Flathead River Montana Fly Fishing, Camping, Boating

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Flathead River

A designated National Wild and Scenic River, the Flathead flows through northwest Montana, from Canada to its confluence with the Clark Fork, and features great recreation and scenery in rugged, alpine landscapes.

  • The Flathead River flows through northwest Montana.
  • The river is comprised of the North Fork, Middle Fork, and South Fork. 
  • The Flathead is a designated National Wild and Scenic River. 
  • Fish for westslope cutthroat trout.
  • Whitewater raft on the Middle Fork.
  • Enjoy outdoor recreation in relative seclusion in wilderness areas. 

Overview

The Flathead River is comprised of three forks: North, Middle, and South. Beginning in British Columbia, the North Fork flows southwest, dividing Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park. The Middle Fork begins in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and eventually merges with the North Fork to form the main stem of the river. The river then flows westward where it joins the South Fork before traversing the Flathead Valley and into Flathead Lake. On the final leg of its journey, the river leaves the south end of Flathead Lake and eventually empties into the Clark Fork.

The Flathead is a designated National Wild and Scenic River and as such combines superb recreation with exquisite scenery. The river is open to fishing and floating and there’s no end of camping, hiking and backpacking opportunity within Glacier National Park, Flathead National Forest, and several wilderness areas.

Location and Information

From Missoula, the river can be reached by traveling west on Interstate-90 and north on MT-200 W/US-93 N.

For information, contact: 
Hungry Horse Ranger District: (406)-387-3800
Website: www.fs.usda.gov/flathead

Activities

Fishing
The North and Middle Forks bisect truly inspiring country however fishing here is not as productive as in the lower stretches due to cold water temperatures and lack of “big fish” producing nutrients. Still, 8”-12” inch westslope cutthroat trout can be found here as well as Bull Trout and Mountain Whitefish. The South Fork is your best bet for angling success. The upper 50 miles of the South Fork to Spotted Bear River is the prime stretch for fishing. River fishing opens the third Saturday in May and runs to November 30. Lake fishing is open year-round. Note: It is illegal to intentionally fish for Bull Trout.

Floating/Rafting
The Middle Fork is great for whitewater adventures and features spectacular scenery. Because the upper portion of the Middle Fork has a “wilderness” designation, floating this section requires access via a plane, long hike, or horseback ride. Start your wilderness float at Schaeffer Creek and take in 27 miles of gorgeous views until you reach Highway 2. Here, the river designation becomes “recreational.” Book a rafting trip with one of several local outfitters for a wild and gorgeous river ride through Class II, III, and IV Rapids.

Camping/Hiking
In the north, Glacier Park is a prime backpacking location with backcountry campgrounds and trails tucked away in the high country. Flathead National Forest offers a range of recreational opportunities and there’s no better place to “get away from it all” than in the Bob Marshall, Great Bear, and Mission Mountain Wilderness Complexes.

Fun Fact

The Flathead River is the largest tributary of the Clark Fork River.

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