Rosebud Creek, West - Emerald Lake to Pine Grove Campground

Rosebud Creek, West, Montana, US


Emerald Lake to Pine Grove Campground

Usual Difficulty III-IV+(V) (for normal flows)
Avg. Gradient 150 fpm
Max Gradient 200 fpm


Photo by Stephen Strange taken 06/15/02 @ 660 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
W Rosebud Cr at Emerald Lk Campground nr Roscoe
usgs-06204070 300 - 750 cfs III-IV+(V) 01h01m 90.5 cfs (too low)

River Description

provided by Ron Lodders, photos by Dave Gulbrandson

The West Rosebud is a rambunctious creek dropping out of a spectacular glacier-carved valley along the front of the Beartooth Mountains of Montana. Lined with huge orange tiger lilies and other wildflowers, this creek drops quickly through several steep sections of whitewater interspersed with fast but flat scenic flows. It offers two class V+ rapids, long and continuous stretches of class IV water, short class III canyons and lazy floats through scenic meadows. Flows are controlled by releases from Mystic Lake Dam and Powerplant, which have historically made this run available to paddlers during the long, warm days of July and August rather the colder days of Montana's usual spring creek season. The Mystic Lake Dam will be relicensed by FERC in 2009, and all paddlers have a stake in making sure adequate flows are preserved and perhaps improved in both volume and predictability so this outstanding recreational resource remains accessible to boaters from across the country.  
Mike boofing at Stump


American Whitewater and Beartooth Padders worked with the dam owner and other stakeholders to negotiate late-season optimal whitewater release on West Rosebud Creek.  After the dam begins spilling, which can be tracked here, and flows begin to drop just below runnable levels, PPL will release extra water on weekends to bring flows back into the optimal range.  When flows drop too low, releases are no longer possible.  To plan your trip, simply apply the West Rosebud USGS gage reading to the agreed upon release protocol.  More information can be found on the PPL West Rosebud Website.


To get to the West Rosebud, take Highway 78 south from Columbus to Fishtail, Montana. Approximately one mile south of Fishtail, turn left onto West Rosebud Road. The pavement ends in about nine miles at a junction; a left turn continues up the West Rosebud Road on gravel, crossing the West Rosebud for the first time shortly after turning left. The takeout for the Lower run is a short walk from the end of a very faint dirt road turning right off the West Rosebud Road approximately 1.6 miles from the end of the pavement. To get to the put-ins, continue 13.5 miles up the West Rosebud Road to Pine Grove Campground, crossing the river a second time. The river gage and the put-in/takeout between the Upper and Lower runs is at the bridge into the Campground. The gage is located on the downstream, river right side of the bridge. The Upper put-in is located at Emerald Lake, roughly 2.8 miles further up the road.

Head Waters
Head waters at Grasshopper Glacier

The West Rosebud is usually divided into two distinct sections by local paddlers. The short but fun Upper run is about two and a half miles long and contains almost continuous whitewater. The longer Lower run is more than 10 miles long, with most of that distance in a wilderness setting. Although this lower stretch begins with the two most difficult rapids on the river and ends with a mile of fun Class IV, it has long sections of scenic flat water. In combination, the West Rosebud offers a unique opportunity for a full range of creeking conditions during warm summer days.
The put-in for the Upper run is easy and beautiful---just slide into Emerald Lake and enjoy the spectacular view of the still snow-covered peaks of the Beartooth Mountains while the slowest member of the party is still struggling with boating gear. The West Rosebud ramps down quickly from the outlet of Emerald Lake. The first half- mile of the run drops at an average rate of about 150 fpm through two rapids. The first rapid, Spillway,tends to be rocky at almost any level as the river widens and sweeps around a right turn visible from the road on the way to the put-in. A big eddy on the left turn near the bottom of the rapid also marks the beginning of the more difficult second rapid, Triple Tongue. At higher water levels, this rapid can become pushy.
Spectacular Put-In
After a half mile of fast and increasingly interesting water, the river enters the second steep section. This stretch, over a mile long, contains the best rapids on the Upper run. The first horizon line leads to an island and marks Snake, where the line is usually down the left channel. The hardest rapid on this run, Stump, is also marked by a horizon line and deserves a scout the first time down. At higher water levels (above 2.5 on the bridge gage), this rapid is a class V with three large, offset holes. Snag is not far below, again marked by an island, and usually run down the narrower right channel. Finally, Goat Boy is a long rapid with several large holes near the end. At present, a partially submerged log spanning the entire creek makes the upper part of the rapid more hazardous. Running Snack
  Carla at Snake
The West Rosebud is much easier from Goat Boy down to the takeout at Pine Grove Campground. This run is usually done several times in one day if paddlers don't decide to continue on down the lower West Rosebud  
The Lower run begins with slow, flat water with occasional logjams after leaving Pine Grove Campground. Not long after the river re-enters forested hillsides, it turns left and drops over an obvious horizon line. The West Rosebud drops over 100 feet in the next 800 yards, creating two Class V+ rapids. The first, Thorpe, presents a technical line down to a constriction against the left wall and a benign-looking hole that always seems bottomless. After a short section of flat water, the second rapid, Terminal Moraine, is almost always portaged on the right. This rapid, immediately above another island, presents the full array of hazards, including obstructions, drops and wood.

Running Snag
  Ron at Goatboy
Running Snag The river regains a quieter mood after Terminal Moraine. With the exception of two short canyons with Class III water, the river offers a scenic float for nearly four miles down to the second bridge that was traversed on the way up to the put-in. Below the bridge, the pace picks up again, and the West Rosebud drops 160 feet in the next mile in an exhilarating Class IV finish. Portions of this section are visible from the road on the way up to Emerald Lake, and should be checked for wood. The takeout is marked by an irrigation diversion on the right bank. A short walk from the river brings paddlers back to the shuttle vehicle parked in a small, flower-filled meadow.
Ron at Goatboy


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2012-06-21 19:22:12


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Rapid Descriptions

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User Comments

Users can submit comments.
July 26 2011 (2670 days ago)
Burgess NorrgardDetails
I would disagree with this comment... just ran it yesterday at similar flows. Info listed in the
river description is accurate. Drops are worth scouting... if you have never seen/run them. Goat
Boy has a pin spot on river left that unscouted is not good. If you go with someone that knows the
river well, then I could see not having to scout. Boogie though is an under statement. I would give
it IV+/V- at flows above 600 cfs... it would be a mistake to go into this run thinking you were
getting a simple class IV boogie.
January 29 2003 (5770 days ago)
Stephen StrangeDetails
We paddled this in June 2002 at 660cfs. We put in on Emerald Lk. and took out at Pine Grove
Campground. The average gradient is near 150fpm with the beginning a little bit steeper. There are
no significant individual drops, just 2.something miles of non-stop class III-IV boogie water. The
water quality was beautiful when we were there, and the scenery at the put-in was great. It's in
the guidebook, "Montana Surf".

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Associated Projects

  • West Rosebud (MT)
    AW is working with Beartooth Paddlers on the relicensing of the Mystic Lake Hydroelectric Project on West Rosebud Creek