Montana is such an incredibly diverse state full of amazing landscapes ranging from plains stretching as far as the eye can see to mountain peaks towering so high they scrape the sky. Between all these varying landscapes are rivers carving through the land, jutting, flowing, and meandering here and there as they have done for countless generations.
One of my favorite ways to immerse myself in nature and disconnect from work life has always been to get out on these rivers in a raft full of friends for a float. Luckily, for those of us in the Flathead Valley, we have amazing access to a large selection of fantastic rafting rivers, my personal favorites being the three forks of the Flathead River.
Prior to joining together on the southwest side of Glacier National Park, each river has its own distinct personality:
Beginning its 153-mile journey in British Columbia, the North Fork forms the western boundary for Glacier National Park. This stretch of water can easily be turned into a multi-day float for adventurous souls, but also makes an excellent river for afternoon adventures. Drifting through ancient flood plains near Polebridge brings jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains. Keep your eyes peeled for black bears, grizzly bears, and bald eagles which are plentiful through the entire stretch as they patrol the landscape in their never-ending search for their next meal.
The aquamarine waters of the Middle Fork, which originates deep within the Bob Marshall Wilderness, run along the southwestern border of Glacier National Park, meandering dramatically through narrow canyons. This stretch of water is very popular for day trips due to its location and abundance of rapids sprinkled throughout the 58-miles that the river spans. I find it easy to lose myself staring into the crystal clear waters, catching glimpses of Westslope cutthroat trout as they dart between rocks and shadows. Fishing along this stretch is excellent, so don’t forget your fly rod, or your camera for that matter. I’ve yet to float this section of water and not catch a glimpse of a bear, moose, elk or some other furry friend.
The rapid section of the Middle Fork offers some class III (class IV during high water) rapids capable of putting any weekend warrior like myself on the edge of their seat.
Numerous raft companies are scattered along the highway in West Glacier offering endless options for floats ranging anywhere from a few hours to multi-day affairs. If something a little less adrenaline-fueled is more your style, look into the peaceful scenic floats along the lower sections of the river -- they’re every bit as scenic with almost zero chance of a rogue splash of water soaking you from head-to-toe.
And last, but certainly not least, the South Fork is probably the least-utilized river of the three, mainly due to its secluded location. Forming at the confluence of two streams deep in the Bob Marshall Wilderness (much like the Middle Fork), this river offers some of the best fishing in northwest Montana. Cell phone service is nonexistent down here and it’s not uncommon to never even see another party on this stretch of water, bringing amazing feelings of seclusion so close to home. Rapids are sparse and easy to navigate through the most popular sections running from Spotted Bear Ranch to number take-outs scattered between there and the Hungry Horse Reservoir. Save yourself some paddling and avoid picking an ending location too close to the Reservoir as the water slows considerably and eventually stops as it joins the monstrous Hungry Horse Reservoir.
Next time you have a free summertime weekend, plan a trip to float one of these three gems and have a true Montana experience. It’s one of the best ways to recharge your batteries, strengthen friendships and connect with nature. It’s good for your soul!
And if you need help choosing a float, don’t hesitate to give me a call.