Flathead, North Fork - 1. Canadian Border to Blankenship Bridge


Flathead, North Fork, Montana, US

Disclaimer

1. Canadian Border to Blankenship Bridge

Usual Difficulty I-II+(III) (for normal flows)
Length 58 Miles
Avg. Gradient 15 fpm

Glacier National Park is a spectacular backdrop of the whole trip


Glacier National Park is a spectacular backdrop of the whole trip
Photo by Kevin Colburn taken 07/04/09

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
N F Flathead River nr Columbia Falls MT
usgs-12355500 1000 - 10000 cfs I-II+(III) 00h35m 6230 cfs (running)


River Description

The North Fork is one of only four Wild and Scenic Rivers in Montana. It forms the southwestern border of Glacier National Park offering paddlers some of the most spectacular vistas in the Northern Rockies, blue-green water, and the chance to see grizzlies from your boat (be sure to use proper food storage practices for bear country). 

The gradient from the put-in near the Canadian Border to the take-out at Blankenship Bridge averages 15 feet per mile. The river maintains a steady pace through class I and II riffles, with an occasional rapid that may approach class III. Stay alert for wood in the river, mostly in large log jams, requiring active paddling to safely avoid. In general though, this reach is a mellow float through beautiful country. Camping is unregulated, and many people float this reach as a 2 or 3 day trip. Peak flows are in early June with low water by August that requires dragging over gravel bars and the ocasional portage.
 
The upper reach from Canadian Border to Polebridge is class II but with numerous log jams and tight turns. No trip to the North Fork is complete without a stop at the Northern Lights Saloon in Polebridge for a beer and hot meal, and the Polebridge Mercantile for some amazing baked goods and coffee. 
 
The segment from Polebridge to Big Creek Campground (a Forest Service campground on the right bank just after Big Creek confluence) is not considered whitewater but be alert for log jams, narrow channels, and some riffles. Stay particularly alert for braided channels that dead end in this section requiring some careful choices.
 
As you continue on from Big Creek to Blankenship Bridge you will encounter more whitewater and some tricky hydraulics. Fool Hen Rapids (class III) and Lower Fool Hen (class III) are about 8 miles below Big Creek and 3.5 above Glacier Rim (a good access point). About one mile above Glacier Rim you will encounter a pour over extending from the right bank to the middle of the river (or farther at some levels). This is a dangerous flipper but easy to avoid if staying alert to downstream obstacles. Stay to river left and look it over. It can be impressive.
 
The stretch from Glacier Rim to Blankenship is a relatively easy 4 mile section. The confluence of the Middle Fork and North Fork of the Flathead is just above Blankenship Bridge. Better access for vehicles is on the east side of the bridge but many stay on the west side to avoid the ferry across both forks to reach that bank. Lower water makes this quite easy.

 

See also the Middle Fork Flathead.


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-03-14 15:28:39

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
-48.6Upper Kintla RapidsIIAccess
-47.6Lower Kintla RapidsII
-44.0Ford AccessN/AAccess
-33.9Polebridge AccessN/AAccess
-15.3Big Creek River AccessN/AAccess
-13.9rapidII
-11.0Great Northern FlatsN/AAccess
-10.4rapidN/A
-8.3rapidIII
-7.6Upper Fool Hen RapidsIII
-7.0Lower Fool Hen RapidsIII
-4.7pour overIIIHazard
-3.7Glacier Rim AccessN/AAccess

Rapid Descriptions

Ford Access (Class N/A, Mile -44.0)

Alternate access below Ford Work Center



Polebridge Access (Class N/A, Mile -33.9)

Alternate access point that allows for a stop at the Polebridge Mercantile and Northern Lights Saloon.



Big Creek River Access (Class N/A, Mile -15.3)

Alternate river access at Big Creek Campground that let's you take out above the bigger rapids or put-in to just do the lower section.



Upper Fool Hen Rapids (Class III, Mile -7.6)

Fool Hen Rapids (class III) are about 8 miles below Big Creek and 3.5 above Glacier Rim



Lower Fool Hen Rapids (Class III, Mile -7.0)

Lower Fool Hen is about half a mile downstream of Upper Fool Hen.



pour over (Class III, Mile -4.7)

About one mile above Glacier Rim you will encounter a pour over extending from the right bank to the middle of the river (or farther at some levels). This is a dangerous flipper but easy to avoid if staying alert to downstream obstacles. Stay to river left and look it over. It can be impressive.



Glacier Rim Access (Class N/A, Mile -3.7)

Alternate take-out




User Comments

Users can submit comments.
December 18 2011 (1955 days ago)
HarryDundore (153688)
I've spent a lot of time in and around Glacier. This stretch has a very large grizzly population
(even for Glacier) on both sides of the river, so please be careful and take appropriate (Alaska
style) measures if camping. Also, this part of Montana is in the Pacific Northwest weather system
and does not enjoy the beautiful early weather the rest of Montana generally does and Glacier tends
to make it's own weather all summer. Plan for bad weather year-round. Lot's of wood hazards!!!
Inquire at Polebridge. If you get lucky with the weather, you'll never forget this float!!!!
May 29 2009 (2888 days ago)
x (1)
permit info not for this North Fork.


Do more than just check gauges; join over 5,000 AW members today.


Or, consider donating


Related Groups

Volunteer Opportunities / Activities