Kenai Canyon: Jim’s Landing to Skilak Lake

Forums Alaska Rivers Seward and Eastern Kenai Region Kenai Canyon: Jim’s Landing to Skilak Lake

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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: 4.5 miles
      Gauge: USGS Kenai River at Cooper Landing
      Shuttle: 5 miles
      Put-in: Jim’s Landing

      Take out: Skilak Lake, hike out Hidden Creek Trail

      Character: The Kenai is a popular river for anglers as well as commercial raft trips; it sees a lot of use from June-August.  The entire river is packraftable with plenty of roadside access areas; the difficulty stays class I-II.  However, the short and sweet scenic Kenai Canyon is definitely the highlight & makes a great half-day trip.   This section of the Kenai pulls away from the road and generally sees less use than the stretches along the road.  The Skilak Lake take out has stunning views of the Kenai Mountains and makes the trip worth doing.

      Note: There are numerous other put-ins for class II road side day trips (no hiking involved), not included in this post.

      Water Level:  The Kenai opens up in April, although the flows are lower, generally between 2000-3000 cfs.  I’ve run it as low as 800 cfs in early April, lots of good eddy catching practice on the sides & within rapids, as large rocks are exposed. Summer flows are usually between 4000-8000 cfs.  The river character is more/less the same, however you can expect stronger, faster currents with considerably less time to avoid obstacles like waves and holes during higher flows.  It can be paddled as late as October or November, but expect lower flows.

      River Description:  1-2 hours; depending on flow.  The canyon section is about 3 miles in length, sweeping in a series of turns among large and impressive rock bluffs.  The river has big splashy waves with the occasional hole to grab your attention.  All features are “hit or miss,” the channel is wide enough to maneuver around any obstacle or create a sneak route.  Although the river isn’t known for it’s technical challenge, the eddy lines and boily water can feel powerful and can definitely grab a tube at higher flows.  Stay alert for wood along the edges; this is likely the biggest hazard for beginners. 

      The final 2 miles slow down as you leave the canyon.  When you arrive at Skilak Lake, be prepared for headwinds, they are common in the afternoon.  Paddle a little further along the shore and take out anywhere after the actual Hidden Creek – note that it looks more like a slough, popular among fishermen & moose; this saves wading through the creek after you’ve deflated boats and taken drysuits off!

      Hike Description:  1.6 miles; 45 minutes-1 hour.  From Skilak Lake/Kenai confluence, walk along the beach or nearby social trails through the trees if the lake is too high for 5-10 minutes before intersecting with the Hidden Creek Trail.  Follow the trail and boardwalks, gently heading uphill through an old burn area; after  ½ mile continue straight/veer left at the intersection. 


      April 9, 2024

      Kenai Canyon Trip Report

      Christalyne Panganiban and I ran the Kenai Canyon to get our season started.  Water level was around 500 CFS.  At this level it is mostly class I, with a few class II- rapids.  It was nice to see the rocks & features that will create the II+/III- features, rapids, and wave trains at higher flows.  The run was clear and wide open without any problem wood.  Skilak Lake still had an ice shelf coming out from the bank.  With the wind and waves pushing into the bank, it was difficult to assess the ice thickness and water depth at the shelf edge.  We opted to get out at Hidden Creek (between Kenai River outlet and Hidden Creek trail) and walk the bank from there to avoid any mishaps.  As for the trail, there was maybe 4-6 inches of snow covering the trail on average with half of that being fresh.  We hiked in our dry suits with yeti trax over our neoprene booties.  No sign of bear in the area just yet.  Keeping fingers and toes warm was our biggest challenge.  The trip took us 4-5 hrs to include the hike out, starting at Jim’s Landing and ending at the Hidden Creek trailhead.  As always the Kenai Canyon offered some awe inspiring scenery.  It was actually quite spectacular going through the canyon with snow dumping down on us.  Have fun, be safe, and paddle on!

      Brian Powell

      • This reply was modified 2 months ago by Jule Harle.
      • This reply was modified 2 months ago by Jule Harle.
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    Forums Alaska Rivers Seward and Eastern Kenai Region Kenai Canyon: Jim’s Landing to Skilak Lake