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Difficulty II-III
Length 12 Miles
Gauge M F Flathead River near West Glacier MT
Flow Range 1000 - 8000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 34 minutes ago 625 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 07/25/2016 7:58 pm

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. 

Rapid Descriptions


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Iain Smith
3 years ago

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.

Gage Descriptions

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Directions Description

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Draft Flathead River Management Plan Released for Comment (MT)

Kevin Colburn

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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Appeal Challenging Montana Navigability Is Denied

Jason Robertson

On May 28 the U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal by Mountain States Legal Foundation who filed a lawsuit in June 2001 alleging the 1985 Montana Stream Access Law violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution to regulate who floated over their land.

The decision thereby protects Montana's Stream access law and public rights of navigation throughout the State.

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River Recreationists Win Big in Montana!

Jason Robertson

The Missoulian newspaper reported on January 5th, 2001 that U.S. District Judge Charles C. Lovell dismissed a case brought by the Mountain States Legal Foundation challenging public recreational rights on Montana’s rivers and streams. This is a huge win for boaters and fishermen!

Kevin Colburn


Thomas O'Keefe


David Boger


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1206738 07/25/16 Kevin Colburn Reach change
1206739 07/25/16 Kevin Colburn Length + Class
1206740 07/25/16 Kevin Colburn description update
1206741 07/25/16 Kevin Colburn typo
1197368 03/07/10 Thomas O'Keefe copy edits
1193563 07/16/02 David Boger n/a
1197369 03/07/10 Thomas O'Keefe copy edits