This reach is part of the Flathead River National Wild and Scenic River. It forms the southern border of Glacier National Park. Launch at the Bear Creek access area, where the Middle Fork emerges from the Wilderness and meets Highway 2.
The bouldery Bear Creek rapids greet paddlers immediately below the put in, followed by a beautiful trip through a red mudstone canyon. Rapids are generally mellow but interesting at low to moderate flows, with the exception of Bear Creek and Staircase Rapids (a couple miles downstream of the put in) which stand out as a bit tougher. The scenery is superb, and Walton Goat Lick is a good place to watch the mountain goats frolic on the cliffs (either from your boat if you are lucky or while running shuttle).
You can shorten the trip and take out at the Essex access area, where the Middle Fork crosses under Highway 2 (about a 5 mile trip), or continue on another 7 miles or so to Paola Creek. After Essex the river leaves the road and swiftly traverses more beautiful country with mellow class I-II rapids formed by cobble bars and bends. Colorful cliffs and cutbanks dominate the scenery, with the occassional cabin, railroad, or road view. Paola Creek access area comes shorlty after the river nears the road, then bends away around a bench where Paola Creek tumbles into the Middle Fork.
For longer trips paddlers can continue on another 12 miles to Cascadilla Creek access area and beyond (Browns Hole Rapid is in this reach). The reach between Cascadilla and Mocassin Creek is called Nyack Flats and is known for having log jams at times. People routinely camp on big cobble bars below the high water mark and enjoy this easily accessible yet at times remote feeling river.
We did the stretch from Bear Creek to Paola Creek on July 12th in a 14 ft raft. The water was so low that we got caught up in rocks on several of the Rapids.
Letter from John Craighead on the issue of dams and the need for wild rivers.
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Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
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Living the Goat Life
Colorful Cutbanks Below Essex
Wild and Scenic Middle Fork Flathead!
Boulder garden on the Middle Fork
Canyon Below Bear Creek
Early season rafting on the MIddle Fork
bonecrusher on middle fork of 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
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
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.
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