Klutina River

Forums Alaska Rivers Glennallen-Valdez Region Klutina 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: Upper: Class I-II, Middle & Lower: Class III-
      Length: Up to 26 miles
      Gauge: NWS Klutina River at Copper Center Gauge https://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?gage=klua2&wfo=pafc3
      Shuttle: None (if hiking) OR up to 25 miles if using a vehicle/getting dropped off
      Put-in: Varies, many options.  See Hike Description 

      Takeout: Richardson Highway bridge, MP 100.7

      Character: Klutina River feels similar to the Kenai Canyon, in that it drains from a glacial lake and has a beautiful teal color.  This high volume run is fast and fairly continuous, but not incredibly technical.  The  waves & holes are big, but there is plenty of space to maneuver around them.

      It’s popular among commercial fishing and rafting outfitters as the access road goes all the way up to it’s headwaters; expect to see other boaters on the water, many fishing for King Salmon.

      Water Level: Refer to the NWS Klutina River at Copper Center gauge.  It’s runnable from mid-May through October, but expect low flows in early and late seasons.  The river peaks in mid June, primarily from snowmelt- but, as drains from Klutina Lake, water levels are fairly constant throughout the season.  Higher flows make some of the whitewater features larger, but the pace picks up and feels significantly faster- a swimmer could easily become separated from their gear.

      Hike Description: From Glennallen, drive South on the Richardson Highway towards Copper Center.  The Klutina meets the highway at mile 100.7.  Turn right on Brenwick-Craig Road, about 1.3 miles before the Klutina River bridge.  Trail parking is just beyond the hotel.

      This access road is an easement through Ahtna property; requiring a recreational use permit to pass through their land.  In 2020, you could pay $20 day for an individual & $30 per group/vehicle for overnight use at the fee box at the beginning of the trail.  Permits are also available for purchase online at permits.ahtna-inc.com, in-person at the Ahtna Glennallen Corporate Headquarters, through the mail and by phone; check out https://www.ahtna.com/lands/land-permits/ for up to date rates and changes.  Keep in mind that most areas next to the road are private property and require a permit to camp.

      You can actually drive all 25 miles to the put-in with a 4WD vehicle or an ATV via a gravel/dirt access road to Klutina Lake.  If getting there by foot, plan for 1-2 days or 10-12 hours of mind numbing walking… unless you’re lucky and convince a truck or ATV to give you a ride!  A great shuttle option would be driving a vehicle up, stashing bikes at the takeout for a 2-3 hour bike ride back to the vehicle after paddling.

      Most of the road is in pretty good condition- but expect muddy sections, potholes and pools of standing water.  The muddiest section of the road is about 2 miles from the beginning, but lasts less than ¼ mile.  

      At mile 13, the road heads downhill towards the river.  This is a put-in option; most of the whitewater features begin just upstream of this stretch and continue for another 4 miles downstream. To access even more whitewater, continue another ¼ mile upstream before blowing up boats. 

      From here, the road continues along the river off and on until reaching the lake.  The last 5 miles of the road are the worst, with bigger and longer pools of standing water to drive or wade through.  If you aren’t attached to making it all the way to the lake and/or interested in paddling the slower moving class I stretches of the Upper Klutina, look for a pull out with a camping area just past a small drainage.

      If you continue on to the lake, you’ll see various put-in opportunities along the way- with the biggest most open spot being ½ mile from the lake.  This is the last decent place for bigger groups to stage/blow up boats, as the areas alongside Klutina Lake are privately owned residences with cabins, boats, docks, etc- please respect private property and people who live here.

      River Description: Total from Lake to Hwy bridge: 26 miles, 4-6 hrs

      Cooks Bend

      Upper Klutina (I-II): Mile 1-5, 1 hour

      The upper 5 miles from the lake are class I and feel more like a “moving lake” than an actual river when compared to the other stretches.  Once 3 miles from the lake, the river braids out; stay alert for wood and logjams here.

      Middle Klutina (III-): Mile 5-13, 1.5 hours

      Five miles from the lake, the river picks up speed quite obviously; you can literally hear whitewater and see some class II+ waves and features.  This area is referred to as “The Gorge” on USGS topo maps, although it never truly gorges out or walls you in.  The river maintains its big water, class II+ and III- character, with periodic breaks in excitement for the next 8 miles.  

      Lower Klutina (III): Mile 13-25, 2-3 hours

      Near road mile 13, you’ll see a large boulder on the right; the river begins picking up speed again here.  The holes and waves are bigger and higher in number, with less space between them.  

      The most notable rapid is known as Cooks Bend (III-).  The river cuts a hard right, with a rock wall in view.  The outside of this bend has a series of huge waves and holes; fun to hit or easy to sneak on the right.  Some of the most beautiful features are within this stretch- canyon walls & spires tower nearby and scenic bends throughout.  About 4 miles downstream of Cooks Bend, the intensity lessens to class II+.  There are still plenty of features to play in and stay aware of until the take out.  

      About 5 miles from the bridge, the Klutina pushes up against sandy cut banks; this muddies the teal color and gradually turns the river into a murky brown hue as the sediment mixes in.  

      There are two takeouts; the first is immediately upstream of the bridge on the left, but the takeout on the right downstream of the bridge is better, as it is larger and you can drive directly up to it.

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    Forums Alaska Rivers Glennallen-Valdez Region Klutina River