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Alberton's Montana River Guides a leader in river safety

by MONTE TURNER
Mineral Independent | May 15, 2024 12:00 AM

The Covid-induced tourism boom to Montana introduced a new audience to the Clark Fork River. For two summers, boats, tubers, kayakers, paddleboarders and river boarders had campgrounds and fishing access sites clogged.

That visitation surge has settled, but once tasted, more people are using the incredible water resources today, and who can blame them? 

Most water recreation can be done with common sense safety but whitewater rafting is best done with an experienced company unless the person behind the oars has been safety certified. That’s because it’s a far cry from rowing with your buddies from Forest Grove to the Big Eddy Fishing Access sites casting flies all afternoon. 

There are several rafting companies that specialize in whitewater rafting with experienced guides that will make an incredible memory for families with lots of fun, laughter and the stories they share. The shuttle back to your vehicle is happy rafters telling their favorite parts of the day.

“The Alberton Gorge is one of the most beautiful sections of river in Montana and during the summer it has incredible scenery and whitewater opportunities. It’s our specialty! But our scenic wildlife viewing floats on gentle water are becoming more popular. And these are the heart and soul of Montana River Guides,” said Mike Johnston who started the company in 1994. 

Montana River Guides has certified whitewater rescue instructors and they have been training search and rescue, fire departments, and rafting companies for many years from as far away as Costa Rica and India. They are affiliated with the Whitewater Rescue Institute and every guide is trained in swiftwater rescue. They are so secure that they are the Discovery Channel's only choice for whitewater safety.

The foundation of the rafting company is family-oriented whitewater rafting and picturesque river floating.

“We’ve always been off the beaten path, a little bit, being in Alberton,” Johnston explained. “And the longer we’ve had our company, the more we appreciate that we are not near a national park as it’s not near as crowded. That we’re not in a part of Montana that gets overwhelmed with tourism.” 

However, the business has been growing steadily as more people move into Missoula and the Spokane and Coeur ‘d Alene areas as those are the repeat customers which are a huge chunk of revenue. 

“A lot of our customers are local people and families," Johnston said. "And then their visiting friends and families come and try it out. They come back year after year. But we also have a lot of tourists who used to drive through the area but have realized there’s a lot of stuff to do here for all ages so it’s almost a destination.” 

Something Johnston shares that he’s noticed in his 30 years of taking people rafting is heartening. 

“Families today not only include kids and maybe grandparents, but more and more people ask about floating with their dogs. We accommodate it whenever we can. Of course, we can’t do it in big whitewater but on the scenic floats on the Blackfoot or other rivers we float, we have different sized life jackets designed especially for dogs and we’ve never had a bad experience.” 

Just to ensure that other rafters might not be dog-people, the requesting party must rent the entire boat, which happens anyway with so many friends and family members.

Johnston is a director of the Mineral County Chamber of Commerce as a personal supporter of local businesses but also to refer his visitors to other local establishments. Where to eat, spend the night, play pool, fill propane tanks, campgrounds that are nearby, etc. Float information and scheduling is done online at montanariverguides.com.