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A Guide to the Yaak River, Montana

The Yaak River is a moderately large tributary of the Kootenai River. It originates near the Yahk Mountain in Southeast British Columbia and flows south towards Montana in Lincoln County.

Numerous tributaries feed the Yaak river before it joins the Kootenai River near the city of Troy, Montana.

A Guide to the Yaak River, Montana

History of the Yaak River

yaak river montana
Image: U.S. Forest Service- Pacific Northwest Region

Yaak (spelled as Yahk in Canada) is a Kootenai Indian name meaning “arrow” or “bow.”  The southern section of the Kootenai River that begins from Canada, heading towards America and back to Canada, looks like a bow.

The Yaak River is possibly the “arrow.” It flows towards a curve of the Kootenai River, forming a landscape of an arrow and bow. The Yaak River flows through the Yaak Valley in northwest Montana. In the 1880s, the Yaak Valley was Montana’s significant mining region.

In 1910, a devastating fire destroyed various mining camps within the valley, ending all mining operations. Today, people visiting the Yaak Valley or flowing downstream can witness several ruins from the mining camps.

Geography & Stats

From its origin near the Yahk Mountain, the Yaak River (known as North Fork Yaak in British Columbia) flows south at an elevation of 4,910 ft. (1,500 m). The Yahk Mountain sits in the Yahk Range and is part of the Purcell Mountains, the southeastern part of British Columbia. The river flows for 25 miles from its source before entering Montana.

After crossing into Montana in Lincoln County, the Yaak River flows south, receiving numerous tributaries. The East Fork Yaak River to the left and the West Fork Yaak River to the right are the first two tributaries of the Yaak River upon crossing into Montana.

The Yaak River flows three miles from the border and receives the East Fork Yaak River. It continues four miles further downstream and receives the West Fork Yaak River.

The West Fork Yaak River originates near the Rock Candy Mountain in Montana and flows northeast towards British Columbia. It then flows southeast and back into Montana, joining the main Yaak River.

After its confluence with the West Fork, Yaak River flows south, receiving the South Fork Yaak River. It then turns west and south through mountainous and heavily wooded terrain before joining the Kootenai River near the city of Troy and Yaak Mountain. At its confluence with the Kootenai River, Yaak River flows at an elevation of 1,838 ft.

The Yaak River flows through the Yaak Valley to the Kootenai National Forest. The Yaak Valley is a sparsely inhabited region with a tiny and scenic town known as the Yaak Village.

Tributaries like Spread Creek, Burnt Creek, and Hellroaring Creek join the Yaak River within the Kootenai National Forest.

From Yaak Falls, Yaak Falls is open for public access. The main recreational activities are fishing, floating, and camping.

The mountainous and forested Yaak region is home to extensive wildlife such as black bears, grizzly bears, moose, wolves, mountain lions, mountain goats, deer, elk, and birds. The river provides a habitat for cutthroat, bull, brook, and rainbow trout.

Attractions at Yaak River

The Yaak River’s clear rushing water and the valley region attract locals and tourists for various summer activities. Below are some of Yaak’s main attractions.

Yaak Falls

yaak falls
Image: Keith Ewing

Yaak Falls is a beautiful cascading waterfall located 16 miles northwest of Troy along the Yaak River. It’s within the heavily wooded Kootenai National Forest.

The waterfall offers scenic views during spring and early summer when snowmelt finds its way down the valley and over the falls.

The formation of Yaak Falls dates between 800 million and 1.5 billion years ago when a shift of the Pacific plate exposed pristine old rocks.

Visitors to this waterfall enjoy climbing and taking photos of the old rocks and the cascading waterfalls.

Yaak Falls and the surrounding area have a rich mining history. Visitors can explore ruins of the mining era, such as placer mining camps, mining towns, and an old bridge below the waterfall.

Yaak Falls Campground

Visitors who wish to spend a few days exploring the Yaak River, Yaak Fall, and the Yaak Valley can camp for a maximum of 16 days at Yaak Falls Campground. The campground is available year-round to all visitors. If you want to spend a few days at the camp, you will have to pay a $10 daily fee.

Yaak Falls Campground is near the Yaak River to ensure visitors access the falls and river for clean water and various recreations. The camp features seven campsites, tent sites, RV parking sites, vault toilets, picnic tables, and campfire rings. If you’re visiting the camp with your pet, always keep it on a leash.

Visiting during summer offers visitors a chance to swim, fish, hike, and sightsee. Visitors can explore the valley, pick plenty of berries, and see grizzly bears.

Kootenai National Forest

kootenai national forest
Image: Forest Service Northern Region

Kootenai National Forest is a heavily forested area with clear flowing rivers and dramatic peaks in the far northwestern region of Montana. The Yaak River passes through this forest towards the Kootenai River. The forest is over 2.2 million acres, with plenty of attractions and recreations throughout the year.

Visitors can explore attractions such as Lake Koocanusa, Ross Creek Scenic Area, Ten Lakes Scenic Area, Bridge Trail, and Kootenai Falls.

Besides Yaak River, visitors can explore the Kootenai, Clark Fork, Bull, Fisher, Vermillion, and Tobacco Rivers.

The forest is home to numerous wildlife such as bighorn sheep, mule deer, whitetail deer, grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions, mountain goats, coyotes, and 190 species of birds. Also present are numerous plant species such as orchids, columbine, cactus, phlox, violets, Indian paintbrush, cottonwood, Douglas fir, and larch.

Activities at Yaak River

Fishing

The Yaak River offers an excellent opportunity for fly fishing. The river flows through a quiet and remote region, meaning fishing pressure is relatively low. Locals and visiting anglers can reel in average-sized rainbows, brook trout, and cutthroats.

The upper part of Yaak River, above Yaak Village, has plenty of large brook trout. Anglers who want to catch large brook trout should find the deepest pools. They can also visit during late summer when plenty of hoppers draw larger brook trout to the water surface.

Below Yaak Village offers perfect spots for fly fishing and wade fishing. Anglers can catch many rainbow trout running between 10 and 16 inches, and the two endangered fish species – the bull and the native inland redband rainbow trout.

Taking these two species is illegal, so anglers should release the fish upon catching them.

Floating

floating

The Yaak River draws beginners and advanced floaters who enjoy floating and rafting downstream. Floating starts at the confluence of the East Fork and Yaak River, heading downstream towards the Seventeen Mile Bride (four miles above Yaak Falls). The river in this section flows gently, with narrow and medium widths.

The narrow width above Yaak Village is not ideal for large rafts. Floaters should use smaller inflatable rafts, kayaks, canoes, and drift boats. If floaters want to use large rafts, they should head below Yaak Village and begin floating near the Pete Creek Campground.

Advanced kayakers and rafters can float below Yaak Falls. The river in this section flows through a canyon with many Class II-III rapids and Class IV-V drops.

Other outdoor recreations near the Yaak River include camping, hunting, hiking, picnicking, sightseeing, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, trailing, photographing, horseback riding, and bird watching.

Yaak River Facts

  • The Yaak River derives its name from the Kootenai Indian name, “Yahk,” which means an arrow or bow. The Yaak River forms a landscape of an arrow where it joins the Kootenai River.
  • The Yaak River flows from its headwaters near the Yahk Mountain in southeast British Columbia towards its confluence with the Kootenai River in Montana.
  • The Yaak River receives numerous tributaries such as East Fork, South Fork, West Fork, Burnt Creek, Spread Creek, and Hellroaring Creek Rivers.
  • Most tributaries of the Yaak River in Montana are within the Kootenai National Forest.
  • The Yaak River has an elevation of 4,910 (1,500 m) at its source.
  • The Yaak River is a perfect habitat for cutthroats, rainbow, and brook trout.
  • The river flows through a quiet and forested Yaak Valley.
  • Yaak Valley has a rich history of mining activities that date back to the 1880s before a devastating fire that destroyed all mining camps.

FAQ’s

How deep is the Yaak River? The depth of the Yaak River varies from point to point. The deepest points range between 7.5 ft. and 9 ft.

How long is Yaak River? The Yaak River runs approximately 53 miles from its source before joining the Kootenai River.

How wide is the Yaak River? The width of the Yaak River varies from section to section, with narrow sections above Yaak Valley and medium sections below.

Where does Yaak River start? The Yaak River starts near Yahk Mountain in the southeast of British Columbia.

Where does Yaak River end? The Yaak River ends at its confluence with the Kootenai River near the city of Troy and Yaak Mountain in Montana.

Which way does the Yaak River flow? The Yaak River flows south from its source and enters Montana in Lincoln County. The river continues its way south then west before turning south towards the Kootenai River.

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