Flathead, Middle Fork - 2. Bear Creek to Paola Access Area

Flathead, Middle Fork, Montana, US


2. Bear Creek to Paola Access Area

Usual Difficulty II-III (for normal flows)
Length 12 Miles
Avg. Gradient 18 fpm

Surfing on the Flathead

Surfing on the Flathead
Photo of Unknown by Brad Roberts taken 05/31/02 @ 20,000 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
M F Flathead River near West Glacier MT
usgs-12358500 1000 - 8000 cfs II-III 00h37m 395 cfs (too low)

River Description

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. 

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2016-07-25 19:58:40

Rapid Descriptions

icon of message No rapids entered. If you know names, and locations of the rapids please contact and advise the StreamTeam member for this run.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
July 27 2016 (904 days ago)
iainsmith (158448)
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.


  • Wild River

    Letter from John Craighead on the issue of dams and the need for wild rivers.