Birch Creek Wild and Scenic River

Plan Your Visit

Man in raft negotiates Shotgun Rapids on Birch Creek.
Shotgun Rapids on Birch Creek.
Birch Creek Wild and Scenic River offers outstanding recreation opportunities for nonmotorized float boat use for those experienced with canoe, kayak, or raft. Float trips usually take about 50 hours of actual water time to travel the 110 river miles between BLM's put-in and take-out waysides, both located on the Steese Highway. A leisurely trip requires 7 to 10 days. The water is predominately Class I, but there are some Class II and Class III areas. (For a description of the international system used to rate rapids, see American Whitewater's website.)

Getting Started

To reach Birch Creek, take the Steese Highway from Fairbanks to milepost 94, where a 0.2-mile gravel road leads down to the Upper Birch Creek Wayside.  The wayside includes an outhouse, information kiosk and long-term parking. A short foot trail leads from the parking lot down to the river.

River Description

The following section describes the Birch Creek Wild and Scenic River Corridor managed by the BLM (river miles 0 to 110). River mileage starts from the upstream end of the designated corridor, above which Birch Creek is usually too shallow to float.

Birch Creek's headwater region (river miles 0 to 10) is characterized by shallow, fast water in a narrow stream channel with deep pools. Sweepers can occur along most of the river but especially along the upper reaches. Expect to “walk” your canoe or raft for most of this section due to shallow water.

Cliff on Birch Creek
Birch Creek bluff

In the next 70 miles (river miles 10 to 80), Birch Creek becomes wider and deeper, averaging 50 to 75 feet wide and 2 to 8 feet deep. This section includes fast water with occasional shallows and four sets of rapids up to class III, produced by large rock narrows and steep cliff banks. Lower water levels may require some lining. Scout all rapids before attempting to run them. Scenic views and opportunities for hikes up cliffs are plentiful.

Over the last 46 miles of designated river (river miles 80 to 126), Birch Creek enters the Yukon Flats and changes into a more meandering, braided river with slower moving water and multiple, wide channels. Low hills, broad views and black spruce bogs characterize this lower portion of the river. Rafts of trees on point bars attest to Birch Creek's tremendous power during periods of high water. 

Ending Your Trip

Lower Birch Creek Wayside (Steese Highway milepost 140.5) is located about 12 miles past the town of Central. This wayside has an outhouse, parking area and short trail for carrying boats and equipment from the river. Some people continue downstream and take out at the Steese Highway bridge at milepost 147.2 (river mile 126). Below the Lower Birch Creek Wayside, land on either side of Birch Creek Wild and Scenic River is owned and managed by Doyon, Limited

Camping

There are no developed campsites in the river corridor. The best camping spots are often on large gravel bars. Please practice Leave No Trace camping practices.

Maps

U.S. Geological Survey inch-to-the-mile (1:63360) maps are recommended. The maps covering Birch Creek Wild and Scenic River are Circle B-1, Circle B-2, Circle B-3, Circle B-4 and Circle C-1. Additional maps for trip planning purposes are available on the maps page.

Safety Considerations

Changing Water Levels

Maximum river flows usually occur in May as a result of break-up. As summer progresses, water levels drop. However, periods of high water may occur in late July or early August after summer rains. A summer storm can quickly raise the level of the water, changing the characteristics of rapids. Always tie your boat well above the high-water mark, as good weather in your particular location does not guarantee stable water levels. Low water also changes the face of the river, creating shallows and exposing rocks and logs. Rock gardens are common during lower water levels, usually through July.

Water temperature

Birch Creek is cold! Wear a life jacket. A wetsuit is recommended for kayakers and canoeists planning to run the bigger rapids. Know how to recognize, prevent and treat hypothermia.

Giardia

All water should be treated to prevent giardiasis. This intestinal parasite can leave you feeling miserable for weeks. Boiling your drinking water is the best way to kill the organism.

Bears

Although there have been few problem bears on Birch Creek, there are black and brown bears in the area. Prudent campers cook and store food well away from tents and boats. Don't bury cans or garbage; bears will find them and make a mess. Pack it in, pack it out. Be alert and make plenty of noise when walking through areas where bears may be present.