Alaska whitewater rafting is a one of a kind experience! Imagine entering a world only accessed by the rivers. Whether just out for the day, or a longer, more remote trip, this is the easiest way to experience the true Alaskan wilderness, unbroken by roads or other infrastructure. Get ready to ride Class II and III whitewater, followed by calmer sections, where you can sit back and take in the scenery. Enjoy spectacular views of striking mountains, flowing glaciers, and rocky cliffs along the way. Animal tracks are frequently found on the riverbars, and wildlife can be abundant, especially during the salmon run.
While each river in Alaska has it’s own features that make it unique, they all involve splashy fun and adventure! Be prepared to get wet along the way! Fortunately, traveling through the wilderness by raft means that you are not as limited in what gear to bring along as if you were traveling by foot. Therefore, it is always good to bring along lots of warm, dry layers. Your guides will be sure to bring plenty of delicious food along, and are expert backcountry chefs. It is not uncommon for guides to catch dinner by “dipnetting” during the day and cooking up fresh fish by night. Overall, whitewater rafting is an excellent way to experience the Alaskan wilderness, and is sure to be an adventure for all!
Top Alaska Whitewater Rafting Rivers
Alaska’s sheer magnitude means there are a variety of rivers to explore throughout the state. Here are some of our favorites!
- Copper River – the Copper River originates at the Copper Glacier and spans nearly 300 miles from the Wrangell and Chugach Mountains to the Gulf of Alaska. This river is named after its abundant copper deposits and is famous for its salmon production.
- Nizina River [Class II-III] – located in Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park, the Nizina River is a tributary of the Copper River. This river is fed by the Nizina Glacier and is surrounded by beautiful scenery, including towering limestone cliffs.
- Kennicott River – the Kennicott River may be short, but it offers stunning views of Mt. Blackburn and the impressive mile-high Stairway Icefall. Enjoy a fun, splashy ride before flowing into the Nizina River.
- Chitina River – the Chitina River is fed by several glaciers that eventually merge into the Chitina Glacier in the Saint Elias Mountains. It flows for about 120 miles until it connects with the famed Copper River near the town of Chitina, Alaska. The Chitina winds its way through glacial valleys, peaks and waterfalls and is abundant with salmon, trout and other wildlife.
- Six Mile Creek – Six Mile Creek is a relatively short “river” but it claims some of the most intense whitewater rafting in Alaska.
- Kenai River – the Kenai River is located on the Kenai Peninsula and flows for approximately 82 miles from Kenai Lake into the Cook Inlet of the Pacific Ocean. The river is a very popular fishing destination and is the home of the current world record king salmon.
- Tana River – the Tana River is runs through the valley between the Chugach Mountains and the St. Elias Mountains. The river is located in remote Alaskan wilderness and flows for about 40 miles before merging with the Chitina River. Certain portions of the Tana River feature some technical and challenging terrain, making this river most suitable for experienced white water rafters.
Alaska Whitewater Rafting Safety Tips
As with every adventure in the great outdoors, practicing safe rafting principles is essential for enjoying your experience. Here are some safety suggestions for your upcoming trip.
- Listen to your guide – Our guides are experts in having fun while being safe. At put-in, they will cover important safety information, and are always available and open to questions throughout the trip.
- Wear a life jacket – Alaskan rivers are glacially fed, meaning they contain very cold water! Despite wearing warm and waterproof layers, the water will still take your breath away if you go over the side. Therefore, it is very important to keep your life jacket on whenever you are on the water.
- Remember the signals – Prior to putting in, your guide will go over important hand signals for use if someone goes overboard. It is important to practice and remember these signals in case of an emergency situation.
- Float with your feet forward – If you do go overboard, float with your feet pointing downstream, as close to the surface of the water as you can. This way, they are ready to push off rocks or other obstacles, and are less-likely to get caught underwater. DO NOT try and stand up in the river!!
- Leave no trace – When stopping for lunch or to set up camp, it is important to leave your camp cleaner than how you found it. This means picking up trash (even if it’s not your own), and being careful not to feed any wildlife. Keep the river wild!
- Wear sunscreen and stay hydrated – While on the river, the sunlight tends to reflect back off the water and onto your face, making it important to reapply sunscreen. Ever wonder how your guides got so tan? It is also easy to be distracted by the waves and beautiful scenery, but remember to drink plenty of water on your trip.
- Have fun! – You’re on vacation, after all!
What To Pack For an Alaska Whitewater Rafting Trip
When planning for an Alaska rafting expedition, don’t forget to pack these essential items. The weather conditions in the Alaska wilderness can be somewhat unpredictable and being overly prepared is always a good idea when planning any sort of outdoor excursion, including a rafting trip.
Click here to view an expanded and printable version of this rafting trip gear checklist.
- Hiking/Running Shorts – Light weight nylon shorts are quick drying and easy to carry. Recommended for riverside hikes and/or a warm day on the water.
- Hiking Pants – A light wool, synthetic (e.g. nylon) or fleece pant is recommended for camp or day hikes. One combination is to wear shorts over polypro long underwear, all underneath wind/rain pants. While on the river, this is a comfortable system, but at camp you will probably want a regular pair of pants to pull on. Denim, canvas, or any type of cotton is not recommended because it has no insulating power when wet.
- Long Underwear – Long underwear must be polypro or wool. We recommend bringing a mid-weight or heavyweight set.
- Mid Layer – Layers are the key to comfort and warmth while on the river and camping. This is the first layer over the polypro long underwear. It can be wool, capilene, “expedition weight” long underwear, a light fleece, etc.
- Fleece – Another layer! Make this a warm fleece jacket – “wind-resistant” fleece is great for the down-river winds that are often encountered on Alaskan rivers. A thick wool sweater or lightweight down jacket can be also be used here, but remember that once down is wet, it loses all insulating ability, so fleece tends to work best in Alaska. Fleece pants are also recommended for being cozy around camp and are great for bedtime if you “sleep cold”.
- Rain Jacket – This is one of the most important items. Good rain gear will make your adventure much more enjoyable. We recommend bringing either heavyweight coated nylon (such as Helly Hansen gear) or a high quality Gore-Tex jacket (not your 10 year old standby–its just too stormy in Alaska). Exceptional Gore-Tex rain gear is made by Arc’Teryx, Marmot and Patagonia. Ponchos are not acceptable. Wind and brush makes them almost useless.
- Rain Pants – Again, we recommend a heavyweight coated nylon or high quality pair of Gore-Tex rain pants.
- Socks – You should have 3-5 pairs of wool or synthetic socks. Sock selection varies on personal preference, but we recommend heavyweight socks to wear inside rubber boots on cold river days and inside your sleeping bag at night. SmartWool, Thorlo and Dahlgren make excellent socks.
- Running Shoes or Sandals – A pair of running shoes are good to wear around camp, or for a day hike if you prefer them over your hiking boots. Some folks carry sandals, such as Tevas or Chacos, which are good for warm days, but are not good for hiking and not as warm around camp in the evening.
- Hiking Boots or Shoes – comfortable, sturdy boots or trail shoes for day hikes along the river. Make sure to purchase these well before your trip and break them in so you don’t risk blisters while on your adventure!
- Wool or Fleece Hat – Something to cover the ears and keep your head warm.
- Fleece Gloves – A pair of good fleece gloves is a must for warm hands while on the river and for use around camp. Fleece gloves with WindStopper are best, but regular fleece or even wool gloves work fine as well. Neoprene gloves are also an excellent option.
Additional Whitewater Rafting Resources and Information:
http://www.abc-of-rafting.com – Rafting and White Water Rafting Info, News & Community @ ABC-of-Rafting
http://www.nrsweb.com – Rafting Supplies, Kayaking Gear and Boating Equipment
http://www.rivers.gov – National Wild and Scenic Rivers System
http://www.allaboutrivers.com – River Rafting and Whitewater Kayaking Trip Planning Guide
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafting – General Rafting Information
http://www.moxierafting.com/useful-links.html – A collection of rafting resources, which focuses on rafting in Maine and Massachusetts, but also includes a lot of great general rafting information.