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Backpacker Magazine – September 2005

Paddling's Greatest Getaways

16 wild ways to find backcountry solitude and big-time scenery. All this, and you can bring the ice chest, too.

by: Larry Rice


{Montana}

Killer Mountain Scenery
Float the wildlife-rich west side of Glacier National Park on this local-secret river.

What a difference a few miles make. While boatloads of summer tourists crowd the Middle Fork of the Flathead River on daily outfitter trips, the quiet North Fork goes almost unnoticed as it flows out of Canada, just a couple of hours away via a rough gravel road. The 58-mile, moderate whitewater journey on the Wild and Scenic River starts with views of Glacier's Kintla and Numa Peaks, then passes through remote elk, moose, and bear habitat on the park's border (watch for grizzlies, store food properly, and keep a clean camp). Some of this stretch burned in the fires of 2000, but showy wildflower displays are the dividend today. Superb backcountry campsites can be found all along the river, but stay only on river right, on Forest Service land (avoid private property), as camping is prohibited on the national park side. You can do the whole section in 4 days, but allow more time if you want to cast for the river's legendary cutthroat.

Get there The North Fork Road parallels the free-flowing Flathead. Drive north from Columbia Falls and put in at Polebridge if the water level is low, or another 10 miles upstream if flow is good. Take-out is at Blankenship Bridge on Blankenship Bridge Road.

Season May through September (avoid earlys-eason high flows)

Difficulty Moderate, Class I-III

Contact Flathead National Forest, (406) 758-5200; www.fs.fed.us/r1/flathead




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READERS COMMENTS

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Pennyyork
Feb 02, 2013

was wondering if anyone knew my father kenneth York he guided the Allagash for years.I would be interested thank you

Markus Harrild
Apr 02, 2012

Although you've listed some great waterways, and have limited space for your article, you know, your readers are going to chide you about not listing their favorites. So, to add to that list of incredulousness, when was the last time you paddled down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, in Central Idaho. For raw jaw-dropping beauty, aqueous power, a wicked challenge, and a great trip, you've got to list this gnarled ribbon of water that slices through the River of No Return Wilderness. I could understand leaving other waterways off your list, but not this beauty!

Anonymous
Mar 30, 2012

Wow, I can't believe the (insert favorite) river wasn't included. This is the best! Some of the most beautiful scenery is found on the (insert favorite) river....

Peter Swiderski
Mar 29, 2012

Wait a minute. Just wait a minute. You left out the Green River in Utah? Whether its Desolation Valley or Labyrnth Canyon or Stillwater, we are talking the most spectacular rafting and canoeing in the country, bar none, nothing even close. Please. Just my humble opinion, but seriously. Green River, for like 200 miles. THAT'S amazing.

Peter Swiderski
Mar 29, 2012

Wait a minute. Just wait a minute. You left out the Green River in Utah? Whether its Desolation Valley or Labyrnth Canyon or Stillwater, we are talking the most spectacular rafting and canoeing in the country, bar none, nothing even close. Please. Just my humble opinion, but seriously. Green River, for like 200 miles. THAT'S amazing.

Richard M McFadden
Mar 29, 2012

WOW! Do not depend on Larry Rice on this one. First off. The Glory Hole pictured is not even in the Buffalo watershed. Second, the LOWER section will be low in the Fall. The upper half of the river will be virtually dry. The Buffalo is rain dependent, not spring fed. Summer is hot and humid with low algae filled water. The Buffalo is my river. It is by far my favorite river and I spend a lot of time there. Obviously Larry Rice does not. I will be joining Kenneth L Smith tomorrow for a week of trailbuilding on the Buffalo. Ken will be trailbuilding in the fall. If you love trails it is a chance to be in a wonderful place extending the Buffalo River Trail.
rmmcfadden@yahoo.com.

DblKnt
Mar 29, 2012

The Allagash is indeed beautiful in Sept / Oct
but the river sections are very shallow and rocky.
You will likely be limited to the lakes.

Summer months usually have the best river flow.
Bring 100% DEET and a head net!

David Scarborough
Mar 29, 2012

I cant believe yall left out the Alabama Scenic River Trail, a trail that spans from NE Alabama to the Gulf of Mexico and includes the Bartram Canoe Trail, a trail that meanders through the beautiful Mobile/Tensaw River Delta.
http://www.alabamascenicrivertrail.com/
http://www.outdooralabama.com/outdoor-adventures/bartram/index.htm

Anonymous
Mar 29, 2012

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