Middle Fork Flathead River
Floating & Rafting Information

Middle Fork Flathead River

Floating the Middle Fork Flathead River

Middle Fork Flathead River
Photo Use Guidelines
The Middle Fork Flathead River is one of Montana's premier whitewater rivers. It is also one of the wildest, beginning in the Great Bear Wilderness just south of Glacier National Park.

Most of the heavy-duty whitewater lies in the wilderness section, where the Middle Fork has a "wilderness" designation (no motors). Floating through the wilderness section of the river requires either a plane ride in or a long hike or horse pack. Either way, wilderness floats begin at Schaeffer Creek.

For the 27 miles from Schaeffer Creek down to Essex and Highway 2, where the Middle Fork Flathead River turns into a "recreational" river, the Middle Fork provides continual whitewater, mainly Class II rapids, with numerous Class III & IV rapids as well.

A float through the wilderness portion requires constant vigilance. Several portages may be required around some of the more wilder rapids, depending on river flows and what type of boat you are using. As the MIddle Fork Flathead River flows through numerous canyons, many of the portages are difficult.

Beginning in Essex, the river turns into a recreational class river and follows Highway 2, dwarfed by tall mountains on either side. The river from this point also forms the southern boundary of Glacier National Park. Numerous access points exist along Highway 2, allowing for a wide variety of day floats.

Deep Pools on Middle Fork Flathead River
Photo Use Guidelines
From Essex down to Moccasin Creek (a distance of 30 miles), only several small Class II-III rapids are found, depending on river levels. However, this section is not recommended for canoes. On almost every curve between Essex and Moccasin Creek (and the river is basically one ending set of curves) large waves and small rapids are found which can easily swamp an inexperienced canoeist. Additionally, around Moccasin Creek, lots of timber lies along the banks of the Middle Fork Flathead River.

It should be noted that Moccasin Creek is a put in spot only - don't plan on taking your boat out at this access site unless you want to paddle up a side channel of the Middle Fork Flathead River for more than a quarter mile in shallow water with fairly swift currents (experience learned the hard way). Note, a guide contacted me and said there was a "hidden channel" that allows you to float down the river to the take-out point. I'll have to take his word, because I looked for it on my floats and have never been able to find it! Still, it's probably there someplace.

Below Moccasin Creek to West Glacier, a popular whitewater section begins, with a number of Class II, III and one Class IV rapid (Jaws). This section of the Middle Fork Flathead River is the most heavily used due to its excellent whitewater. If you are searching for solitude, it is recommended a floater go elsewhere.

Below West Glacier, the Middle Fork continues to run swiftly with only a few small Class II rapids, and combines with the North Fork of the Flathead River at Blakenship Bridge, where the main-stem of the Flathead River begins.

For the wilderness portion, a heavy-duty inflatable kayak or raft will be needed, as they are by far the easiest to pack into the Great Bear Wilderness. Below Essex, any size raft, kayak or canoe (experienced canoeists only) will work just fine until the whitewater section below Moccasin Creek, where a raft or kayak capable of Class IV whitewater is required.

Middle Fork Flathead River : River Miles

Listed below are selected river miles for the Middle Fork Flathead River in Montana. You can get more detailed information about some of these fishing access spots at the Montana FWP Website.

Schaeffer Meadows: 73
Schaeffer Creek: 72
Granite Park Ranger Station: 62
Great Bear Wilderness Boundary: 47
Bear Creek: 46
Essex Bridge: 41
Paola Creek Access: 33
Cascadilla Creek Access: 22
Moccasin Creek Access (put-in only): 14
West Glacier Bridge: 6
Blakenship Bridge (confluence with the North Fork Flathead River): 0

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