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).
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.
new online whitewater guide for montana area paddling - check it out!
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
Alberton Gorge is always good.
Permits are not required for this reach.
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Alberton's Purple Cliffs
Catching Air at Tumbleweed
Map at Cyr put in
Ian prepping for launch
Diamond Dave on Fang
Vinny spinning Cliffside II
Ben surfing Fang
Ben getting munched in Fang
Chad Yurko on Cliffside II
Ian S seal launching
Cyr Bridge Sign
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After more than a decade of effort the 320 acres of former Montana Power Company lands adjacent to the Alberton Gorge on Montana's Clark Fork River are being transferred into public ownership. Transferring these lands to public ownership ensures public access to this reach of river in perpetuity as well as protects the scenic backdrop in this river corridor. On Wednesday, June 29th we will celebrate the 320 acres transfer into public ownership of former Montana Power Company lands adjacent to the Alberton Gorge on Montana's Clark Fork River.
Western Montana boaters received an early December Christmas present making them true believers in the Whitewater Santa.The gift was transferal of 306 acres of river corridor lands along the Clark Forkï¿½s seven-mile Alberton Gorge to public ownership. This marked the culmination of a ten-year effort by Santa and his elves to transfer this 306 acre parcel from former Montana Power Co. ownership to the public so it could be protected in perpetuity.
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