Wild & Scenic Rivers
Three Forks of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River
2018 marks 50 years of Wild and Scenic Rivers. October 2, 1968, the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act was signed, leading to the eventual designation of 12,734 miles of river nationwide and 368 miles in Montana, of which 219 miles are in the Flathead River system.
The Flathead River system is a fragile environment of clear mountain streams, vast forests and home of the threatened grizzly bear and bull trout. In 1976 Congress added 219 miles of the Flathead to the nation's Wild and Scenic River System. The designated reaches are: The North Fork from the Canadian border downstream to its confluence with the Middle Fork, the Middle Fork from its headwaters to its confluence with the South Fork, and the South Fork from its origin to the Hungry Horse Reservoir. These segments of river feature values including recreation, scenery, historic sites, unique fisheries, and wildlife.
There are three classifications to a protected river: Wild, Scenic and Recreational.
- Wild river areas are accessed by trail or a few backcountry airstrips and show limited signs of human activity. The areas are free from roads and motorized and mechanized use. 97.9 miles of the Flathead system are classified as wild.
- Scenic sections show limited development along their shorelines, and are accessed by trail and in places by road. 40.7 miles of the Flathead system are designated as scenic.
- Receation river areas are accessed by road and there is some development along the shoreline. 80.4 miles of the Flathead are designated as recreational.
- Cooperative Management of the 3 Forks of the Flathead Wild & Scenic River
- An Inspirational River: The 3 Forks of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River
- "Wild River" - an excerpt from a letter by Doctor John Craighead, in the June 1957 publication of Montana Wildlife, an official publication of the then Montana Fish and Game Department. (pdf image, 3.41 mb)
- Outstandingly Remarkable Values Assessment of the Flathead River System, Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park, January 2013 (pdf, 4 mb)
- 3 Forks of the Flathead River Wild and Scenic River Information Toolkit (pdf, 0.7 mb)
Floating the Three Forks of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River is also popular activity. The North Fork, Middle Fork, and South Fork have different origins and personalities, each a different river until they merge to form the main stem of the Flathead River. The three forks offer opportunities for day floats from vehicle accessed sites, thrilling whitewater stretches, and permitted guided trips for day and overnight experiences. You can find brochures and regulations to help your float be a success on our River Regulations page.