As the snow melts off the surrounding Swan Mountain Range, the “wild mile” section of the Swan River swells to a crashing Class V. This weekend Bigfork hosts the Bigfork Whitewater Festival.
A fantastic weekend for spectators, the festival is one of the few whitewater competitions that is easily accessible. Take a walk up the nature trail, which winds along the Swan River and find a spot on rocks bordering the rushing water to get a firsthand view of the daredevil kayakers bombing in the rapids. Be prepared for any kind of weather. If the sun is out, shade can be difficult to come by and, if it is raining, no shelter is provided.
Saturday’s events include beginners slalom at 11 a.m., followed by expert slalom at 2 p.m. In past years the slalom event has challenged the paddlers who have to weave their way through gates, sometimes having to paddle back upstream, that hang over the river. Sunday’s events include a morning triathlon followed by a downriver race at noon and boater-cross at 1 p.m.
Many of the event participants camp in the city park near the electrical plant, near where the kayakers exit the river, and downtown Bigfork comes alive with activity throughout the weekend. Between events, wander the streets of the historic village and check out local shops, restaurants and galleries.
How to get there: From Kalispell, head south on U.S. Highway 93. Go east on State Highway 82. At the intersection turn south on State Highway 35. Turning east on Hold Drive veer right on Grand Drive. This will take you to Electric Avenue.
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