Floating the South Fork of the Flathead River is perhaps one of the
finest floats anyone can do in the lower 48. The scenery is spectacular,
as the river flows through a pristine and remote wilderness. Unlike other
wilderness floats (such as on the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho),
the river is not over-run by rafting parties, as the only way to put
a raft into the South Fork of the Flathead is by packing it in. And the
pack in is neither quick nor easy - any pack in requires covering at
least 25 miles or more of mountainous terrain.
From it's beginning near Danaher Creek, the entire South Fork is floatable
except during low water. Up until reaching Meadow Creek Gorge 40 miles
later, described later, the river presents no special challenges to a
rafter. The river meanders its way through some of the most spectacular
country a rafter could hope to find. Due to the remote setting and the
difficulty and expense of bringing in rafts, the river is relatively
free of floaters, allowing for a peaceful, scenic float.
This peaceful and tranquil setting changes when the river reaches Meadow
Creek Gorge. As the river flows through this gorge, the river becomes
extremely narrow with big drops and sharp turns. To even contemplate
going through this gorge will require a very small, tough raft, as any
large raft is quite likely to get frequently stuck and require countless
portages. Numerous Class II, III and IV rapids exist in this gorge.
To avoid going through this gorge, any floater must be prepared to pack
out their gear (you just can't float out to your car). The best place
to exit the river is at mile 61.6, which is marked by a small sign. From
the take out point, it is a three mile walk out to the Meadow Creek Trailhead.
Below Meadow Creek Trailhead, the floater who wants to continue down
the river to Hungry Horse Reservoir can put in their raft at an unofficial
access point called Cedar Flats. This is about 2 miles south of the Trailhead,
and requires a short walk into the river. From this point, you can float
down another 18 scenic miles to Hungry Horse Reservoir.
Below the dam, the river only runs for 5 miles. There is one rapid section
below the dam called Devils Elbow, with a two short Class IV rapids.
To reach this section of the river, though, requires going down a rather
steep and hazardous put-in at the dam.
South Fork Flathead River : River
Danaher Creek (origin) :100
Big Prairie Ranger Station Pack Bridge: 92
White River Confluence: 83
Black Bear Ranger Station Pack Bridge: 69.5
Picture Creek: 64.1
Takeout to avoid Meadow Creek Gorge: 61.6
Meadow Creek Pack Bridge: 58.9
Cedar Flats (take in point): 57.1
Spotted Bear River: 48.4
East-West Bridge: 46
Log Landing (take out point before Reservoir): 40
Featured Waterproof Duffel Bag
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