Kings River Canyon

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    Jule Harle
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      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.

      QUICK RIVER STATS:
      Difficulty: Low: III+ (V), med-high water: IV (V)
      Length: 6 miles
      Gauge: No gauge, visual at bridge
      Shuttle: None
      Put-in: Bottom of 2nd drainage

      Takeout: End of canyon: 61.79424, -148.61359 OR Kings River bridge on Glenn Hwy

      Character:  This unique canyon is worth doing as it is incredibly accessible and offers impressive views of the Talkeetna mountains. With lower flows (early season or late season, May or August/September) the Lower Kings Canyon is mostly class III whitewater above the canyon with class III+ read and run ledge drops and boulder features within the canyon walls (except for one class IV rapid near the end); there is plenty of recovery time at these levels.  With higher flows in June and July, the canyon becomes more serious with powerful hydraulics and weird seams; don’t expect as much recovery time between rapids. 

      Water Level: This section is almost always running, the canyon rapids can be pushy class IV with higher water from snow melt or heavy rains; the river usually peaks in mid-late June.

      Hike Description: 7 miles, 3-4 hrs.  From Palmer, drive northeast on the Glenn Highway/AK 1, passing the Kings River.  Keep going to mile 71.8 to a large pullout on the left (just under 6 miles from the Kings River bridge).  There is a large gravel parking lot in the woods with a road heading uphill; this is Permanente Rd.  From the parking lot, you can take Permanente Rd (most 2WD vehicles can navigate the first stretch) about 1.8 miles.  A 4WD vehicle can continue past this point, but you’ll have to navigate some pretty serious mudholes and eventually steep-ish rock slides…).  Most people park here and begin walking.

      From the pullout area on Permanente Rd (waypoint 61.77468, -148.60545) begin walking the ATV trail. The trail is established and easy to follow, but expect to get your feet wet negotiating through mud holes and slippery, mucky sections of trail. After ¾ mile, or 20ish minutes, the trail forks. Going left takes you towards the canyon take out (so if you didn’t stage a car at the bridge and are planning on getting out early/not into paddling the final 6 miles of class II, you will hike back towards this intersection at the end of the day to get back to your vehicle). Head right to continue on the trail up the valley towards the put-in.  You’ll walk almost 5 more miles until an obvious creek crossing with a gravel pull out/camping spot on the right. Cross the creek and continue on uphill for another mile. It’s after the second crossing, not the first, where you hike down towards the river. Takeout hike: You can hike out shortly after “Gotta Give Er.” It’s just over 2 miles back to your car OR paddle 6 miles of class II back to the highway bridge.

      Kings Canyon put-in, early September, low water

       

      River Description:

      Legend & inspiration: Russ Biggs on the entrance rapid leading into the canyon. September, low water

      You’ll start off with almost 3 miles of class III features to warm up and play around in. After 2 miles, you’ll see an obvious tan cut bank on the left; this appears about 1 mile before the canyon’s entry rapid. When you see large rocks appear in the river and a gradual turn towards the right, you can get out and scout on the right or read and run a series of small holes and ledges.  The canyon soon walls in after this. Most of the rapids in the canyon are tight pinches with small horizon lines, many around sharp bends. At lower water, there’s obvious tongues and ample recovery time between rapids, but expect bigger & more powerful holes and features to punch through at higher flows.

      About 1.5 miles into the canyon, immediately after a no-name rapid, the canyon walls constrict significantly with a very steep horizon line, signifying the most difficult rapid, Gotta Giv Er (IV-V).

      Top of “Gotta Giv’er” Photo: Jule Harle

      This rapid is worth scouting, as the drop is steep and can hold wood. The best scout and opportunity to set safety is on the right side; the portage can be slippery and awkward, but very doable nonetheless. If you’re not planning on running Gotta Give Er, another option is to get out on the left, deflate boats/pack up and scramble up and out of the canyon, as the take out is a few hundred feet downstream of this rapid anyways. In 2021, locals placed an orange milk crate here on the left, above the rapid. With higher water this rapid turns into a long, narrow stretch of powerful ledge holes and boils to navigate; with lower flows the rapid feels steeper, but the holes much more manageable. It can be a class IV-V move, depending on water levels.  There’s a few fun moves after this too.

      After you “Give Er,” the take out (if you’re hiking back to your vehicle via ATV trails,) is a few hundred feet away, downstream on the left. Keep your eyes peeled for a small eddy downstream of a large rock, or use waypoint: 61.79424, -148.61359, as it isn’t the most obvious or intuitive if it’s your first time down. It’s easiest to deflate and pack up on this rocky bench before scrambling the final 15 feet out of the canyon. You can also float on for 6 more miles of splashy class II with the occasional class III feature, taking out at the highway bridge. Keep in mind it can feel pretty slow and low as it braids out, the closer you get to the road.

      If taking out here, bushwhack for a few hundred feet before intersecting with the ATV trail. Follow the trail downstream for almost 1/2 mile before veering left. Another 1.5 miles of walking takes you back to your car.

      Canyon end, immediately before takeout of left (hard to find if 1st time down!)

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    Forums Alaska Rivers Mat-Su Valley Region Kings River Canyon