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Difficulty III-IV+(V)
Length 0 Miles
Gauge W Rosebud Cr at Emerald Lk Campground nr Roscoe
Flow Range 300 - 750 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 56.3 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 06/21/2012 7:22 pm

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


Rapid Descriptions


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Stephen Strange
16 years ago

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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Burgess Norrgard
7 years ago

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.

Summary of Gauge Readings

The new USGS gauge W Rosebud Cr at Emerald Lk Campground now reports flows for the reach of interest to paddlers. Acceptable flows are estimates, which will be refined as more runs are logged.

Paddlers gauge is on the bridge at Pine Grove Campground. The Upper run is boatable at 1.7' or higher on the gauge. Levels of 2.0' to 2.3' provide very enjoyable class III to Class IV+ rapids. Contrary to many reports, however, this run contains definite Class V sections above 2.5' on the gauge. Generally, the Lower run can be done at any of these levels, although both "Thorpe" and "Terminal Moraine" will be portaged at levels much above 2.0'

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.

Go With The Flow

Gauge NameReadingTimeComment
W Rosebud Cr at Emerald Lk Campground nr Roscoe
AW Gauge Info
56 cfs ℹ️ 01h00m n/a

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.


No Accident Reports



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Releases on Bear and West Rosebud This Weekend!

2010-07-08 00:00:00-04
Kevin Colburn

American Whitewater is pleased to announce releases this coming weekend (July 10 and 11, 2010) on both the Black Canyon of the Bear River (ID) and West Rosebud Creek (MT).  Both of these rivers are Class IV/V and the releases are the result of years of hard work by AW staff, volunteers, and affiliate clubs.  Enjoy!

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Rosebud Video Highlights Success and Threats (MT)

2010-08-02 00:00:00-04
Kevin Colburn

American Whitewater is pleased to release a short video celebrating our successful restoration of boatable flows to West Rosebud Creek downstream of the Mystic Lake Hydroelectric Project.  The video is also intended to raise awareness of a new proposal to dam and divert West Rosebud Creek immediately below the existing hydropower facility. 

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Montana Dam Proposals to be Withdrawn!

2013-06-07 12:03:00-04
Kevin Colburn

The company that has been seeking permits to build three new hydropower projects in Montana announced today that they are abandoning their proposals - for now.  This is a great relief for the many Montanans that care about the incredible paddling, fishing, and scenery of East Rosebud Creek, West Rosebud Creek, and the Madison River.  

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West Rosebud Releases On the Horizon

2017-06-19 12:32:00-04
Kevin Colburn

The Mystic Lake Dam began spilling yesterday which means we are entering the timeframe when whitewater releases are possible. The Mystic Lake Hydroelectric Project historically eliminated many natural paddling opportunities. American Whitewater and Beartooth Paddlers Society negotiated releases that bump up flows on weekends when flows are otherwise just below good paddling levels.

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Releases on Bear (ID) and West Rosebud (MT) Coming Up

2018-07-13 12:04:00-04
Kevin Colburn

As the ample 2018 snowpack slowly begins to dwindle in Montana and Idaho, a couple dam-related opportunities for Class IV and V paddling will occur in late July and perhaps early August. A release is planned on Idaho's Bear River on July 26th, and Montana's West Rosebud Creek should be releasing as well in the coming weeks. 

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West Rosebud Creek (MT) Flowing This Summer

2007-06-22 00:00:00-04
Kevin Colburn

There are new opportunities to enjoy Montana's West Rosebud Creek this summer thanks to Beartooth Paddlers, American Whitewater, PPL Montana, the US Forest Service, and several state agencies.  First, a new gage lets paddlers know when the creek is flowing - which it is right now.  Second, spills will be enhanced for paddlers.  Third, there will be a recreational release on July 14 and 15.  Get out there and enjoy this great creek run!
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Flathead River Tributaries Get Protection for Christmas (MT)

2019-01-11 14:45:00-05
Kevin Colburn

Wild rivers and their enthusiasts got some good news with the release of the new 15-20 year Forest plan for the Flathead National Forest. The decision newly protects 22 streams as eligible for Wild and Scenic designation, based in large part on the advocacy of American Whitewater and our awesome partners and members in Montana. These protections will serve as a vital steppingstone to the designation of some of our Nation’s most outstanding headwater streams. 

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Appeal Challenging Montana Navigability Is Denied

2003-07-28 00:00:00-04
Jason Robertson

On May 28 the U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal by Mountain States Legal Foundation who filed a lawsuit in June 2001 alleging the 1985 Montana Stream Access Law violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution to regulate who floated over their land.

The decision thereby protects Montana's Stream access law and public rights of navigation throughout the State.

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River Recreationists Win Big in Montana!

2001-01-09 00:00:00-05
Jason Robertson

The Missoulian newspaper reported on January 5th, 2001 that U.S. District Judge Charles C. Lovell dismissed a case brought by the Mountain States Legal Foundation challenging public recreational rights on Montana’s rivers and streams. This is a huge win for boaters and fishermen!

Kevin Colburn


David Gulbrandson