Bench Creek (Middle & Lower)

Forums Alaska Rivers Girdwood and Hope Region Bench Creek (Middle & Lower)

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    Jule Harle

      SOURCE: The Alaska Packraft Guidebook: Premier Rivers & Creeks in the 49th State (1st ed) Copyright: 2022 by Jule Harle.  Refer to the guidebook for additional info, photos, waypoints or detailed river maps. Author permission required to reproduce, duplicate or transfer following content.

      Difficulty: Middle: III, Lower: II+ (III)
      Length: Middle & Lower Bench: 4 miles, E. Fork Sixmile: 2.5 miles
      Gauge: No gauge, use Sixmile for estimate
      Shuttle: 2.5 miles

      Put in: Lower: Center Creek, Middle: Groundhog Creek

      Take out: Seward Highway bridge at E. Fork Sixmile Creek

      Character: The upper stretch, above Groundhog Creek, is a stout class V + kayak run including a 50 ft waterfall & other incredibly committing rapids. However, there are put-in opportunities below the Class V section that still deliver some packraft friendly whitewater.

      The Middle section consists of short and barely technical mini canyons with exciting pool drop style class III rapids before the Lower section, which has a few rapids, but is mostly a relaxing & scenic class II float back to the road. Great views of the Kenai mountains with an easy bike shuttle.

      Water Level: Bench Creek is fed by a large lake in Johnson pass, in addition to several springs & glaciers. It has no gauge, but you can use the Sixmile gauge as a reference. Expect a fast, higher water run if Sixmile is over 10.2 ft; the bends & turns in the Middle section may feel intimidating as the eddies begin to disappear. The run peaks in late May to Mid June, & begins tapering off once the snow has melted. Most flows are manageable, but going in lower than 9 ft would make for a pretty boney run, especially in the lower section.

      Hike Description: Begin at Johnson Pass Trailhead (North) To paddle Lower Bench only, walk almost 4 miles on the Johnson Pass Trail to the Bench Creek Bridge.  Keep in mind you’ll go across the Center Creek bridge before reaching Bench creek- don’t confuse this one for Bench! (You could packraft Center Creek, but it is lower volume, with considerably more wood and zero rapids).  

      For Middle Bench, continue another 1.5 miles past the Bench Creek bridge. When the trail begins to cut a hard right to cross Groundhog Creek, (no signage for Groundhog on the trail, but it’s labeled on USGS topo maps).  Bushwhack through alder for about 500 ft before reaching a small gravel bar immediately downstream of Groundhog Creek. This hike takes approx 2-3 hrs.

      Epic views hiking into lower Bench Creek

      Water Description:

      Middle Bench: (2nd bridge put-in). This run begins with two short, rocky & steep class III drops; the second is bigger than the first with 500 ft of recovery time between them.  Shortly after these rapids, the creek makes a few sharp bends through narrow passageways of alder bushes reaching out into the creek.  There’s plenty of space to maneuver around, but keep clear of & stay away from the sides.  The creek transitions into easy going class II with great views until just upstream of the bridge where an S Bend Class III rapid calls your attention again. (waypoint: 60.68624, -14922961).  If you’re looking to forego the 1.5 hour float out to the highway, you could get out and hike 2 miles back to the car.

      Numerous short & steep Class III rapids below Groundhog Creek put-in

      Lower Bench: (1st bridge put-in) The excitement is short but sweet on this section; a great run for beginners.  From the bridge, you’ll encounter 2 class III rapids in a small but open canyon.  The sharpness of the right to left turns may intimidate the novice boater- be on the lookout for wood as the eddies can be small and hard to catch in this section.  After about 10 minutes, or ½ mile, into this stretch the action subsides and Bench creek turns into a mellow class I-II run with plenty of slow moving meandering bends.  Expect to get out a few times to portage around wood.  Alternately, if you were just into running the Middle Bench rapids, & were looking to forego the 1.5 hour float out to the highway, you could get out after the last rapid, near waypoint 60.69124, -149.23657 & bushwhack towards the trail to hike 3 miles back to the trailhead.

      Ear to ear grins from Sean! Lower Bench

      Time: Middle & Lower Bench Creek: 1.5-2 hours, EF Sixmile Creek 45 min.  2.5-3 hours total

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    Forums Alaska Rivers Girdwood and Hope Region Bench Creek (Middle & Lower)