The MN DNR brochure describes the falls as "a series of four falls dropping 40 feet in a quarter mile, rates a Class VI." However, elsewhere it says "Big Falls (Class IV-VI)." Parks flank either side of the river, with camping, drinking water, and picnic shelters and tables. Cliff Langley provides (2011-03-21):Big Falls on the Big Fork River is located right in the town of Big Falls. Heading north on Highway 71 a bridge will cross over the Big Fork River and Big Falls begins under this bridge. We expected a short section of class IV. We were hoping for it to be a fun section of river because the online gauge read 1500 cfs the day before, being "upper runnable". Scott (a fellow kayaker who paddled here a few weeks prior) said it was medium-low when he paddled it at 900 cfs. His take was that it was a really fun and there were multiple lines.
The river forks around a rock island and meets again about a hundred yards downstream of the bridge. Most of the water flows in the right channel. Rarely does something meet or exceed ones expectations but this section of whitewater did just that. Expecting a fun class IV-ish run we found a long continuous section of whitewater. We put in on the right channel beginning with a class III wave train into a very beefy class IV+ rapid full of diagonal waves and big holes. More crashing waves lead into a section of class III+ and IV- boogie water where the two channels converge. Here you could go river right and scrape over some slides, safe of the big holes and crashing surging waves on river left, but what fun is that?
The final 100 yards or so (on river left) was a pumping class V with a real big water feel. The river left entrance to the class V begins with a juicy slide leading into a wave hole then immediately into a more narrow aerated slide funneling into a powerful wave hole just off the steep rocky left bank. A short and fast moving aerated pool of 20 feet leads to a pour over needing to go left or right of: To the left the river pounds off the left banks forming violent surging wave holes, to the right the river forms an aerated slide into a powerful refraction wave followed by a huge surging wave. We both went right, which was a hard move because the entrance wanted to flip you and push you left. The waves were really powerful and you definitely had to charge into them. Also the last huge wave is likely deep and could be an awesome play spot for the courageous play boater. There is a second good play wave just downstream that is good sized but seems dwarfed by the monster above it.
Overall at high flows (it was about 1300 cfs) this is a great section of whitewater. It is at least a ¼ mile of action and worth the drive north and hiking up to run multiple times. The entrance to the last section is sort of similar to parts of Glen Avon Falls on the West Fork of the Beaver River. The final big stuff reminds me of rapids on the Rio Pacuare in Costa Rica, where big waves pound off the river banks, or the wall shots and wave holes on the Split Rock when it is insanely high. (Although the Big Fork has its own character and is deeper than the Split Rock River.)
It is worth doing for several reasons: it runs a lot, even when nothing else seems to be going, its action packed, and it is very accessible. Very fun section of water, above 1100 cfs is legitimate class IV and V whitewater.Thanks, Cliff, for that excellent write-up!
Gauge/flow analysis (based on USGS data, 1909-2009):
Drainage area at gauge: 1480 sq.mi.
Minimum daily mean flow (1940.01.10): 14 cfs
90% of time flow exceeds: 83 cfs
10% of time flow exceeds: 1,800 cfs
Maximum daily mean flow (1950.05.08): 14,800 cfs
10/90 ratio: 21.7 ('flashy-ness': under 3 is quite steady, over 10 is quite 'flashy')
Permits are not required for this reach.
This is a short 'park-and-huck' section, so 'shuttle' is on foot, carrying up to make multiple runs.
Thus, we set the directions to default to show drive time, distance, and directions to this location from your home zip code. You can use text-entry box to input your specific address or other starting location.
Cliff punching through the last few waves.
Joel running the entrance to the final rapid.
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