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Middle Fork of the Flathead River2022-10-04T16:20:50-07:00

Middle Fork of the Flathead River: Glacier National Park’s Best Rafting

The Middle Fork of the Flathead River offers unbeatable scenery, incredible wildlife, and just enough whitewater to keep you on your toes. Flowing along the western border of Glacier National Park, this river often runs clear, except during spring runoff. Many scenes from The River Wild were filmed along the Middle Fork of the Flathead due to its incredible beauty. If a true wilderness experience is what you are looking for, the Middle Fork of the Flathead is the place to be. There is a short section of continuous whitewater which can be run as a single day, or you can choose to run this as a beautiful multi-day.

About this guide

This guide outlines the most common run on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River from Bear Creek to Teakettle Take-out.

River Info

The Middle Fork of the Flathead River is most famous for its scenery, however, there are several Class III and IV rapids scattered throughout the run. We would strongly recommend bringing bear spray, as grizzly bears are somewhat prevalent in the area. Human waste is required to be packed out.

Safety

The biggest hazard on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River is wood in the river. During spring runoff, large trees move downstream, forming large strainer piles. We have listed several common strainer piles, but they can form wherever. Bears are commonly found throughout this stretch, it is required to have

Permits

Permits are not required to run the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

Camping

Permits are not required to camp on river left. Please make camp below the high water line. River right above the high water line is considered to be within Glacier National Park territory. You will need to acquire a permit from the National Park Service to camp within National Park boundaries, which is quite uncommon. During the commercial season (early June-late August), finding campsites can become competitive, and all campsites are first-come first-serve.

Shuttle Info

The Middle Fork of the Flathead River has great highway access throughout. There are multiple take-outs along the way. The shuttle is about one hour each way. If you would like to set up a shuttle for your trip, Flathead River Shuttles can be reached at (406) 407-1602.

The Middle Fork of the Flathead is raftable starting at 300 CFS, although this would be extremely low flows. Above 3,500 CFS, you should be a confident boater or go with a commercial outfitter. Above 6,000 CFS, the river is considered to be in flood stage and is rarely run.

Low Flow: 300 – 700 CFS
Medium Flow: 700 – 2,000 CFS
High Flow: >2,000 CFS (above 6,000 is considered extreme)

Middle Fork of the Flathead River Flow
Gauge data provided by the Dreamflows

Middle Fork of the Flathead River Map & Guide

WARNING: Conditions change frequently and may make this guide useless. This guide is NOT a replacement for sound judgment or experience.

Class II Rapid

Class II rapid or river feature.

Class III Rapid

Class III rapid or river feature.

Class IV Rapid

Class IV rapid or river feature.

Put-In / Take-Out

The most commonly used access points.

Point of Interest

These include creeks, and old cabins.

Fun Zone

Well known surf waves, jump rock locations, and safe swim areas

Camp

Well known surf waves, jump rock locations, and safe swim areas

Bear Creek Section – Class II, III, & IV

This stretch is primarily scenic, however, there is one Class IV rapid known as Brown’s Hole below the Essex Put-In. 2 miles below the Bear Creek Put-in is a mineral lick that is oft-used by mountain goats looking for salts, but other critters are known to by. To avoid disturb the local fauna, no camping is allowed between Bear Creek Put-in and Essex Put-in. Furthermore, there is no stopping 1/4 upstream or downstream of the Goat Lick Overlook.

Length

Bear Creek Put-In to Cascadilla Take-out is 24.1 miles.

Difficulty

Intermediate to Advanced

Feet per Mile

Bear Creek Put-In to Cascadilla is ~18 FPM

Shuttle Time

Bear Creek Put-in to Cascadilla is 40 minutes round trip. Google Map directions.

Mile 0 – Bear Creek River Access: River Right. At low water, we recommend putting in at Essex instead of Bear Creek as it gets really rocky. Learn more about Bear Creek River Access.

Mile 0.61 – Java Trestle Bridge: Just downstream from the Put-in at Bear Creek is a bridge used by trains. This bridge was built in 1900 and crossed both the river and Java Creek, which meets the river immediately downstream of this point.

Mile 0.63 – Java Creek Confluence: River Left. Java Creek enters the Middle Fork of the Flathead River here.

Mile 2.05 – Staircase Rapids: Class III. As you round the bend into Goat Lick, there are some read-and-run Class III rapids. The river bends to the left and there are large rocks on the right, so a left entrance is the most common way to run this rapid.

Mile 2.10 – Goat Lick Overlook: River Right. On the right-hand side, the cliffs are rich with minerals that numerous species of animals will come to enjoy. As the name suggests, goats frequent this area. To avoid disturbing the area, stopping is not allowed within 1/4 mile above/below the Goat Lick Overlook

Mile 4.67 – Essex River Access: River Left. Essex is a smaller put-in and is often less busy than Bear Creek. It is recommended to put-in here if the water is low.

Mile 4.67 – Walton River Station: River Right. Across the bridge from Essex River Access is the Walton Ranger Station.

Mile 4.68 – Essex Bridge: Highway 2 passes over the Middle Fork of the Flathead River just below the Essex Put-in.

Mile 5.51 – Ole Creek Confluence: River Right. Ole Creek enters the Middle Fork of the Flathead on river right.

Mile 7.71 – Dickey Creek Confluence: River Left. Dickey Creek enters the Middle Fork of the Flathead on river left.

Mile 8.18 – Park Creek Confluence: River Right. Park Creek enters the Middle Fork of the Flathead on river right.

Mile 12.15 – Paola River Access: River Left. There is a steep drop in the bank at low water, so be careful when backing a trailer.

Mile 13.26 – Brown’s Hole: Class IV. High Water: Go right around the large hole but avoid the right bank. Medium Water: Square up to the hole in the center for a fun hit, then avoid the right bank. Low Water: Go right around the rock in the middle of the river.

Mile 13.52 – Camp: River Left. From this point through river mile 22 there are numerous places to camp on river left. Camps are not named or regulated, and it is first-come first-serve. Camping is not allowed on river right without a permit from the National Park Service, as the river right bank is National Park territory.

Mile 14.11 – Muir Creek Confluence: River Right. Muir Creek enters the Middle Fork of the Flathead from the right-hand side.

Mile 19.1 – Rock Garden: Class II. Enter center and work left for this read-and-run rapid.

Mile 21.47 – Camp: River Left. Stunning camp on river left. At higher water, the eddy is hard to catch. Hug the left bank while traveling around the bend.

Mile 24.08 – Cascadilla Creek Access: River Left. This is a big gravel bar. A good day stretch is Cascadilla to West Glacier. About a mile below Cascadilla, the river becomes flat and wide, and there are lots of braided channels and numerous log jams, especially at low to medium flows. This stretch is sometimes referred to as “Nyack Flats”, and has stunning views of Glacier National Park on the right and the Bob Marshall Wilderness on the the left. This is a good option for taking out about West Glacier.

Mile 27.56 – Nyack Creek Confluence: River Right. Nyack Creek enters the Middle Fork of the Flathead River on the right-hand side. The Delaware Native American word “Nyack” means corner or point.

Mile 28.95 – Beach: River Left. Great spot to take a break and grab lunch.

Mile 29.65 – Beach: River Right. Another great spot for lunch.

Moccasin Creek to West Glacier Take-Out – Class II, III, & IV

Moccasin Creek to West Glacier is the most popular stretch of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, with numerous Class III and IV rapids. The put-in can be very busy, so please be courteous to other private and commercial boaters.

Length

Moccasin Creek to West Glacier is 8.28 miles.

Difficulty

Intermediate to Advanced

Feet per Mile

Bear Creek Put-in to Moccasin Creek is ~18 FPM

Shuttle Time

Moccasin Creek Put-in to West Glacier Take-out is 30 minutes round trip. Google Map directions.

Mile 31.0 – Moccasin Creek River Access: River Left. This put-in is very busy, so please be efficient at the boat ramp. There is parking available above the ramp. At higher water, you can load your boat and float down Moccasin Creek underneath the train trestle. At lower water, you will need to walk your boat underneath the train trestle. This river access location is only used as a put-in. Learn more about Moccasin Creek River Access.

Mile 31.1 – Moccasin Creek Confluence: River Left. Moccasin enters the Middle Fork of the Flathead River from the right-hand side. If you just put-in on Moccasin Creek, welcome to the Middle Fork of the Flathead.

Mile 31.20 – Harrison Creek: River Right. Harrison Creek enters the Middle Fork of the Flathead River from the right-hand side. At low water this is usually a large cobbled beach.

Mile 33 – Lincoln Creek Confluence: River Right. There is a nice gravel bar on river right. Commercial trips often do lunch here, so it may be busy.

Mile 33.49 – Fluffy Kitty Rapids: Class I. Fluffy Kitty is a splashy read and run rapid with the most fun waves on the river right side.

Mile 34.83 – Tunnel Rapid: Class III. When you see a train tunnel on river left, you are close to the entrance of Tunnel. Enter center-left and run the wave train. There is a big rock named ‘Can Opener’ that appears at the end of the wave train at mid to lower flows. Most boaters will go left of the Can Opener rock, however, there could be a channel on the right if you get pushed over there.

Mile 35.13 – Bone Crusher Rapid: Class III. This is a fun splashy rapid. Enter center-left to hit the wave train ending in a fun hole in the center of the river, which is safe to swim. As flows drop, a guide launch emerges left-of-center. Stay away from the right bank at the end of the rapid.

Mile 35.41 – Washboard Rapid: Class II. Washboard Rapid is a great, long read and run rapid.

Mile 35.13 – Big Squeeze Rapid: Class III. Big Squeeze is another read-and-run rapid, enter center. There is a good kayaking surf wave.

Mile 36.05 – Screaming Right Hand Turn: Class IV. High water: Enter right and work to stay right. The current will work to push you left. Enjoy the waves and avoid the left bank. Low water: Enter center and weave through the rocks on the right, then work towards center. You will see a rock in the middle of the river. Go left of the rock with a strong right angle. Work to avoid a shelf to the left that the current wants your boat to go over, and has flipped boats. There is another shelf below the first. Continue to work right into the eddy on river right.

Mile 36.14 – Jaws: Class IV. High Water: Immediately after Screaming Right Hand Turn you will see the entrance of Jaws which is marked by three very large boulders resembling teeth. At above 6,000 CFS these rocks form a large hole. You can keep right to avoid the hole or run it. From here, continue with a left angle to the center of the river. Medium Flow: The Goal Post Teeth are out. You can either run left, center, or right. The left line is the trickiest, as numerous rocks wait for you below. Center slot is a fun hole to plug. Right is the easiest. All three lines end in splashy waves. Low Water: The only runnable channel is the right channel. A fun wave waits for you after the Goal Posts. This is a great wave to surf, with great eddy service on river right.

Mile 36.32 – Pinball: Class IV. High Water: Pinball is very playful at high water. Enter center-left and run the waves. There are strong hydraulics on the right-hand side – watch for strong eddy lines. Rosa’s Rock is the wall on river right after the first drop. Avoid this, or be ready to high side. At low water, Pinball becomes a straightforward read-and-run rapid with a beautiful waterfall coming into the river on the right.

Mile 36.34 – Pinball Pool: Just below Pinball Rapid is a nice pool with a jump rock on the left-hand side and a beautiful cascade on the right-hand side.

Mile 36.64 – Repeater Wave: Class II. Watch out for Repeater Rock on river right. It is known to flip boats.

Mile 36.95 – Could Be Trouble (CBT) Rapid: Class III. High water: Enter and stay right to avoid the CBT Hole in the middle of the river. This hole is typically okay to hit. Further downstream there are two holes on river left. These are called the Never Ever holes, which are to be avoided. They are known to flip boats and lie just above a large strainer pile. Low water: Follow the current to the left of the gravel bar and then follow it to the right towards the rest of the current. Enjoy the splashes. The CBT “Hole” becomes a large boulder in the center of the river.

Mile 37.2 – The Notch Rapid: Class III. High water: Enter center. There is a fun hole is on river left. Just below this hole are several intense left laterals, be sure to T these up. There is also a large hole that forms on river right that could flip you. Medium/low water: Enter left and enjoy the numerous fun waves.

Mile 37.62 – Old Bridge Camp: River Left. A nice camp spot on the river near West Glacier.

Mile 37.96 – Old Bridge: You can jump off of this bridge. Please look for boats below you before you jump. There are eddies on river right and left.

Mile 37.97 – Old Bridge Access: River Left. Difficult put-in/take-out requiring carrying or showing boats up some boulders.

Mile 38.69 – West Glacier Bridge: This is the last bridge before the take-out in West Glacier. The take-out will be on your left-hand side.

Mile 39.43 – West Glacier River Access: River Left. West Glacier Take-out is a large cobble bar just before you reach West Glacier.

Canyon Section to Teakettle – Class II

This is a scenic stretch with one class III rapid. Put in at West Glacier and there are numerous options for taking out depending on the length of trip you are looking for. Below Blankenship Bridge is most commonly used for fishing, and there aren’t any rapids.

Length

West Glacier to Teakettle is 19.8 miles.

Difficulty

Intermediate

Feet per Mile

West Glacier to Teakettle is ~8 FPM

Shuttle Time

Moccasin Creek Put-in to West Glacier Take-out is 30 minutes round trip. Google Map directions.

Mile 39.43 – West Glacier River Access: River Left. West Glacier River Access is a large cobble-bar and is often quite busy in the summer months. Be courteous to commercial trips, and we would definitely recommend a car with higher clearance here to avoid bottoming out on some of the river cobbles. Do not park on the beach, there is a parking lot for trailers.

Mile 40.08 – McDonald Creek Confluence: River Right. McDonald Creek joins the Middle Fork of the Flathead River just downstream of the West Glacier Put-In.

Mile 43.32 – Jump Rock: River Right. On the right-hand side is a great jump rock if you are so inclined. A few hundred yards downstream is Devil’s Elbow.

Mile 43.39 – Devil’s Elbow: Class III. Enter center-right and continue to work right to avoid flippy rocks at the end on river left of the turn.

Mile 43.75 – Devil’s Elbow Camp: River Left. On the left-hand side below Devil’s Elbow Rapid is a nice camp.

Mile 44.87 – North Fork/Middle Fork Confluence: The North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Flathead joins the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

Mile 44.96 – Blankenship River Access: River Left. Just upstream of the Blankenship Bridge is the Blankenship River Access on the left side. 

Mile 44.98 – Blankenship Bridge: Blankenship Bridge lies upstream of the take-out on river right and left. Pay attention here, as it is possible to wrap on the bridge pylons, which would be quite an interesting way to end your trip.

Mile 45.08 – Blankenship Camp: River Right. Camp anywhere also the beach on river right. This is a very busy spot also used by car campers. It is possible to take out here as well, but the road access to the beach is a bit rough.

Mile 47.04 – Bridge: A small bridge passes over the river, entering the town of Coram, MT.

Mile 50.97 – South/Main Fork Confluence: The South Fork of the Flathead River joins the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, forming the Main Stem of the Flathead River.

Mile 44.96 – House of Mystery Access: River Left. This is not a commonly used access, however, the House of Mystery is quite an interesting place to check out.

Mile 59.25 – Teakettle Bridge: The Highway 2 Bridge passes over the Main Flathead River.

Mile 59.26 – Teakettle Access: River Right. Teakettle Access is on the right-hand side just below the Teakettle Bridge. This take-out is operated by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. 

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