This is the multi-day Wilderness run of the Flathead River National Wild and Scenic River. It begins in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, traverses the Great Bear Wilderness, and the take-out is on the southern border of Glacier National Park. Quite the pedigree - and it is more than deserving.
While most visitors choose to fly into Schafer Meadows, kayakers and packrafters can hike or paddle down Granite Creek 8 miles to enjoy the final 18 miles or so of the Middle Fork. Flights out of Kalispell, Montana take about 20 minutes to reach Schafer Meadows. Bush planes have gear weight and size limits, so call ahead for reservations and details so you can plan accordingly. The river is about a 1/4 mile muddy hike from the airstrip. Granite Creek, about 11 miles downstream from Schafer Meadows, is a significant tributary, and flows increase after it joins the main stem near the Granite Cabin. Less than a mile after the cabin marks the Castle Lake trail, a short steep hike up to an alpine lake that is a nice side trip to stretch tired legs after a day of boating. Multiple additional creeks enter the main stem throughout the run, some with waterfalls of varying sizes. Spruce Park Rapid, the last rapid in the series, is the most notable, while others are bony tumblers flowing past rock formations that look like stacks of flapjacks. Overall, this is a spectacularly wild run with gin clear water, grizzly bears (be sure to hang your food), and eagles. It often feels like snorkelling from a boat because there are so many fish and the water is so clear.
For more information, download the Three Forks of the Flathead Wild & Scenic River Float Guide from the Forest Service or purchase a waterproof copy from the National Forest Map Store.
Check out this low water video of the run below Granite Creek: Wild and Scenic Montana, Episode 3: Middle Fork Flathead River from American Whitewater on Vimeo.
Note: the putin lat/longitude coordinates listed above are at Schafer Meadows (no auto access; horse or plane only); this would be the Upper West Fork Flathead.
Photo courtesy of, and copyright by, Randy Clark.
This pdf Slideshow is by Mark McKinstry from a 2017 trip.
I just posted a bunch of new pictures with captions for this river. I couldn't find the most reliable info for this section and wanted to update what was here. We started at Shafer running at 8200 and ended at Essex at around 6400 and I thought being a class IV boater that it was perfect! Check out the pics and enjoy.
Feel free to contact me at email@example.com for more,
Thanks to Glacier Whitewater and Mike from Helena for all the great info!
High Water the upper stretch is very dangerous use extreme caution
new online whitewater guide for montana area paddling - check it out!
5 years ago
by JASON GRAS
Letter from John Craighead on the issue of dams and the need for wild rivers.
The gauge is about 60 miles downstream of this run.
Permits are not required for this reach.
on Flathead, Middle Fork @1. Schafer Meadows to Bear Creek
Bob Marshall view
Packrafting the Flathead
Lower Spruce Park
Middle Spruce Park
Upper Spruce Park
Cye Creek not on map
Lower 25 mile
Upper 25 Mile
First day section
Spruce Park low water
Loaded up for Schaffers Meadow
Rob on the ledge drop
Ledge drop on Schaffer's
Bear Creek Close-up
Bear Creek, MT
Surfing on the Flathead
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
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The Forest Service has released a Proposed Action which is essentially a partial draft management plan the forks of the Wild and Scenic Flathead River. The Proposed Action is available for public review and comment through September 13, 2019. The Forest Service proposed a number of management actions that would be triggered by encounter limits being reached, including new permit systems. We encourage Flathead River paddlers to give the agency some feedback on the encounter thresholds they propose, the proposed management actions, and the Proposed Action as a whole.
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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