Middle Fork of the Flathead

The Essence of Montana


A spectacular backcountry flight, smaller groups sizes, and striking emerald-aqua water beckons from Montana’s Big Sky country. Thanks to simple logistics, the Middle Fork Flathead is one of our most affordable trips on a pristine wilderness river. Enjoy the thrilling whitewater in the springtime, hike to a mountain lake, fish for native trout, and relax around camp for five glorious days in the Great Bear Wilderness of Montana.

Trip Highlights

  • 5 days, 35 miles
  • Class III-IV whitewater
  • 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 alpine landscape and wildflower meadows

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 black and grizzly bears, elk, deer, moose, mountain goats, and elusive lynx and wolverine.

The journey begins with a breathtaking flight into Schafer Meadows, a backcountry airstrip nestled in the middle of the wilderness. After several miles of scenic floating we enter the first rapid series, Three Forks. While earlier trips offer exciting whitewater thrills between quiet pools, later dates provide better fishing opportunities as the water drops and turns magnificent shades of emerald and aqua. The Middle Fork has an average gradient of about 35 feet per mile, which translates to punchy Class III-IV rapids on earlier trips and boulder garden rapids during lower flows. We bring oar boats, paddle boats, and at lower water, inflatable kayaks.
Five days and 35 miles means plenty of time to hike, fish the fat and feisty Cutthroat trout at Castle Lake, view wildlife, or simply relax. Accessible only by plane and trail, the Middle Fork Flathead is a true wilderness experience.


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The Stats

Departure Month June, July
State / Region Montana
Adventure Level Moderate, High
Price Range $2000 - $3000
Activities Whitewater Rafting, Fishing, Inflatable Kayaking, Hiking, Wildlife



This trip begins and ends in Kalispell, Montana.

Before the trip:
Fly commercially into Kalispell, Montana. Delta, Alaska/Horizon, United, Allegiant, Frontier and US Airways offer flights into Glacier International Airport (FCA). The Red Lion Hotel (800-547-8010) will provide transportation from the airport to Kalispell. Give them a call from the airport as soon as you arrive as it is a 20-minute drive to the 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, and answer any last minute questions. We will also distribute WRO hydroflasks.

We will pick you up at the Red Lion around 8:00am. We provide transportation to the river via a scenic flight to Schafer Meadows, a backcountry airstrip in the Great Bear Wilderness. Lower water trips, we drive to a trailhead and hike into a lower put in option.

Motel Before and After:
We recommend staying at the Red Lion Hotel (800-547-8010) or Four Seasons (406-755-6123) in Kalispell for the evening before and after your trip.

Transportation after the trip:
We provide transportation back to the hotel in Kalispell where we typically have an optional farewell dinner that evening. We typically arrive back in Kalispell around 3 or 4 pm on the final day of the trip.

Sample Itinerary

Day before the trip: Arrive in Kalispell, MT. In the evening, we’ll get together to hand out dry bags, Hydroflask coffee mugs, and answer any last minute questions.

Day 1: We’ll get an early start for our flights to Schafer Meadows.  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, floating casually, running rapids, and almost anything else you can think of.  On this trip we often include a layover day to allow for a longer day hike to a mountain peak or alpine lake. For those who would rather spend a relaxing day around camp doing some fishing or reading a book by the river that is an option as well.

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 usually before lunch.  After the gorge we’ll have lunch along the river or down at the take out.  The final day below the gorge includes 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.


Camp Life and Meals

Yes, we do normally change campsites every day. However, on the Middle Fork Flathead we usually take one “layover” day where we stay at the same camp and spend the day fishing, hiking, or relaxing.

On the River

Clothing, Footwear, and Gear



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