Middle Fork Flathead Kayaking

Montana Whitewater at its Finest


The Upper Middle Fork Flathead is one of Montana’s best kept whitewater secrets. A spectacular backcountry flight, more wildlife than people, and striking emerald-aqua water beckons from Montana’s Big Sky country. With long, puckering whitewater sections, countless play spots, and feeling like you’re traveling through Glacier National Park scenery without the crowd, this trip is many locals’ favorite multi-day sections to paddle. Along with the thrilling whitewater, there are many opportunities to hike to a mountain lake, fish for native trout, and relax around camp for five glorious days in the Great Bear Wilderness of Montana.

If you are an advanced paddler and feel comfortable running continuous class III with some solid class IV whitewater, this is a great trip for you. This is not a trip for beginner kayakers! We have great options for more intermediate paddling. (See WRO’s skill requirements overview.)

Trip Highlights

  • 5 days, 35 miles
  • Exciting class III-IV whitewater
  • River character: Sections of long, continuous, challenging pool-drop; boulder drop, playboating
  • Rapid series such as Three Forks and Spruce Park Gorge
  • Glacial blue, pristine water
  • Great hiking vistas of high Montana peaks
  • Waterfalls & beautiful side streams
  • Mountain lakes, streams and quiet pools for fishing
  • Incredible wildlife habitat for bears, mountain goats, moose and eagles
  • Lush landscape and wildflower meadows
  • Layover camp

Middle Fork Flathead Kayak Trip Overview

The Middle Fork Flathead, one of the little known jewels of whitewater, is a beautiful 35-mile river journey through the Great Bear Wilderness. The Great Bear, Bob Marshall, and Scapegoat Wilderness areas make up the third largest wilderness complex in the lower 48.  Together with Glacier National Park directly to the north, the Bob Marshall Complex forms the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem.  Largely unimpeded by human tinkering, wildlife is plentiful, including grizzly bears, lynx, wolverine, moose, and mountain goats.

The journey begins with a breathtaking flight into Schafer Meadows, a backcountry airstrip nestled in the middle of Montana wilderness. After several miles of scenic floating we enter the first rapid series, Three Forks. This river has limited named rapids, so often times the whitewater sections are clumped together, offering several back-to-back rapids multiple miles long that are each exciting in their own way- from techy moves, big waves and smooth boofs, large drops, and tons of play spots. Other favorite sections include 25 mile series, Lunch Creek series, and often the most notable, Spruce Park series. With a gradient of about 35 feet per mile, earlier trips offer punchy class III-IV whitewater thrills that are fairly continuous, while later in the summer the river slows down, becoming a more technical, boulder-gardened style of paddling, clearing up the water and providing more time to take in the breathtaking scenery. American Whitewater claims that the river here is so clear, that it often feels like you are “snorkeling from your boat.”

Five days and 35 miles means plenty of time to spend time scouting rapids, playing at surf waves and eddy lines, hiking, exploring, viewing wildlife, or simply sleeping in and spending time at camp and relaxing. Accessible only by plane and trail, the Middle Fork Flathead is a true wilderness experience.

Why Raft Support?

When self-support kayaking, you often have to be a minimalist. When traveling with raft support, you are able to bring all your heart desires, and probably more! Our rafts carry all of your personal things (costumes and dry shoes anyone?), and other items that self-support boating does not allow for such as coolers for gourmet food prepared for you (no more ramen and MREs!), beer, extensive safety supplies, a full-sized firepan with a daily fire, latrine facilities, logistics taken care of, etc. Without the bulky weight of your gear in your kayak, it allows for quicker, more responsive (and fun!) paddling, and also opens up possibilities for more low-volume styles of boats for those looking to spice up the class IV. 

If running this type of river without ever seeing it makes you nervous, or you are traveling alone, having a safety kayaker/ kayak guide is a great way to travel. Traveling with one of our knowledgeable safety kayakers is a great way to gain confidence and expertise through this technical run. Lastly, this type of trip also allows for you to bring non-kayaker family and friends to also be able to enjoy a perfect river vacation for everyone involved.

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The Stats

Departure Month June, July
State / Region
Adventure Level Moderate, High
Price Range $2000 - $3000
Activities Hard Shell Kayaking



See You Here:

The South Fork of the Flathead trip begins and ends in Kalispell, Montana (FCA).

WRO Kayak Rentals

WRO has a wide range of playboats, half-slices, and river runner/ creek boats to reserve for the week in a variety of sizes. WRO does not provide paddle, skirts, helmets, PFD’s, or personal dry gear. For more information, contact Seth, [email protected](Reservation website coming soon.)

Before the trip:

If you need a WRO kayak rental, be sure that you reserve your boat ahead of time with the office. (See WRO kayak inventory.) Paddlers will need to provide their own paddle, helmet, lifejacket, drysuit, and optional safety gear. WRO also has drysuits available for rent, but many are rafter-designs and do not have kayak tunnels or rubber neck gaskets. 

Travel to Kalispell, Montana (FCA) no later than 5:30 pm one day prior to your trip’s launch date. Delta, Alaska/Horizon, United, Allegiant, Frontier and US Airways offer flights into Glacier International Airport (GPI). A variety of car rentals are available should you decide to visit Glacier National Park before or after your trip. Please contact our office ahead of time to arrange logistics if you need to be picked up. If flying into Kalispell, the Red Lion Hotel will pick you up, which is about a 20 minute drive to the hotel. If driving, you will be able to leave your car at the Kalispell airport.

We will have an orientation meeting at 6:00pm at the Red Lion Hotel in Kalispell the night before the trip to meet everyone, distribute waterproof bags for your personal gear, hand out 16 oz Hydroflask mugs, and answer any last minute questions. 

The next morning, we will pick you up at the Red Lion around 8:00am to drive to the airport.  We provide transportation to the river via a scenic flight to Schaffer Meadows, a backcountry airstrip in the Great Bear Wilderness.

After the trip:

We will have lunch at the takeout, after which we provide transportation back to the hotel in Kalispell. The travel time is about two hours, and you should arrive in Kalispell early afternoon.

Sample Itinerary

Day before the trip: Arrive in Kalispell, MT no later than 5:30 pm. At 6 pm at the Red Lion Hotel, you will meet the rest of the guests on the trip, and your trip leader will hand out dry bags if needed, answer any last minute questions and give you your 16 oz Hydroflask mug.

Day 1: We’ll get an early start for our flights to Schafer Meadows. We will typically leave the hotel in Kalispell around 8 am and head to the airport. We will then fly in personal gear and people in a series of 30 minute flights. There is a short hike to the river, in which we will need to bring our personal bags down to meet the boats and the rest of the guides. After finishing rigging the rafts, doing a river safety talk, and fitting lifejackets for those not kayaking, we will get on the water. The first few miles are a slow warm up before lunch. After lunch, we’ll be in the Three Fork Rapid Series, a couple miles of continuous class III and IV whitewater.

Day 2-4: Our trips are very flexible so that each one is tailored to the group. There will be time for hiking, fishing, looking for wildlife, casual floating and playing, scouting and running rapids, and relaxing. Day 2 or 3 is typically a layover day, in which we will stay at the same camp two nights and allow for a large, full day hike to a mountain peak with an awesome view of Montana wilderness, or a day at camp relaxing.  

Day 5: The last day brings us to the second big stretch of whitewater, the Spruce Park Gorge.  We’ll have several miles of good class III-IV water before lunch.  After the gorge we’ll have lunch, then a beautiful float down to the takeout with Glacier National Park on the right and Great Bear Wilderness on the left. This is a great place to spot mountain goats. The drive back to Kalispell takes a little over an hour.


Kayaking/ Miscellaneous

We generally ask that if people sign up for a trip as a kayaker that they plan to paddle the entire trip. This is mainly because we base our number of rafts, guides, and gear distribution off of planning on having people in their kayaks. That being said, we can absolutely make accommodations for individuals in certain situations, (Not wanting to run a particular rapid, medical situations, etc.)
All and all, this is your trip and we are here to ensure you have the best trip possible.

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