Gates of the Mountains Boat Tour

The evening of July 19,1805, was a hot one in the wilderness that would later become Montana. On the Missouri River, not far from present day Helena, the hardy members of the Lewis and Clark expedition toiled to move upstream. Rock embankments made towing from shore impossible, and the deep channel forced the men to row rather than pole their boats forward. 

Suddenly, there loomed before them towering rock formations unlike any they had ever seen. From both sides of the river, limestone cliffs rose to a spectacular height of 1200 feet. “In many places,” wrote Meriwether Lewis, “the rocks seem ready to tumble on us.” At each bend in the waterway, great stone walls seemed to block passage, only to open like gentle giant gates as the expedition drew near. In his journal, Meriwether wrote: “I shall call this place: “GATES OF THE MOUNTAINS“. 

The name stuck, and for nearly two centuries travelers have ventured down this stretch of the Missouri to marvel at its natural wonders. Today, most visitors enjoy the beauty of the Gates of the Mountains from aboard a tour boat – the “Canyon Voyager” or the “Sacajawea” (named after the only women and indigenous person on the Expedition). Aboard a comfortable open-air boat (covered in case of rain), you’ll glide through magnificent country Meriwether Lewis would still recognize if he could return. 

Great towering walls of limestone still stand guard over the river. Bighorn sheep and Mountain Goats scamper in the rocks high above the water. Ospreys, eagles (bald and golden), vultures and falcons (peregrine and prairie) still soar on the updrafts. The canyon is also home to otters, deer, squirrels, ermine, beaver, mountain lions, black bears and other wild creatures. The life list for bird species is over 120 right now. 

From the vessel you can see Mann Gulch, the site of the raging forest fire that killed 13 smokejumpers, August 5, 1949. This tragedy was the main subject matter of Norman Maclean’s book “Young Men and Fire”. The story of Mann Gulch is one of the more interesting stories told by the guide and pilot. 

Near Mann Gulch the pilot will hug the shoreline to give you a look at Indian pictographs painted on the rock wall. Proof that indigenous people lived here long before  Meriwether named it the Gates of the Mountains. 

The tour’s main attraction, though, is the inexhaustible scenery – wooded slopes, rugged rock formations, and the placid beauty of the timeless Missouri.

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Latitude: 46.836422 Longitude: -111.923929 Elevation: 3950 ft
the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
Tim Crawford

About the Vessel

We currently have three boats in operation. We have the wooden 50 foot 89 passenger Sacajawea II. We have the aluminum 60 foot 104 passenger Canyon Voyager. And we have the fiberglass 42 foot 49 passenger Hilger Rose. All three boats our inspected and certified annually by the United States Coast Guard.

Board the vessels from the dock just yards from the parking area and ticket office. Bathrooms are available in the main building. 

Seasons Open and Departure

Open May through September

Length of Tour

2 Hours

Costs and Fees

$16 Adult (18-59), $14 Senior (60 and Over) & Military (with ID), $10 Child (4-17), Under 4 Free

Appropriate Age Groups

All Ages Welcome

How to Find the Departure Point

The 120-minute cruise starts at our Marina, just 3 miles off Interstate 15 in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains between Helena and Great Falls, Montana, off exit 209. 

The marina is owned and operated by a non-profit membership organization called Gates of the Mountains, Inc.. The by-laws of the organization allows for 150 family memberships. Only members can occupy or lease a dock in the marina but there is a public ramp open from 7:30 am through 10:00 pm.

The ramp cost is $8 for boats on trailers (including personal watercraft) and $5 for boats without trailers. There is an exit gate that allows for boaters to get off the property after 10pm.

Accessibility Notes

Handicap accessible

Pet Friendly Notes

Only service animals on the tour.

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