Riding - Headwaters Scenery - Photography - Spring Flowers
This is a beautiful early summer traveling trip into the lightly visited upper reaches the Middle Fork Flathead. This trip gives the adventurer an amazing tour through the most remote country we have out this way. We make a loop - starting at the Swift Dam trailhead on Birch Creek. Over the course of the next 6 days we travel up the North Fork of Birch Creek over Badger Pass and make a loop around the upper Middle Fork tributaries before coming out on the South Fork Birch Creek. There is abundant opportunity for wildlife viewing along this entire route. We often see mountain goats, big horn sheep, elk, and mule deer in the upper stretches. The terrain is very open with scattered timber in places, as well as some dead timber from a 2014 fire.
Day 1: Early morning start as we head into the mountains from Swift Dam trailhead. Our destination this day is upper North Fork Birch Creek. The ride up the North Fork of Birch Creek is a gradual grade with open country most of the way due to a 2014 fire. We will camp near Blind Creek for an overnight stop before continuing on the next day. Riding distance is 11 miles.
Day 2: We pack up and move from the North Fork over Badger Pass. This pass is exceptional with outstanding views of the vast upper Middle Fork Flathead River drainage. We drop down the west side to Strawberry Creek, where the route turns more gradual. Our destination is a campsite in upper Strawberry Creek. Riding distance 10 miles.
Day 3: We do not travel this day and instead explore the area around upper Strawberry Creek.
Day 4: We pack up and move down Strawberry Creek before turning upriver at Gateway Creek. This route is gradual, which a mix of burned and old growth timber. As we ascend up Gateway Creek we come to Gateway Gorge, a outstanding example of the glacial effects from the last ice age. During that time, a glacier originating in Big River Meadows gouged a path through a massive limestone cliff, and created the Gorge. Our destinatination is Big River Meadows, upstream from the Gorge. Riding distance is 10 miles.
Day 5: A rest day where we don't move camp but we can explore the beautiful basin and ridges on the west side of the continental divide in the Big River Meadows basin.
Day 6: We pack up and travel over the continental divide at Gateway Pass. The pass is a little over a miles before we drop down into the upper South Fork Birch Creek basin and proceed down the South Fork. This drainage is very open with spectacular vistas most of the way. It's a gradual grade all the way down to Swift Dam. Riding distance is 15 miles.
This trip as an incredible amount of open country and day riding options. If the water has cleared up, the fishing will start to get pretty good by the time we get to Gates Park on the North Sun. Our most popular day rides include Moonlight Peak near Lick Creek, Bear Top Lookout at Gates Park, and lower Rock Creek and Biggs Creek meadows.
Of particular interest, due to the absolute remote nature of the Bob Marshall, there is zero light polution, and near perfectly clear skies. The deep evening star gazing is intensely beautful, where you can see brilliantly our evening constellations, the Milky Way galaxy, and numerous shooting stars. This is a unique and rare opportunity to see our night time sky in a way you've not seen it before. The days are long out here, so plan on staying up late as sunset is about 10pm.
As this is a 6 day travel trip, with modest travel days. Our recommended camping gear list is downloadable from the link below. As a summary however, you'll want to keep in mind the following specifics about this trip. There are usually 3 or 4 travel days and 2-3 lay over days (non-traveling). This trip covers some incredible country ranging from the beautiful vistas of Badger Pass and looking deep into the vast Middle Fork and the beautiful basins of Gateway Creek. Our planned route will take us through Gateway Gorge and it's impressive limestone reefs. This trip has great opportunity for riders, photographers, hikers, and explorers. The things that are important and make your trip most comfortable are layered clothing appropriate for early summer. It can get hot during the day, but the nights will be surprising cool. We can also get a thunderstorm on any given day, so you'll need good rain gear that you can wear riding or hiking. Comforable hiking/riding shoes are a must, and a good assortment of hiking socks varying from light to medium weight. Also, you may consider chaps for riding, or silk under your jeans as we do have some ground to cover on horseback. This will mitigate chafing.