Clark Fork - 2. Alberton Put In to Fish Creek

Clark Fork, Montana, US


2. Alberton Put In to Fish Creek (Alberton Gorge)

Usual Difficulty III-IV (for normal flows)
Length 7 Miles

Alberton Gorge

Alberton Gorge
Photo of Jaque by Brian Mattingly taken 07/15/03 @ low

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Clark Fork at St. Regis MT
usgs-12354500 1200 - 20000 cfs III-IV 00h47m 3160 cfs (running)

River Description

The Clark Fork River's Alberton Gorge is the staple of boaters from Missoula and much of Western Montana - and for good reason. The Gorge is runnable every day of the year, except for especially cold/clear winters when ice dams can form in the Gorge. At virtually every flow you will find at least one great eddy-accessible wave to surf somewhere in the Gorge, and usually there are a handfull of good playspots. The Gorge offers paddlers beautiful scenery, including massive purple cliffs rising from the river, deep green pools seperating rapids, the low walled gorge itself, sandy beaches, and open Ponderosa Pine forests. Paddlers often see beavers, bald eagles, deer, elk, otters, osprey, and even the occassional black bear. The rapids are often big and offer great playboating, while being fairly straightforward and non-threatening to the intermediate whitewater boater. Access and shuttles are easy. All of these factors combined make Alberton Gorge a wonderful place to paddle.

There are several sections of the Gorge that people paddle seperately or in combination. The public put-in at Cyr Bridge, just off the I-90 Cyr Exit 70 is the put-in for the Upper Gorge. The Upper Gorge is a step easier than the Lower Gorge, but still offers a couple powerful rapids. At lower flows, Cliffside Rapid on the Upper Gorge contains some of the biggest waves on the river. Playboaters sometimes hike into Cliffside Rapid from the Shuttle Road to surf at very low flows. The next major access point is Triple Bridges (from Exit 66), which is just downstream of the purple cliffs and the popular Sandy Beaches area. 

Triple Bridges marks the beginning of the Lower Gorge. Triple Bridges Rapid offers a variety of playspots: a bottom right hole at base flows, a main wave above 3,000, and other waves above 6,000 cfs. Comp Hole, a local favorite at Triple Bridges, needs around 10,000 and up to be deep and retentive. Split Rock Rapid provides a cool cartwheel wave/hole that can give some big loops at low flows. Icebox has a steep and challenging wave. Next is Tumbleweed which is the rapid that gives paddlers the most problems, with its big hole, swirly run-out, and changes with water levels. Surfer Joe is a nice little wave, Boateater has a chaotic wavehole, and then there is Fang - the other big one. Fang can provide some extremely fast and fun wave surfing at almost all water levels, and can also flip rafts. Fang is best above 2500, and best above 6,000. After Fang a couple small rapids lead to Ralph's Take Out, a trail on river right up (200 yards) to the parking lot, which is used by most kayakers. Downstream are just a couple very small rapids and some beautiful country. The standard rafting take out at Forest Grove provides easy trailer access (Tarko Exit 61).



StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2016-12-25 05:42:42

Rapid Descriptions

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User Comments

Users can submit comments.
May 25 2017 (605 days ago)
zfalen (159165)
Submitting for reference as I haven't seen any posts about running this epic stretch above 20k. Ran
this yesterday evening at 27,000, and the day before at about 22,000. The river is definitely high
and moving fast, but certainly runnable at this level. The upper section is fairly flat, but
Cliffside 2 had one giant wave that was a good hit - and seal launching down the ramp is fun. Lower
gorge below Triple Bridges is big water, swirly class III+; Tumbleweed might qualify as IV- due to
the big laterals and heavy swirls at the bottom. Fang had a big sticky wave. Definitely a different
river than at lower levels - Split Rock, for instance, is completely underwater and a very big wave
train. GOOD TO GO - but have a good boat, competent class III+, IV- skills and friends with you. A
swim at this flow might not be catastrophic if you're on-point, but could easily turn into a very
big pain in the butt.
July 27 2007 (4196 days ago)
x (1)
new online whitewater guide for montana area paddling - check it out!
August 1 2005 (4920 days ago)
Chris KellyDetails
I paddled Alberton July 19,05 with a level of about 3,900 cfs in my open boat. It is a classic
western run with 2 or 3 class III rapids. The first 5 miles are very mild and there is an access
point on river left. Most of the whitewater occurs in the next few miles starting at Triple
Bridges. There is a river left access at the end of the whitewater so one could get 80% of the
rapids in a 2-3 mile reach. I floated down to the standard takeout at Tarkio.
I want to stress that water levels and time of year are very important here. At higher levels with
cold water this could be a much mlore challenging run. Low levels and warm water make it a lovely
summertime intermediate whitewater reach. Access is easy. Follow the directings on this page.
Alberton makes a great place to take a break and paddle while driving on I-90. The run could easily
be paddled in 2 hours. Chris Kelly


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