- III-IV (portage VI)
- River Length
- 185 miles
- 12 Days
- April to September
The Alsek River is one of the most celebrated whitewater rivers in the world. Flowing from its headwaters in the Canadian Yukon, the Alsek River courses through numerous National and Provincial Parks in British Columbia and the United States before its confluence with the ocean in the Gulf of Alaska. Part of the legendary Triple Crown of North American Whitewater (the other two rivers are the Susitna and the Stikine, both unrunable to commercial rafts), the Alsek River is a unique river experience unlike any other.
The Alsek River watershed is protected by National and Provincial Parks, and World Heritage Sites for almost its entire length. Winding for over 180 miles through the amazing St. Elias Range, the largest glaciated non-polar range in the world, the Alsek River passes through Kluane Provincial Park in British Columbia, Tatshenshini-Alsek World Heritage Site, Alsek Tatshenshini Provincial Park, Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Glacier Bay National Park. Views of the spectacular scenery offered by the dramatic St. Elias Range get better around every turn on the Alsek River. Huge mountains jut up thousands of feet from the Alsek River level, bejeweled with hanging glaciers, seracs and snowfields. In certain areas, massive glaciers grind down to the Alsek’s banks, creating a spectacle of glittering translucent icebergs in the waterway that trips must navigate around.
The cold glacial waters of the Alsek run at high volumes all season, ranging from 60,000 to over 100,000 cubic feet per second of water. The Alsek River is fed by several mighty tributaries, including the Kaskamulsh and Dezadeash Rivers, which can spike river levels significantly due to snowmelt and storms. As the Alsek River descends downstream, its banks become increasingly dense with foliage and underbrush as elevation falls and precipitation picks up.
Aside from the amazing geology and mountain vistas on the Alsek River, the wildlife viewing is amazing. Located deep within the wilderness of the St. Elias Range, visitors to the Alsek will be treated to common sightings of Brown and Black Bears, Mountain Goats, Moose, Wolves, Eagles and Dall Sheep.
The Alsek River is perhaps most famous for its mystical, wild and punishing Turnback Canyon stretch, which fortunately for most visitors to the area is easily portaged using helicopters. This legendary section of the Alsek River lies in the constriction between the active toe of the Tweedsmuir Glacier and Mt. Blackadar (6,821 Feet), named for river pioneer Walt Blackadar who was the first person to paddle this section and amazingly he did it alone! Turnback Canyon is for elite experts only and is unnavigable as to now in a raft, though it is good fun to stare down into as helicopter flights carry visitors over the furious four-mile section. The whitewater on the remainder of the Alsek, both above and below Turnback, is beginner-intermediate in difficulty, with splashy riffles, smaller waves, scattered holes and smaller drops.
Following the Turnback Canyon section, the Alsek meets with the mighty Tatshenshini River, an alternative combination trip from which many visitors reach the Alsek, eliminating the portage past Turnback Canyon. The combined flows of the Alsek and the ‘Tat’ move swiftly downstream into Glacier Bay National Park.
The Alsek River flows through unusual Alsek Lake, another highlight of the trip. Alsek Lake is a gorgeous glacial lake with bright silt laden waters, from which 27 glaciers can be seen, two of which, the Alsek and Grand Plateau, form an eight mile wide face of ice that spills right into the river. Icebergs calved from the glacier face are everywhere in Alsek Lake, and trips down the Alsek row across Alsek Lake in channels between the bergs. Skilled guides are a real plus when navigating the lake due to the hidden hazards of icebergs suddenly flipping over or obstructing the channels. The Alsek River drains from the outlet of Alsek Lake and moves into a short river section before hitting the take-out at Dry Bay. From Dry Bay when weather conditions are right, majestic Mt. Fairweather (15,325 feet) can be seen looming high above the St. Elias Range.
The Alsek River is a remarkable multi-day river trip, with a fairly easy access from Haines Alaska, located in the Chilkat Valley. The put-in of the Alsek is located off the Yukon Highway in Kluane National Park, a 150-mile drive from Haines Alaska. At Dry Bay, visitors are flown to the small bush-town of Yukatat and then back to Haines for travel homeward.
- Tatshenshini & Alsek Rivers - Yukon Territory
- Rafting, Boating