Gulkana Wild and Scenic River - Main Branch

Scenic shot of the Gulkana River

BLM asks that all users do their part to help maintain the wild character of the Gulkana River through low impact camping techniques.

New! Gulkana River Users Guide for Paxson to Sourdough Float.


Gulkana River main branch general information with boater on the river in the backgroundMain Branch Gulkana River General Info Gulkana River - Main Branch

The most popular Gulkana River trip begins at Paxson Lake and ends at Sourdough Campground at MP 147.5 on the Richardson Highway. Total distance is about 47 miles and three-four days travel. The vehicle shuttle is 62 miles roundtrip. Access is at the Paxson Lake Campground boat launch MP 175, Richardson Highway.

Three miles of paddling across Paxson Lake brings you to the Gulkana River outlet. From the outlet to the junction with the Middle Fork, the Gulkana is a shallow, rocky stream with Class II rapids and a gradient of 38 feet/mile. At low water levels occasional lining may be required.

At the confluence of the Middle Fork and the Main Branch, the Gulkana River becomes slow and meandering. You may encounter ATV or other trail users within the vicinity of the Middle Fork confluence, as designated trails cross the river at this location. As you continue towards Canyon Rapids, you will notice an old cabin that was historically used by trappers in the region. There are occasional rocks and small waves in the Class I water until reaching Canyon Rapids.

Canyon Rapids is located at approximately river mile 20. Take-out signs mark the portage on the left side of the Gulkana River. The rapids are Class III or IV, depending on flow, and are navigable by experienced whitewater boaters only. Scout the 1/4 mile length before attempting passage. It is often helpful, and sometimes necessary, for experienced boaters to portage gear prior to running the rapids. At high water levels, open canoes and small rafts must be portaged. Even experienced boaters have wrapped and destroyed rafts and canoes here. There are several small camping areas at Canyon Rapids. Fishing is excellent for grayling and rainbow trout in the canyon area. A one mile hiking trail leads to Canyon Lake and the Haggard Creek trail accesses the Richardson Highway approximately six miles east.

Below Canyon Rapids there are 8 1/2 miles of Class II rapids which are generally shallow and rocky. Many canoes and rafts have been damaged beyond repair in this section of the Gulkana River.  Whitewater experience is helpful to successfully navigate this section of the river, as there are many rocks and small rapids.  After these rapids, there is an 18-mile stretch of Class I water to Sourdough.

(Note: Powerboats may be encountered on the Gulkana above the West Fork confluence downstream to Sourdough Creek Campground and beyond. This stretch is frequently crowded with fishermen during the summer salmon runs. Please respect others' rights to enjoy the Gulkana.)