Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness - S. Fork Flathead

While I’m far from the first to packraft in Montana’s Greater Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, one of the largest blocks of unroaded country in the Lower 48, I don’t see any postings here regarding its potential as a packrafting destination so I thought I’d offer some insights gained during a six day solo through the Bob last week.

The Greater Bob consists of approximately 1.5 million acres of wild country to the south of Glacier National Park. It is drained by the South and Middle Forks of the Flathead River as well as several other highly packraftable rivers and streams including the Sun River, Teton River and too many tributaries to name here. Much of the boating that has occurred historically in The Bob has been horse-supported and quite a few parties still employ the services of local outfitters to pack in larger rafts and heavy gear to several put-ins throughout the area.

I began my exploration of Monture Creek, Danaher Creek, the South Fork of the Flathead River and the Big Salmon Creek/Lake drainages at the Monture trailhead north of Ovando, Montana approximately an hour and a half northeast of Missoula. I ascended the Monture Creek watershed to Burnt Cabin, then hiked up the East Fork of Monture Creek to Limestone Pass on the first day. This 15 mile day covered very flat, very well-maintained trail to Burn Cabin (at about the 8 mile mark) and then climbed gently on more well-maintained trail to Limeston Pass at around 7,500’. When I crossed Limestone Pass I entered the upper reaches of Danaher Creek, one of two streams that join to form the South Fork of the Flathead.

The second day started with another ten easy but hot trail miles down the Danaher Valley to a point in the Danaher Meadows below a large, beaver infested wet meadow system that might have been floatable but would have certainly involved a lot of flat water paddling, mud wading and beaver dam hopping. In any case, I put in at the lower end of the Meadow, about 25 trail miles in from the Monture Trailhead and found a couple miles of good, flatwater floating with outstanding fishing for Westslope Cutthroat. After the first couple of miles the logjams got a bit out of hand and I had more than ample opportunities to practice my huck-rafting skills. Huck-rafting being the game played by throwing boat and pack over 15 foot high log jams before climbing through, around and over said logjams yourself. If I had it to do all over again, I would recommend floating from the lower end of Danaher Meadows to the first large log jam and then bushwhacking back to the Danaher Valley Trail and staying on it until Basin Creek flows into the Danaher another 8-10 miles down valley. All of the Danaher float )aside from the huck-rafting (HR) sections which would easily go HR 3+) was PR 1 in early to mid-summer flows. The catch and release fly fishing for the Westslope Cutthroat on the Danaher and upper South Fork were as good as I’ve seen anywhere.

The South Fork starts at the confluence of Youngs Creek (another access route follows this creek in from the south end of the Greater Bob) and Danaher Creek and the flow and pace picked up a bit at that point. The fishing got even better as well. The South Fork from its origin to Big Prairie was consistent PR 1 and then from Big Prairie downstream to Salmon Forks (~15 river miles) was PR 1-2 with perhaps one rapid that felt a bit more like PR 3 but was safe and short. And a lot of fun.

While many of the outfitter supported trips continue for 65 river miles to the Hungry Horse Reservoir and Spotted Bear Ranger Station, I elected to leave the mainstem at Salmon Forks, the confluence of Big Salmon Creek and the South Fork to explore Big Salmon Lake, the largest lake in The Bob, and then cross the Swan Range over Necklace Pass and then end the trip at Holland Lake in the Swan Valley. Big Salon Lake is a beautiful, fjord-like lake 1/2 mile wide and 4 miles long and the fishing there was excellent as well. Camping at both the foot and head of the lake would work.

The whole trip, including a lot of time spent fishing, took six days and covered about 25 river miles and 50 trail miles, give or take, and revealed to me the great potential of packrafting in The Bob. I do know others have discovered this in recent years and I learned mid-trip that I had been almost immediately preceded by a pair of packrafters from Bozeman, MT.

One potential addition/amendment to this trip would be to drop mountain bikes at the Holland Lake Lodge prior to starting the hike at Monture, overnight at the lodge after the last day of hiking and then mountain bike back (~50 miles of paved road and logging road) to the starting point to pick up your vehicle. Otherwise an individual car shuttle or a rather pricey commercial car shuttle service (try Blackfoot Commercial Co. at 406-793-5555) will be necessary.

To sum up, The Greater Bob presents many extended trip options for paddlers of almost all ability levels and nearly endless options for point to point, loop or hybrid trips.

A few trip photos are available at

Awesome Forest, your best work yet I’d say. That’s also the best beta on Meadow Creek Gorge I’ve yet seen. On the list…

Most excellent. I did a similar trip solo last August, except went down Youngs Creek and didn’t run any of Meadow Creek Gorge. the footage brings back memories and firms up the planning for next time!

wow. .
Its a nice trip boating I really ecitted for that on how the experience on the river boats. . Its nice. .
thanks for the given videos that we seen, , ,

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Anyone care to hazard a guess as to the mph/current one might expect on the South Fork? Rates observed correlated w/ cfs and so forth.


If I recall correctly my GPS readings at the time, things fluctuated around 2.5 mph, +/-0.5mph…I believe discharge was between 800-1000cfs in early August last year.

Damnit, the internets just ate a long post. Here’s the short version:

Lodgepole TH to Spotted Bear RS in three full days. First camp Big Prairie, second Hodag Creek. 750-850 cfs on the gauge.

-Youngs below Babcock: not enough water.
-Youngs below Hole in the Wall Cave: super fun pool drop boulder gardens, gorgeous little gorges, ubiquitous huge fish.
-S Fork above White River: shallow, pick the line or get stuck and walk, often walk anyway, a few riverwide logjams. Gravel bars, big views, gorgeous gorgeous and phenomenal fishing.
-S Fork b/t White River and Salmon Forks: see above w/r/t too little water and gravel bars, alternating with more constricted sections with big riffles. Some very cool conglomerate cliffs.
-S Fork b/t Salmon Forks and Mid Creek: growing PacNW river feel, plenty of water (b/c river is more focused, not b/c of more flow), big riffles and amazing bedrock narrows down low.
-S Fork b/t Mid Creek and Cedar Flats access: w a l k i n g. Some neat views of gnar rapids in MC Gorge.
-S Fork b/t Cedar Flats and Spotted Bear: big riffles, huge pools, insane fishing, gravel bars, hanging springs/gardens (are we in Zion?!), mid-river limestone towers.

I enjoyed and would repeat it all, but Youngs to White River and below Black Bear were the bestest bits. Packrafts are ideal, aside from the fact that horsepacking is f&^%ed (poor trails, huge illegal permanent camps), because the low water was only a minor bummer. I passed three guys and two oar rigs putting it on Youngs right above the confluence, and pity them and their dragging shoes. Whomever though that those boats and this flow was a good idea deserves to get his whiskey ration confiscated.

Do yourself a favor and do this trip! Words fail thoroughly.

One more video

Dave C -

That was my early August trip from a year ago, and though I can’t wait to return I share the exact same frustrations as well. I also sidetripped it up to Haystack Mountain and floated the lower White River, which was similar in floatability to lower Youngs and the upper SFF.

Could have used another 100-200 cfs on the SFF, and some of the trails were completely chewed up by stock especially since I had rain most of the time.

I will move the trip up by 1-2 weeks next time based on similar snowpack/Summer flows.

Hi Everyone, Enjoyed reading the posts thanks for sharing. New to Packrafting but have 25 years of Fly Fishing. Looking forward to making it out to the Bob this August for a Solo trip. Looking for a 4-6day float trip on a nice Outcast. Any recommendations in terms of put in and take outs?

Did Scott’s route over Memorial Day weekend; obviously a bit of snow was involved.

It’s a superlative route, in any season, which I’d recommend to anyone. I reckon I had around 3000 cfs on the South Fork, which was very nice. No dragging, fast but not at all pushy. I walked to Basin Creek before putting in on Danaher. There was some nasty wood below that, but not much of it.

I am thinking about heading out next week to do some variation of this trip. The flows are looking pretty high, but I don’t know the area at all, and don’t know what is to high. Which gauge should I be looking at, and which section would run best during these flows? Hoping to spend 5-6 days out…

This guage is not far above where the South Fork empties into the reservoir. It is below the Spotted Bear river, which adds significantly to the flow.

Nonetheless, there will be some pretty huge water in there right now. The upper sections (above Big Salmon) would be good at that level, though watch out for mobile trees. Some of the riffles below that, and especially as you get below Black Bear and closer to Mid Creek would be (I assume) solid big water class III.

I’m waiting for things to calm down a bit before I go back there, but I’m a huge wus when it comes to such things.

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