Clark Fork, Montana, US
|Usual Difficulty||III-IV (for normal flows)|
|Clark Fork at St. Regis MT|
|usgs-12354500||1200 - 20000 cfs||III-IV||01h09m||44300 cfs (too high)|
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).