that rise hundreds of feet from the river.
Beaver, deer, eagles, hawks and osprey are often sighted on this float, as well as the opportunity to see elk, moose, bear, bobcat, mink and possibly even a river otter.
The Dearborn can only be floated seasonally during the high water period of May into June and sometimes early July. It features spectacular views, moderate whitewater, and excellent fishing for rainbows, browns and some cutthroats. Due to its semi wilderness state with no public access for 19 miles, this stretch of river is a long day float.