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|Confluence of the White and South Fork|
15 down trees on Young's Pass. Only a few that had to be walked around.
Put in at Babcock creek, the big strainer on Young's creek (gorge) from last year is gone. There is a small strainer right after the 1st major left in the Young's gorge, on river right side, basically in the 1st rapid. On 7/1 it could be paddled around in a packraft and in lower water it would be an easy portage and you could possible paddle under. The rest of the gorge was mostly rock dodging. A ranger said he will run the gorge this week and will put flagging on small strainer
South Fork- no portages on south fork, hiked up white river- 30 downed logs, got out of white once- White runnable on 7/3/21. Report came in on 7/8
The South Fork of the Flathead in Montana is perhaps the best packraft river in the lower-48. There are 3 main reasons for this as I see it:
1. It is very scenic. Especially toward the end of the trip, going into Meadow Creek Gorge. The deep green water and the canyons make for some great pictures.
2. It is also very remote. It is located in one of the largest wilderness areas in the lower-48. For much of the trip you are 30 miles from the nearest road. So you can really get away from it all!
3. The fishing is good. Not as good as the first time I fished it 5+ years ago, in my pre-packraft days, but still good. It is also one of the only places you can legally target bull trout in Montana and maybe the Northwest. According to 2016 regulations it is open the 3rd Saturday in May through July for Bull Trout catch and release. Keep in mind that is only on the South Fork and not any tributaries, you also can’t keep them and technically you are supposed to get a free bull trout targeting “stamp” on your license (last time I checked anyway).
|Getting ready to float in 2014|
- 1. I have done all my trips in July and only been rained on for one-half day. None of our trips were bad for mosquitoes and we have only seen one bear (black) in all of those days out, but prepare for all these things! Rain jacket, bear spray and bug spray! Time of year matters for water levels, the later you go the more you’ll have to portage. Early-mid July is probably best for flows, mid-late July is best for fishing with a lower risk of fires. Fires are a major consideration...they can happen at any time, but are likely at the end of July and throughout August- smokey air and trail closures being the main problems resulting from them.
- 2. If you want to have a more relaxing trip, do one long day of hiking your first day and then float the rest of the trip (its 16-18 miles of hiking over Young’s Creek Pass to the first float-able stretches of Young’s Creek). If you go in over Young’s Creek Pass start as early as possible because it gets hot on the south side of the pass and there isn’t water until you get over the top. I've heard there was some significant blow down on the pass in 2019 and I'm not sure how much of it got cleared on the trail by the end of the season. Look for huckberries on the way down. The White River trip was prettier but demoralizing because we floated (on the Sun River) and then hiked almost two days and then floated two more. You can also get to Young's creek via Pyramid Pass, but from a hiking perspective it is supposed to be harder.
- 3. The gorge section of Young’s Creek can be a bit overwhelming if you’ve never packrafted before. If the water is low, it isn’t too high consequence (meaning there aren’t any hydros that will kill you) but there are lots of rocks and you will probably scrape your boat a lot and possibly tip (which would be a bummer because you’d have several days of wet gear). All that said, my friends and I did it and made it through having minimal prior packraft experience. Not sure how it would be in high water though. You can easily hike around it on the trail if it is intimidating.
- 4. The first floatable stretch on Young’s and the first few miles of the South Fork of the Flathead often have log jams. Be prepared to portage….but that is one plus of a packraft – easy portages (attach your packraft with the backpack straps up and you can just walk with the raft on your back and carry your rod and paddle).
- 5. The ranger station at Big Prairie is worth the stop. Drink some tang and have an Oreo. Talk to the rangers and get a tour. You’re pretty much walking into a small 1870s settlement due to the restrictions on technology in wilderness areas. You can also see a plane wreck just inside the fence which is pretty cool. Big Prairie is located at the first pack-bridge that goes over the South Fork. Be nice and appreciative to the rangers and other forest service workers.
- 6. Sweet side-trips that we have done include: Mud Lake Lookout and Salmon Lake. On the third trip we went up to Haystack mountain and from it you can see the famed Chinese Wall. It is about a 20 mile round trip so start early and bring lots of water. It is worth the view! I’ve heard of people doing the whole South Fork trip in 4 days, but I would recommend at least 6 because you won’t feel rushed.
- 7. The following is from a renter in 2019 regarding a new rapid near the White River confluence: "There is a new log jam around mile 84 near Scarface Creek (where the river made a new channel) that we portaged around."
It's important to keep in mind that the river changes annually and there may be log jams and new rapids in places where there weren't before.
- 8. There is one rapid that has tipped at least one person in our group every year on the last day(although I've heard mixed reports about it washing out since then). It is hard to see coming up but if you pay attention to the elevation drop of the river, you can see it. If you don’t see til you’re almost there you can probably skirt it to the right if you paddle hard. Otherwise, lean forward and paddle hard through the rapid. It isn’t a bone crusher, but you might lose your sunglasses and anything else that isn’t attached. There's a nice recovery pool right after so your raft won't wash down stream ahead of you.
- 9. The last day of the trip you will see a sign that says something like “take-out ¼ mile”. Get on the “river right” at this point. There will be another sign shortly, but the river increases in speed and splashy rapids right at the take-out point so you might miss it if you aren’t ready. If you do miss it….once again thank God you are a packrafter, because you can easily get out of the pool after the take-out and climb over the small rocky embankment with your packraft in hand or on your back. If you don't get out here, you need to have a helmet and be ready for class VI rapids.
- 10. You will hike out 3 miles from the take-out to the Meadow Creek Trail Head parking lot. From Meadow Creek it is an hour at least, on a dusty road back to Hungry Horse, MT (keep your eyes peeled for huckleberries on the way). There is no restaurant in Hungry Horse that has all three of the magic trifecta (burgers, fries and shakes), but you can mix and match with the Huckleberry Patch and the Elk Horn Grill. Or you can go East to Coram and the Glacier Grill. You will be hungry at this point!
- 11. Regarding shuttling- after publishing this blog, I found out that there is indeed a shuttle service that there are a couple shuttle services that run vehicles around the Bob. Montana Adventure Shuttles and Four Rivers Shuttle and Boat Rental, both based out of Missoula, can shuttle your vehicle pretty much anywhere around the Bob. Contact me directly if you are looking for a shuttle on the East side as I have some contacts.
- 12. Don't forget forest rangers are the law back there and they (one in particular) follow it to the letter! On a different trip into the Bob we had to turn around and go back because my friend's fishing license had disappeared out of his pack. The ranger wouldn't budge, or call in to verify his license. I also had 3 renters get fined $80/person in the Bob because they didn't have life jackets in their boats.
- 13. Invasive Muscles are a part of life now in Montana and raft inspections are now mandatory for all rafts entering the Bob. You'll need to carry your inspection papers with you. Please check out the link here for check station locations. (updated 2020)
- 14. Bears- customers ask fairly frequently about bears and how to prepare for them....I honestly haven't heard of anyone encountering a grizzly on the main trail or on the river. I've seen one Black bear and have had a handful of customers report black bear sightings on the river. Definitely bring bear spray and hang your food, but the overall concentration of bears is pretty low in that area during the summer.
|Day 3 log jam portage|
|From Big Prairie|