The Flathead river below Kerr Dam, known as the Lower Flathead or Buffalo Rapids, is a reasonably safe big river with a vastly changing flow throughout the year. The water is aquamarine and clear, and the scenery features some cool pale hoodoos carved into the conglomerate canyon walls. The peak of run off can bring water levels as high as 60,000 CFS and late august flows can dwindle down near 3,500 with average winter flow of 7-12,000 in between. The river is dam controlled and protected so there is never a danger of log jams or debris. Kerr dam is a top spill dam so we get the warmest water off the top for a much warmer river than the rest of western Montana, especially in early fall. Big run-off years with water exceeding 50,000 can be tricky with a few new rapids showing up and the entire river can be pretty squirrely. This is an 8 mile stretch, the first 2 miles are pretty flat followed by 4 miles of rapids(drop pool), and 2 more miles of flat water after.
Logistics: Turn off of HWY 93 in Polson onto 1st street east heading south go 5 blocks then turn right onto 7th ave west this road will turn into Kerr dam rd. In 2.8 miles turn right to stay on Kerr dam road and follow the sign for Kerr dam. Do not turn right into the scenic overlook keep driving and you will wind down a hillside road into dam town there will be a pull off to the left with a path to the river this will be put in. Getting to take out go back up the hill and make a right turn onto Kerr dam rd there will be a lot of turns just keep right until you get to Buffalo Bridge rd(dirt rd). Follow this road until you cross Buffalo bridge and there will be a parking lot and boat launch immediately on the right.
Commercial rafting is available through Flathead Raft Company.
Start of mile 3, during high water this rapid is the smallest on the river and the run is far left to center however once the river drops below 10,000 this can become the largest wave on the river and the run is center right look out for park rock at the end of this rapid on the right side.
This rapid at medium water levels is ran far river left split the V and hold on there are 2 big hits right off then 1 last big hit 150 yards down stream. Lower water levels a 4 foot water fall develops far river left for better hits. High water the run is center right with a huge wave at the bottom called My Little Pony(47,000+)
Eagle is an amazing rapid very straight forward with one huge hit to start it off followed by a great roller coaster set of waves. The higher the water the longer the wave train gets. If you end up with any swimmers in Eagle or flip try to get recovered quickly the next rapid is the biggest and you want a good set up for it. There is a pullout river left with a trail that goes up and to the right that leads to a great scout spot for Buffalo.
The largest wave in Montana!!! Make sure to hit the scout spot river left after eagle. There are two main channels here divided by a large rock island the best hits and safest line is always Left channel, it is highly advisable to not run right channel. The rapid is broken up into 2 sections there is Upper Buff which spans half the river and usually stands 6-10 feet tall depending on surges then the river moves left and banks right into Lower Buff, this wave can be up to 14 feet tall depending on surges with a decent flip chance. low water levels Lower Buff becomes more of a hole so be careful with it. Higher water levels Upper Buff can disappear that is usually 30,000+
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After several years of international diplomacy, last month the Governor of Montana and the Premier of British Columbia signed an agreement permanently halting proposed mining and petroleum extraction in the Canadian portion of the North Fork of the Flathead River's watershed. Last week Montana Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester introduced legislation that would offer the same protections for the watershed on our side of the border. Together, the recent actions of Montana and British Columbia will protect one of our Nation's last best rivers.
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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