Jack River Canyon (August 18, 2020)

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    Jule Harle

      No gauge

      Rating: Class II (III)

      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.

      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.

      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 mi1.5les from the Parks/Denali Highway turnoff; turn right and drive 1.2 miles down until you get to a large open gravel pull out next to the river. (keep in mind this takeout is also on Ahtna Land)

      Shuttle: About 5 miles; depending on your takeout. Bike or vehicle.

      Hike Description:

      Time: 5 miles or more, 2-3+ hours. You can hike up the Jack as far as you’d like, the ATV trail goes for a ways.

      Elevation Gain/Loss: +500 ft, -300 ft

      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 _____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 slightly with class II+ and an occasional III- feature at higher flows. About a mile from this creek, the river makes a right hand turn and things become obviously 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.
      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 numerous 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

      Time: 7-11 miles, 1.5-3 hours (depending on takeout)

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