The Clark Fork River Walk (VIDEO)

Publisher’s Note: Make It Missoula is publishing the writings of University of Montana students enrolled in Nadia White’s autumn semester 2014 Adventure Writing class. Each student was assigned a Missoula area trail to explore and write about. Read more about Nadia White, this assignment, and the University of Montana School of Journalism’s Adventure Writing class. Enjoy!

Gliding a path to serenity and joy


The Montana campus was quiet. The Oval, empty. Puddles formed across the sidewalk and my path through campus zigzagged between them. My pace was fueled by the spitting rain, compensating for the inconvenience. I carried a long, heavy skateboard across campus to the bottom of the M trail. I wound my way through a narrow path along a mangled barbwire fence to get to a gravel road along the river. I walked west until I reached the clean and smooth cement I was searching for: The Clark Fork River Walk.

The rain stopped. The sky was almost clean of every cloud it held only a few minutes ago and I was filled with excitement as I set down the borrowed long board I had been carrying. I stepped on it, and let gravity take control.

I put my left foot toward the front of the board and then looked up to see who was about to witness my first try at riding a long board. Just one person was ahead and I took my first stride without a care. One small push from my right foot sent me a whopping 5 feet at a slow and agonizing pace; the river to my right flowed more quickly.


Clarkfork River Walk. Photo by ©Catherine Orfanos.

My second stride was similar but a small gradient in the path took me further. On flat ground, I tested the limits and prepared to balance on what felt like a trampoline with wheels. Frustrated at my slow pace, I took a longer and harder stride and found the speed I was craving. My hair flew back from my momentum and I put my arms out and grinned. I felt free and alive.

Not every attempt was as graceful or liberating. Most reminded me why I had not tried this feat earlier. Stumbling and wobbling and nearly wiping out tugged on my fear of getting hurt, but now I knew the risk was worth the reward.

Rolling by the river on a board just 3 inches off the ground gave me a new perspective on the changing leaves and wildlife that along the trail. The Clark Fork River Walk trail is truly a gift. The trail is perched up above the flowing water, bordered by tall trees that in autumn have vibrant colored leaves. It feels like a small and easy getaway from the buzz of campus or downtown Missoula.

I stayed out on my trail for hours fooling around on my friend’s long board, catching sideways glances from the few people who passed me.

I stayed on the south side of the river, the same side the University of Montana campus occupies. Here, the river trail extends from the east, where a pedestrian bridge that meets VanBuren Street and continues west past McCormick Park and the Ogren Park minor league baseball stadium.


Clarkfork River Walk. Photo by ©Catherine Orfanos.

The crisp fall air combined with the damp sensation from the early morning showers to leave an eerie emptiness over the popular trail. It seemed the trail was untouched and isolated. For most of my trip I had the 10-foot-wide, 2.5-mile long stretch of concrete all to my self.  Testing my skills on the longboard never ceased to amuse me.

Hours later, my hand reached for my cell phone to update the social media world about my new school. Typing into my phone I realized how cold my hands were and I decided it was time to turn back.

Riding back along the path I had just ridden, different natural features popped out at me and soon the all so familiar M was in site. Opting for the long route through campus and skating around The Oval was my last chance to ride the long board before returning it to my friend.  The Clark Fork River Trail was a few miles behind me but more adventure was to come with my newfound longboarding skill.


Clark Fork River Walk (Southside)

Round trip distance: 3.5 miles

Total elevation Gain: 0 ft.

Trail difficulty: Easy

Trail surface: Gravel, Asphalt

The Clark Fork Riverside Trail (Southside) is a stunning and easy walk for anyone seeking to get out and walk their dog, go for a bike ride, take an hour to clear their head or sit and watch the river flow by.

Parking for this trail is available on city streets and in public lots in downtown Missoula and at McCormick Park (Cregg Lane and Cottonwood Street). You can also park on the University of Montana Campus, but need parking passes to avoid being ticketed.

Trail Location: Orange Street on the South side of River to hub with Bitterroot Branch Trail to the North of river from Liberty Lane at Russell Street to Van Buren Street footbridge.


Orfanos_MM_SelfieCatherine Orfanos grew up in Lake Forest, Ill., and graduated from Lake Forest High school in 2014. A freshman at the University of Montana, Catherine is a member of the tennis team and plans to study Business Finance.