Rivers and Streams

Middle Fork of the Flathead, NPS photo, David RestivoBelton Hills and Middle Fork, NPS photo, David RestivoLower McDonald Creek, NPS photo

The Crown of the Continent includes the headwaters of nineteen major rivers, making it an important part of the source water for North America. Its cleanliness and abundance is important to the entire continent. These water corridors also provide important habitat for spawning fish, numerous (many yet to be documented) aquatic invertebrates, bald eagles, otters, harlequin ducks, and many other species.

The North and Middle Fork of the Flathead River bound the park on the west and the south respectively. Glacier National Park is home to 1,557 miles of streams that are fed by alpine glaciers and snowpack. Once temperatures warm in the spring, the snowpack begins to melt and brings a rush of water down the mountains to join streams and rivers. When the snowpack has melted, glaciers continue to provide replenishing waters to the watershed. However, with a warming climate, western Montana is experiencing earlier spring thaws and more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow in the winter, both of which affect the contribution of snowpack and glacial melt to our rivers and streams.

Healthy streams are important indicators of overall ecosystem health so park staff work with research scientists to closely monitor stream health within Glacier National Park.