Montana’s River Ferries

Montana has three river ferries, all located on the Upper Missouri River in the central part of the state. Locations include (going downstream) the little towns of Carter and Virgelle and the McClelland ferry north of Winifred (or south of Chinook).

I was at the Virgelle Ferry a week ago and out came my camera as my friends drove their van on for their first ride across the Mighty Mo.

At first glance you would never believe that two passenger vehicles could be loaded on this ferry. I’ve seen everything from grain trucks to commercial trucks on this ferry.

The ferries are actually operated by the county in which they are located.

Carter and Virgelle are in Chouteau County and the McClelland Ferry is in Blaine County. The county hires an operator who lives right by the ferry crossing.

River levels, especially in the spring, and ice formation in the fall and winter set the schedule for all three ferries. They typically operate between April and October.

There is no charge to ride the ferry (or for your vehicle). Hours are posted on each sign.

As you can see from this photo, instructions are pretty “low-tech”!

The ferries are certainly something that I encourage people to put on their Montana vacation to-do list. But, they serve a purpose for area residents who literally want to get across the river. There are no bridges at any of the ferry crossings so once the ferries are pulled from the river it may take you a lot more time (and miles) to get to the other side.

Signs are erected as you exit major highways showing the open/close status of the ferries.

I’ve ridden them all…several times…and part of the enjoyment is seeing the scenery as you drop down into the river bottom.

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