Rapid Transit

Jun 1, 2005
Outside Magazine

Flush with western Montana's signature sapphire runoff, the upper Middle Fork of the Flathead is the best float trip you've never heard of. Geography is the Flathead's own permit system—the put-in is tucked away in the Great Bear Wilderness, south of Glacier National Park—so traffic is limited to those willing to fly a Cessna 206 into Schafer Meadows' backcountry airstrip from Kalispell or horsepack their gear six miles along Granite Creek to the put-in. The river is narrow and steep, meaning you'll want a slim sports car of a raft and heads-up guiding to make a clean run through four days of Class IV rapids to the take-out at Bear Creek. You'll camp in Douglas fir and lodgepole pine forests surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Flathead Range, pick rising 20-inch cutthroat out of the herd with a dry fly, and hike to Castle Lake and the cirque-born waterfall that feeds it. The best whitewater is before July, but the fishing peaks later that month during the caddis-and-stone-fly hatch. Four days, $1,095 ($100 extra for horse-packed trips); Glacier Raft Company, 406-888-5454, www.glacierraftco.com