Jack River Canyon

Forums Alaska Rivers Alaska Range Region Jack River Canyon

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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: II (III)
      Length: 7-11 miles, 1.5-3 hours (various put-in & takeout options)
      Shuttle: Varies, see takeout

      Put in: Drive about 4 hours north of Anchorage on the Parks Highway towards Cantwell.  Turn right on the Denali Highway, heading West, towards Paxson.  After 4 miles (at the crest of a small hill) you’ll get to an Ahtna Land Easement Public Use pullout on both sides of the road.  (there is a fee station here; they ask $20 per person for a day use permit).  The ATV trail begins on the right/south side of the road.  Hike length & time: 5 miles or more, 2-3+ hours.

      Take Out:  Take out where Parks Highway crosses the Jack, just south of Cantwell…  OR if you want to shorten the paddle out by almost 3 miles and only do the “best of”/more scenic sections, you can also take out at the end of “Jack River Canyon Road.”  This road is 1.5 miles from the Parks/Denali Highway turnoff; turn right and drive 1.2 miles until you get to a large open gravel pull out next to the river.  (Keep in mind this takeout is also on Ahtna Land, & requires a day use permit.)

      Character:  A relatively easy to access clear water class II river with a long class III rapid half-way through.  The Jack River Canyon is a “must do” for Alaskan packrafters; the hike is just as beautiful as the canyon.

      Water Levels:  Jack River has no gauge, generally runnable from late May-early September. It relies primarily on snowmelt, but also rain for its flow. Expect the river to be  highest in June and very low in September, unless there has been rain. It maintains class II/II+ character, although it will move much faster and the canyon will be pushier during peak snowmelt.

      Hike Description:  You can hike up the Jack as far as you’d like, the ATV trail goes for a ways.  From the ATV trail head, head south towards the Jack River valley.  The ATV trail is well-defined and easy to follow, with the exception of a few mud pits within the first mile.  Before the knoll, head left at the trail fork to avoid unnecessary elevation gain.  The trail splits off in a few sections; they eventually come back together, but favor the more obvious defined trail for better walking.  

      The trail then drops down into the valley and heads up the Jack for many miles.  A popular put in is about 5.5 miles in; a drainage comes in from the right/north and washes out a short section of the trail.  You can blow up boats here and walk down to the river.  OR continue up valley for as long as your heart’s desire for more class II boating.

      River Description: Most of the Jack is class II-II+ paddling.  From the described put in, you’ll see an iron rich tributary (you can tell by the orange color of the rocks,) come in on the left after 2 miles.  Here the river speeds up slightly with class II+ and an occasional III- feature at higher flows.  

      Beginning of the canyon rapid, mid August/low flows

      About a mile from this creek, the river makes a right hand turn and things become ob-viously more narrow and constricted; this is the Canyon Rapid.  Get out and scout (or portage) on the right.  The scout is a rocky scramble, but worth getting out and looking at, especially at higher flows; lower flows it is easier to read and run- or even eddie out mid rapid.  The rapid has two parts; take notice of the undercut wall at the bottom on the left side- this could become a hazard if running at higher flows, but with lower flows much less of a concern. 

      Beginning of canyon, low water

      The river continues with more class II-II+ as it carves through the orange and brown colored canyon walls until the Jack River Canyon Road; keep in mind there are numer-ous undercut sections along the canyon walls.  The stretch after the Canyon Road takeout option mellows out and opens up to class I-II for the final 3 miles until the Parks Highway Bridge.

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    Forums Alaska Rivers Alaska Range Region Jack River Canyon