Glacier National Park

GNP is packraft legal. I spoke with a BC ranger a few days ago, and she was puzzled that it wouldn’t be open to boating. She couldn’t give Yellowstone an accounting for.

I did a neat two day loop that bears repeating. Road biked from Camas to Apgar, snagged a permit, rode the shuttle to the Loop, hiked over Flattop Mountain, floated the lower Waterton River, hiked over Browns Pass and down to Bowman Lake, avoided 6 miles of road walking by hitching a ride, then floated the North Fork of the Flathead back to the truck. I call it the North Fork 100 (as it’s about 100 miles all told, and is a good shorthand). Video summary:

July’s a great time to be out in the park. Some snow, but not too much (my ice axe was dead weight). Plenty of water in the rivers, but not at flood stage, and very clear water (still darn cold). And most importantly, the flowers run riot. Even though we had less snow than last year, it has melted off much slower due to a wet and cold June. Last year this time the meadow north of Fifty Mtn was the most flagrant display of wildflowers I’ve ever seen, this year it was a 1/2 mile snowfield. So, in other years runoff might be sooner and thus July water lower. Perhaps.

Waterton River beta:
Above Pass Creek the river looked (from the trail) and sounded pretty hairball. Some gnar looking chutes with tons of wood. About 1/3 mile past the trail to Stoney Indian you come right down to the river, and it looks very inviting. The stretch down to Kootenai Lakes is exactly that, very meandering, no riffles, and plenty of wood to get around (but only two river wide jams). Lots of waterfowl and beavers, and phenomenal scenery. Kootenai Lakes was a nice flatwater paddle with more of the above. Not far below the lakes the river got rowdy, with a 4-6’ tall ledge diagonaling almost all the way across the river. It would go on the far right, but absent a PFD, helmet, partners, and road nearby I portaged river right. Below that the river remains fast, with a good number of mild boulder gardens that aren’t serious, but do require paying attention and maneuvering. I took out when the river starts to curve east, and it seemed like things got steeper and more serious below that. A competent crew of rafters would likely have a ball running the whole thing, and even as I ran it hauling the boat back there was totally worth it. Really a tremendous setting.

North Fork beta:
Not much needs to be said that can’t be found elsewhere. This was a great 16 mile, 3 hour ride on the raft-a-lounger, with only a few occasions when I had to put my feet back in and pay attention to picking the right channel and not getting sucked into a sweeper on the bank. Even though there are roads running on both sides, and thus plenty of fisher-people and floaters, the North Fork has a wilderness feel and more importantly, is gorgeous water in a gorgeous setting.

Other thoughts:
Bowman Creek above Bowman looked like it just had enough water to go, unfortunately it looked to have a channel wide log every 50 meters the whole way. I didn’t bother. Bowman Creek below the lake would be worth a look, but the gradient and twistiness on the map inclined me to take the easy way out.
At least this time of year, the creeks in GNP don’t seem to need too big of a basin to get enough water to float. Plenty of other places seem worth investigation, especially the lower Belly River and Nyack Creek.

The North Fork of the Flathead continuous to deliver as a packrafting river. I did a day trip to investigate the equinox and fall colors, and again found lovely hiking and boating.

I parked at the (unmarked) Kishenehn TH north of Kintla Creek, hiked to the Kishenehn Patrol cabin, then to my surprise found a marked and recently maintained trail behind the cabin that went north following the river all the way to the border. I crossed the border (shhhhh), ate lunch in Canada, then inflated the boat and floated back into the US and back to the truck. I actually missed Kintla Creek, due to the amazing yellow Aspens and Cottonwoods and fun boating, and took out a few miles below, with a bushwack and road walking necessary to close the loop. Fun day.

Other possibilities that stand out in the area:

Bikerafting the Polebridge to Kintla stretch would be fun. Park at Polebridge, ride up the inner NF road to Kintla, float down. There was one rapid which was either just above or just below Kintla Creek that seemed suspiciously close to class III at the high (for autumn flows, 3100 cfs) water I had. 4 foot standing waves and a few holes I really didn’t want to be in.

Kintla Creek below the lake looked runnable and fun.

Starvation and Kishenehn Creeks both seemed runnable at higher flows. Sage Creek was crotch deep where I forded it!

Going south Quartz and Camas Creeks are now at the top of my list of explorations for early next summer. Both would likely be best with higher water.

McDonald Creek below McDonald Lake is a lovely little short, relaxing float. Lots of swimming holes and fishing spots, and trails that make a round trip from Apgar fast and easy. I did this in a few leisurely hours and had great scenery, and heard elk bugling off in the forest. Watch out for impressive beaverdams if you take the outside channel on the lower oxbows.

Video of aforementioned autumn scenery.

Packrafts let you see things from such a different angle. Good stuff.

Upper St. Mary River beta:

Water levels have been high in the Crown of the Continent due to heavy rains and melting early-season snow. The lower river at the Babb, MT guage was near 400 cfs. There’s a reservoir between that guage and the upper river, so I can’t guarantee the correlations are robust, but the water I found on Saturday was about as low as I’d want.

I parked at the St. Mary Falls TH and hiked most of the way up the valley (ie before the steep stretch leading up to Gunsight Lake). The upper valley features flat, meandering water and big views. There are a few rapids shortly before Reynolds Creek comes in. Most I ran, one I portaged. With more water and the removal of a huge log right in the entrance, it would make a quality class IV, with a quick series of 4-8’ bedrock ledge drops shortly followed by a big bedrock slide. The next serious rapid is 100 meters above St. Mary Falls. It too looks runable with more water, but would be pretty tough. I portaged this on river right, then put back in only to soon get out and portage the falls on river left. The falls themselves are spectacular, two sharp right 30 footers in a row, dropping into big belled chambers. I leave them to the run the brown crew. From below the falls it’s only a few hundred meters to the lake. As the river had gone faster than I’d expected, I continued down the north shore of the lake, past some nice craggy bluffs, to the first obvious beach. The trail happens to come right down to the lake here, thus furnishing quick access back to the car.

The real, stylish way to do this would be in early-mid July. Start at Lake McDonald Lodge with full day whitewater gear. Hike up to Sperry Chalet and over Lincoln and Gunsight Passes (the later likely the best trailed pass in the park), then down below Gunsight Lake and, just as your feet are getting tired and you’re dreading those last boring miles through the woods, inflate the boat and schralp the gnargnar down to the lake. Hike to the road and ride the shuttle back over Logan Pass to your car.

The boating season is now open!

Lower Nyack Creek: meandering class 1+ with some monster river-wide wood jams at the apex of the deeper bends. Balls deep postholing to portage around! Woohoo!

Did a fun trip this weekend:

Big Creek would be great floating with less wood.

The North Fork below big creek has 3 legit class 3 rapids at these flows (~13,000 cfs), and some freaky standing waves and weird boils. Made Big Creek to the confluence with the Middle Fork in 3 hours exactly.

Camas Creek from below Lake Roger to the Inside NF road bridge is great, scenic class 1. One river wide log which was an awkward portage as the “banks” were impenetrable willows flooded over the head. Excellent birding.

Quartz Creek from Lower Quartz Lake to very near the junction with Cummings Creek was very fun today. Good water level, good class II-III+ paddling. Near the aforementioned junction the creek emerges into a ~10 year old burn, and as expected the log jams got out of hand shortly thereafter. For me, not worth it, so I bushwacked and walked the trail out. Doing a loop, with a bike from the lower Quartz TH to Bowman, is a fun way to do this.


Do you have any knowledge of the Two Medicine River or Badger Creek? Most of it is on the Reservation, but starts in Glacier. Looks like an awesome & wild river every time I cross it on 89. Also wondering if you need anything special to float on the Res. Do they have the same stream access laws as MT?

I don’t know how tribal stream access works. You need a tribal rec permit to hike on the lands near Glacier, but wouldn’t be sure that this alone would cover you will all the locals.

I’ve certainly driven past Two Medicine in the res and thought that it looked good. The stretch above Running Eagle falls would be a worthy float with mid-summer water levels, and right now has some pretty good brookie fishing.

Kintla Creek below Lower Kintla Lake is good floating, and has enough water surprisingly late (did it a few weeks ago). It’s quite wood-free compared to the other N Fork draining creeks in the park, but there are still some wood jams to pay close attention to.

A woman in an inflatable kayak got pinned and drowned on the North Fork below Polebridge yesterday, so be careful.

I did the aforementioned Kishenehn loop again earlier this week. A bit over 3 hours walking, then a bit over three hours paddling (even at ~900 cfs) make for a fantastic trip.

McDonald Creek is closed to boating from April 1 thru September 30. As in March the creek is frozen, this essentially limits boating to right after rain storms in October. I floated the creek from a bit below Logan Creek down to the lake on Saturday (Oct 8th), portaging all the major rapids. There are some fun minor rapids, but for a boater of my caliber the big ones are not worth contemplating. I imagine they’d need quite a bit more water to be doable at all. Much of the creek is further away from the road than one might think, and very pretty.

I did cut my boat between Sacred Dancing Cascade and McDonald Falls, so watch out for the sharp, angled limestone ledges in the lower river.

Camas Creek below Trout Lake:

-from Trout Lake to Roger Lake the creek is quite swift with near continuous small rapids. Camas Falls around 2/3s of the way down is unrunnable, so floating this section is tenuous and committing. There is a decent bear trail river-left almost all the way down to the lake.
-from Roger to the Inside NF road the creek is class 1. Recommended only at high flows, otherwise it is painfully slow. Several beaver dams to portage.
-below the Inside road the gradient picks up and would make for perfect packrafting, if it weren’t for the many log jams. I floated the first bit of this several weeks ago before giving up and bushwacking to the Camas road. It might be worth going back with a bit less water and the intention of spending all day if necessary.

Belly RIver:
-from the lower suspension bridge out to the border is fantastic floating, all class 1 or 2, great scenery and wildlife. Lots of wood, but only three river-wide jams for us. High flows recommended for the sake of speed.

Had a great time on MacDonald Creek this past weekend. The stretch from the lake to the Quarter Circle bridge is like the Clearwater canoe trail down in Seeley in that its short, shuttling is easy and it’s perfect for kids, even the littlest ones. Even better than Clearwater-- there’s solid views, great wildlife, and beer/huckleberry ice cream at Apgar.