Dearborn River, Montana

Discover the pristine, free-flowing Dearborn River – view current river flows and learn about the unique geology that makes this river a scenic treasure in central Montana.

3 years ago   •   2 min read

By Chris Dunbar

The Dearborn River is a freestone tributary that flows southeast from the Montana Rocky Mountain Front until it enters the Missouri River at the canyon between Craig, MT and Cascade, MT.  It boasts pristine waters with rare, volcanic geology along with remote floating and fishing opportunities.


The Dearborn River in Montana drops approximately 2,500ft during its brief 67 mile journey.  There are three distinct sections of the Dearborn; an upper, middle and lower section—each characterized by differing landscapes and river conditions.

The upper, wilderness section flows through a narrow and rugged landscape, typical of the eastern slope of the Rockies in Central Montana.  American whitewater has a great video showcasing this stretch of river as part of their Wild and Scenic Montana series.

After the Dearborn spills out onto the plains of the Rocky Mountain Front the scenery transitions to rolling hills and open landscapes with willows growing along much of the river bank.  The grizzly bear population has been steadily increasing in this area as they begin to expand into their original habitat.

The lower stretch of the Dearborn River packs a wealth of scenery into a remote 20 miles, characterized by towering volcanic rock formations, s-turns and a few whitewater rapids appropriate for intermediate boaters.  The canyons and geologic features in this area belong to the Adel Mountains Volcanic Field.  The rock in this region varies in color from a deep red to a dark gray with contrasting splotches of bright orange and streaks of marble white.

Dearborn River canyon in Montana
Distinct cliffs while approaching rapids on the Dearborn River

This area is rich in a rare type of intrusive igneous rock known as shonkinite and Central Montana is one of only three major sources of shonkinite in the world.  The name originates from the Shonkin Sag geological feature near Highwood, MT.

Complimenting this beautiful landscape are technical river features, including a long boulder garden that requires attentive maneuvering.



Floating the Dearborn River at higher flows

Current Dearborn River flows

Dearborn River Flows

Montana SNOTEL report

Current Snow Water Equivalent YTD for the state of Montana

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