Slicing its way through some of Montana’s best scenery, the Middle Fork of the Flathead River comes alive in fall

STORY & PHOTOS BY JUSTIN FRANZ

Stretching 92 miles from the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the Flathead Valley, the Middle Fork of the Flathead River meanders through some of Montana’s most famous scenery. At the heart of its journey west is the section from Essex to Hungry Horse, along the southern boundary of Glacier National Park. The recreational opportunities are endless in this scenic river valley that comes alive in autumn.

Hiking:

The Middle Fork slices its way between two hiking meccas – Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest. Access points to both preserves can be had via U.S. Highway 2 between West Glacier and Essex. A great hike is the Southern Boundary Trail that starts in West Glacier and follows the river east; it’s also the starting point for many backcountry adventures. Other great hikes in the area include Ousel Peak, Apgar Mountain and Stanton Lake. This can also be a great area to start a journey into the legendary Bob Marshall Wilderness. As always, consult maps and trail guides for more information.

On the water:

Even if its running a little lower, the Middle Fork can still provide a fun day of relaxed rafting this time of year. Boaters can launch at Bear Creek and travel to one of the many take-outs along the way. The section between Bear and Paola creeks is an awesome and simple day float, whereas more experienced rafters can float through John Stevens Canyon from Nyack to West Glacier. The river is also home to some great fishing.

Drive: If you’re not looking to stray far from the car, take a drive along U.S. Highway 2 and take in the scenery. Even from the highway, the scenic wonder of this river valley comes alive and the fall colors are brilliant come late September and early October. Along the way are scenic overlooks and historical markers.

How to get there: From Kalispell, drive east on U.S. Highway 2 to Columbia Falls, where the Middle, South and North forks of the Flathead River meet. From there, travel east and take in the scenery.