Often overlooked by its more glamorous fishing siblings, the Clearwater River becomes every angler’s friend when high water runs muddy.
Above Salmon Lake, the Clearwater gets interrupted by Seeley, Inez, Alva and Rainy lakes. That makes it a wader’s challenge for fishing, although it does feature the Clearwater River Canoe Trail near the Seeley Lake Ranger Station. This 3.5-mile oxbow provides a long, gentle float through scenic forests linked by a 30-minute walk back to the put-in along Highway 83.
A longer float starts just below Salmon Lake. Elbow Lake Road has a spur a few yards after it intersects with Highway 83 north of Clearwater Junction. Boaters can put in there on an unimproved state-land shoreline.
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The 5-mile float doesn’t earn high fishing marks compared to the nearby Blackfoot River. But it also doesn’t eat boats the way the Blackfoot does in the throes of spring runoff. And the Clearwater reach offers quiet isolation for several hours of gentle paddling for novice canoers. Rainbow trout from the Blackfoot River and brown trout sneaking out of the lakes upstream often wind up in the Clearwater.
A Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks state park waits just above a small diversion dam, making a convenient place to take out at the intersection Sunset Hill Road and Highway 200, just west of Clearwater Junction.