Kennicott River

Forums Alaska Rivers Wrangell-St. Elias Region Kennicott River

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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: III
      Length: 5-6 miles
      Gauge: USGS Kennicott River at McCarthy Gauge
      Shuttle: Varies
      Put-in: Kennicott Lake or footbridge
      Takeout: Varies, see river description below

      Character: The Kennicott is a large volume glacial river emptying from the lake.  It is splashy, fast and can have giant breaking waves and massive holes; some of the larger features are visible from the footbridge.
      This river has a jokulhlaup every year- it’s a glacial outburst flood from the iceberg laden Hidden Lake finally breaking it’s dam, resulting in a dramatic draining.  This burst pours millions of gallons through glacier channels up-stream and gushes out of the Kennicott terminus- causing the river to flash flood.  This happens reliably every summer- a local bridge party to celebrate the event & cheer on brave paddlers is a fun & sporadic event each season.  You’re lucky if you catch it!

      The Johkulaup happens annually, but amount of surge is different from year to year. Photo: Luke McKinney

      Water Level: You can refer to the Kennicott River gauge, but it can be paddled as long as there’s water in it. It usually opens up in early-mid May and can be paddled as late as September, although early and late seasons will have lower & slower flows.Highest flows are found in mid June-July, with the exception of the annual jokulhlaup flash.

      Getting lost in the waves during the high water Johkulaup event. Photo: Luke McKinney

      River Description: The Kennicott is big water class III, with the most challenging rapids above and below the footbridge.  The changing nature of this glacial valley will render the river slightly different from year to year.  In addition to “hit or miss” massive breaking waves and munchy holes salt and peppered throughout its course, stay alert in areas where currents converge- funny seams and boil lines can flip an unexpected paddler.

      Takeout areas are somewhat tricky, as much of the riverside access is privately owned. If you can’t secure permission from a landowner, your best bet is to hike back up the riverbed towards the footbridge.  Keep in mind the river’s high water line is public access, but once you begin walking on trails, you are trespassing on private property.  If planning to hike up riverbed, take out before the river makes a hard left and water pushes into the rock wall on the right.  You can paddle further, however you’ll have to eventually ferry back across.  Other options are to paddle the Lower Nizina Canyon, taking out at the airstrip at the confluence of the Nizina and Chitina Rivers or even floating all the way down to Chitina for a 2-3 day wilderness journey.

      Spencer Williamson upstream of footbridge. Photo: Luke McKinney


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    Forums Alaska Rivers Wrangell-St. Elias Region Kennicott River