NF Sun River, Bob Marshall Wilderness

Just got done with this trip on July 10th. Went into the Bob over Route Creek Pass and jumped on the river at the bottom of the trail (had to bushwack about 1 mile). From this point the float is about 25 miles including the resevoir. Not sure if this could be done that far north on a normal year but the river is still very high and there is still plenty of snow to keep it going all season. There were 4 log jams the first 6 miles of river, one monster, the 1st one that you come to, and the rest were just a couple of logs over the river. I think I will go in this fall and cut them out when flows drop (if they ever do this year). Once below Headquarters Creek the river is clear all the way to Gibson Resevoir. Headquarters Pass is the shortest route to river from the Rocky Mountain Front side but its a steep trail. I would recomend to anyone wanting to do this float to go in this way. The river was great with mainly class I action and some class II from time to time. Im sure at regular flows its all class I. The last 2 miles of river gets very intense. Just before dumping into the resevoir the river flows through a tight canyon and becomes very aggresive with class III to IV rapids. I had to make a very difficult portage around this stretch hugging the canyon walls and was forced to ride out the last 300 yards or so in some very wild river. I am not sure if lower flows would make this section floatable but my recomendation is that you exit the river just before this canyon and hike the trail about 1 or 2 miles to the resevoir. The trail runs right next to the river at this point and is easily accessed. The paddle across the resevoir is not bad, the wind always blows out towards the dam so its at your back pushing you most of the way.
There are a few creeks that dump into the river that look floatable (Moose Creek, Route Creek, Glens Creek) but I didn’t get to try them out. Maybe next time. This is a great little river with good fishing and a lot of action! Hope this is helpful for anyone wanting to try this river.

Nice one. I have been eying that one for years. Does make me want to check out that bottom canyon, at lower water. Another Meadow Creek Gorge?

Not sure how it compares to Meadow Creek… unfortunatly I have yet to do the SF Flathead. I am assuming that I saw it on your video post and I would say what I saw was gnarlier than that. But again the NF Sun was still really high so it could be very similar when it drops. Got a helmet cam now so on my next trip I will get some footage, which may be this fall during hunting season. It can easily be done over a weekend…

Fun on the Sun is a great out and back again packrafting trip in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Starting at the Benchmark Trail-head On July 23, 2011 Moe Witschard, Forrest McCarthy, and Michael Fiebig floated 15 miles down the South Fork of the Sun River to Gibson Reservoir then hiked 10 miles up the North Fork of the Sun River. The following morning they floated the North Fork of the Sun Back down to Gibson Reservoir and hiked back up the South Fork to the Benchmark Trail-head. On both rivers they portaged short class 4/5 sections near the reservoir.

It was a busy weekend in Sun River Country!

On Saturday we floated the South Fork Sun from Benchmark, took out at Bear Creek, then hiked up onto the shoulder of Prairie Reef above Bear Lake. Sunday we traversed the Reef, floated the West Fork back to the SF-WF confluence, then quick 4 mile hike back to the Benchmark trailhead. The West Fork has some new wood (6 portages, all straightforward) but is an outstanding packraft stream.

Photos here:

Going to do the SF this weekend… Sounds like a cool trip ALarson. Which drainage did you take off Prarie Reef to get to the WF? Could you go further up the WF, and how long was your float to the confluence?

Is the whitewater at the bottom of the SF as big as the NF? Is it a canyon like the NF and if so what’s the best portage? I chose the wrong side on the NF and it was no fun…

mthillbilly: We accessed the WF from Prairie Reef by walking down the trail that leads to the lookout, but you could walk down No Name Gulch and avoid the trail. We put in just below Ahorn Creek; budget about 2.5 hours to get from Ahorn Creek to the SF at current flows on the WF. I can’t say for sure if putting in above Ahorn would be worth it given small size and potential for wood–but definitely worth investigating!

The whitewater gorge at the bottom of the SF is even steeper than the NF, but much shorter. Take out on river left and use the horse trail for the portage.

Will the North and South Forks of the Sun River be packraftable the first week of September?

Don’t know about the SF, didn’t get a chance to hit it like I planned. The NF should be floatable then, depending on how far upstream your planning on putting in. I am planning on another trip down it sometime in September.

I just returned from a five day trip over Teton Pass and Sun River Pass down the North Fork Sun from its source out across the Gibson Reservoir; 45 miles all told, about half walking and half paddling with lots of fishing in between. While we put in just below the confluence with Seven Up Creek, you could likely put in right at the point where the North Fork begins at higher flows – assuming you’re willing to deal with a lot of wood in the water in the first few miles. The paddling was splashy and fun throughout and we did run parts of the lower gorge the last mile above the K-L Ranch. Aside from one exceptionally difficult and dangerous recirculating ledge that cuts diagonally across the entire channel 2/3 of the way down the gorge, this will likely be run in its entirety by a very strong, safe group at some point but it is not recommended and – discretion still being the better part of valor – my partner and I are not ashamed to say we portaged the crux. At low flows what can’t be paddled can be scouted and portaged, as we did last week, but at high flows, heed mthillbilly’s warnings about this gorge in the original post of this thread. The stretch immediately below the gorge is challenging as well and was the only place I swam on the whole trip; so don’t let your guard down once you’re past the gorge section. The paddle out through the reservoir was scenic and fun and took about 2.5 hours with a bit of a tailwind to start and a stiff headwind at the finish. Here’s a look at the photo and video highlights from the trip…

Put in at Headquarters Creek and floated to just above Sun River Butte this weekend as part of a longer trip. At high water this took barely more than two hours of continuous floating.

No river-wide jams, but some wood worth avoiding. The first half had more riffles and rapids than I expected, some of which formed holes large enough for solo and risk-averse me to assiduously avoid. Everything was plain enough to read and run. Great scenery and wildlife viewing from the boat. Overall highly recommended.

A group of us were in the Bob in late June 2016 and some of us elected to paddle the final gorge on the NF Sun. We were aided by very low flows (240 CFS), lots of scouting and a bit of luck. 240 CFS was the bare minimum flow to put in at the bridge near Gates Park.

The gorge consists of ~5 drops of 2-6’ and a few 25-100m boulder gardens. We were able to scout and paddle everything with 2 clean runs out of 4 participants. As ScottBrennen mentioned, the drop that is diagonal to the flow of the river is the trickiest spot (see background of 2nd photo). Even with a clean drop, you’re likely to bounce off the rocky shore and back into the flow off the drop. One of us swam here and two swam on the final drop. I had a clean run with an open boat. The other 3 had Cruiser decks.

At these flows it would have been easy to portage anything. I imagine at higher flows it becomes harder to stop and scout.

Also worth mentioning: The NF Sun carved a new route for ~200m this spring about 1/2 way between Gates Park and the end. This section has ~50 trees across it but flows are likely now so low no one else will paddle this year and 2017 spring flows might clear it out.

Just did the NF again at 960 cfs. Two of us took the whitewater section at the bottom with disastrous results. I ran it last year alone at 800 cfs and luckily made it through without dumping but was not as fortunate this year. We both lost it at the beginning of the narrow section. No room to stop and scout and the water was class V. We both had a hard time keeping our heads above water and almost drowned. My partner’s paddle was snapped in half, my boat got stuck on the rocks. One of the drops forced me down so hard to the river bed that it broke my leg. My brother-in-law was able to free my boat somehow and I was able to paddle to the top of the island and make a very painful portage to bypass the last set of whitewater which had several logs on both sides. He had to scramble out over the gorge due to his broken paddle. This section should definitely be avoided at these flows, as in my original post states. I took down another thread that described my previous years run as to not encourage anyone to run this section. I will not attempt it again. It is very dangerous and I want to warn anyone floating this river about this section. The pictures posted above are a far cry from the huge water that is created at these flows. It should only be attempted at flows where you can stand in the river and be able to scout and portage.

Broken leg! Damn, that is just the pits. Seriously amazed you got out of there alive.

I was thinking of doing the NF this weekend, and portaging around the nasty stuff near the reservoir. How did you get to the NF to put in? I’m sitting here looking at the Cairns map wondering if I should just walk around the reservoir and up the NF or if theres a not-too-sketchy route that goes north first and then over Route Creek Pass or trail 128? Or might do the SF NF combo described above? I have 3-4 days.

I should followup that over Memorial Day Weekend I tried to add a bit of Straight Creek to the ‘Fun in the Sun’ route and I almost ended up dead. It was fast, bendy class II the whole way. I turned a blind corner about 2 miles above its confluence with the SF Sun, saw an almost-creek-wide strainer, stupidly thought I could sneak past, and ended up flipping, losing everything, and dislocating my shoulder. It took 5 hours to get to the hospital in Great Falls.

Humans reading this: do not do what I did. Do not packraft alone. If you do packraft alone, don’t do it on a random creek during spring runoff with no beta. If you see anything remotely sketchy on the river, scout it or portage it.

Scary stuff guys, be careful out there.

Lots of big water this year will probably mean lots of new wood, new channels cut, maybe even new rapids in places. No joke. Lots more packrafters in Montana in the last few years.

Montana…where a guy will interrupt his Memorial Day weekend plans to: drive your crying crippled ass 30 miles from Benchmark to Augusta, arrange for an ambulance, go back to Benchmark, search for and FIND your boat caught in a strainer on some random flooded creek, and mail it back to you.

Is there some medal I can get Bullock to give him?