click to enlarge Great Northern Mountain and Stanton Glacier in the Great Bear Wilderness

Great Northern Mountain and Stanton Glacier in the Great Bear Wilderness

The Great Bear Wilderness, strictly speaking, comprises 286,700 acres designated in 1978. But in conjunction with the contiguous Bob Marshall Wilderness to Great Bear's south, and the contiguous Scapegoat Wilderness south of that, Great Bear is part and parcel of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex: 1.5 million acres of essentially pristine landscape, and the third-largest wilderness area in the lower 48. Just across Montana Highway 2 at Great Bear's northern border lies the million-acre Glacier National Park. There's lots of backcountry here.

Great Bear's eastern boundary is the Continental Divide, and its multiple peaks, reaching elevations of 8,705 feet, are part of the 400-mile overthrust fault known as the Rocky Mountain Front, which stretches across Montana into Canada.

True to its name, the Great Bear Wilderness is one of the last great grizzly bear strongholds in the country, with a denser population of the bruins than anywhere else in the continental U.S. Black bears—including many cinnamons easily mistaken for grizzlies—lynx, wolverine, mule deer, elk, moose, gray wolves, mountain goats, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep share the landscape.

Great Bear is also home to the headwaters of the wild and scenic Middle Fork of the Flathead River, one of the most spectacular whitewater runs anywhere. The Middle Fork rises in the Great Bear and runs 50 miles through the wilderness before joining the North Fork at Blankenship Bridge, forming the main-stem Flathead River. Running the river's wilderness section requires either plane or pack access to the put-in. Several commercial whitewater and fishing outfitters offer support services.

Some 1,700 miles of trails provide foot access to the Great Bear Wilderness, which, due to its exceptional remoteness, rare visitation and rugged country, can pose exceptional challenges. Spend some quality time preparing before you go for a stroll in this park.

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