Lower Honolulu Creek: “Waikiki” Section

Forums Alaska Rivers Alaska Range Region Lower Honolulu Creek: “Waikiki” Section

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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: IV
      Length: 11 miles, 2-3 hrs water time
      Gauge: None
      Shuttle: 4 miles
      Put in: Mini island above Cave rapid: 63.02835, -149.33908

      Takeout: Honolulu Creek Bridge, mile 178 Parks Hwy

      Character: Honolulu Creek is hands down one of my favorite packraft day trips in the state. High quality packraft symmetry- the hiking is superb and whitewater quality is unparallelled. The more popular “Waikiki” section puts you below the upper gorge, but still delivers plenty of class III+ boulder gardens alongside some class IV drops.

      At lower volume flows, the “Waikiki” section is Class III+ (with 2 class IV rapids, both portageable). However, with higher water, it would take on more of a Class IV character as the rapids are pushier and pools disappear. The upper section is certainly packraftable, but is a more committing class IV run; small group sizes are ideal, as eddies are small and many of the rapids must be boat scouted. Note that this description does not contain details on the significantly more difficult sections: the Upper Gorge or Cave Rapids Gorge.

      Water Level: Honolulu has no gauge; one of the challenges involves guessing the water level. Viewing the creek from the bridge is the best way to gauge it. If there is enough water to float the stream immediately above and below the bridge, the run is good to go- even if it looks boney, the upper stretches should be good. If there is more than enough water flowing through the shoals above the bridge, be prepared for a more intense class IV run, especially in the upper canyon sections above the Waikiki put-in. Generally, Honolulu is high during early summer runoff (late May-June) runnable into mid July, or after rainy periods in late summer/early fall.  Expect the alpine hike to have snow through June.

      Hike Description: From Wasilla, drive North on the Parks Highway for 2 hours until reaching the Hurricane Gulch bridge and parking area, near mile marker 174.  After parking in the lot by the chasm, follow an obvious ATV trail north of Hurricane Gulch, directly past the bridge the trail immediately heads up a steep hill- you can’t miss it. The double track meanders and climbs gradually above brushline for 1.5-2 hours before becoming harder to follow as tundra gives way to shale. You’ll be tempted to follow the trail up towards the Little Honolulu drainage on your left, however you should actually leave the main trail & head right, towards a no name alpine lake that’s slightly southeast of the trail. You’ll sidehill briefly on the north (left) side of the ridge by the lake. Once past the lake, begin climbing up the scree towards the pass. The climb from parking lot to pass is about 4 miles, with panoramic views of the Alaska Range across the Chulitna valley on a clear day.  I’ve done this hike on shitty weather days though and 100% missed the views.  Navigation is obviously trickier if it’s your first time on this route. Double suck, darn!

      From the pass, continue heading east for another 5 miles of alpine walking before descending into the Honolulu valley. First, follow a broad, nearly flat tundra bench eastward; there are 2 valleys you can drop into to access the creek. The first one looks steep from the top and is best descended on the southern (right) side of the creek. You do NOT need to walk through the brush here, instead opt to head more to the right, staying high, as the brush gets thick; you’ll find the brush more open or scree to walk down.

      Once you’re down, pick and pluck your way through thick brush as you make your way to the river.  This option puts you in on the “Lower Honolulu/Waikiki” section and bypasses Cave Rapid and the canyon section above it. If you would like to put in above Cave Rapid, hike upstream a few hundred yards towards the group of cottonwood trees. I’ve found the easiest way to put on here is the island in the middle of the river. (I’ve been able to fjord the channel whenever I’ve done this) Hike Time: 5-7 hours.

      Water Description: Lower Honolulu/Waikiki bypasses the first 2 gorges (upper gorge), putting in just above the class IV- Cave rapid.  The rapid is named so, be the river level cave on the right shortly before the drop.  The rapid has numerous lines & can be boat scouted or land scouted from the left shore if you didn’t get a good look when you were hiking nearby.  After more class II+ warm up, you’ll enter a small gorge.  You’ll see a large tan colored rock on your left letting you know you’re near the California Ledge Drop; the first of the 2 larger drops on this section.   The best scouting is on the right; some choose to get out early (not an ideal eddy situation for groups), but you can run the class III lead in, that takes you to a much larger eddy on the right.  Most paddlers run the left side; best portaging is on the right. 

      Jule takes the left line @ California Ledge, mid July

      Slideways Rapid! Mid July

      1.5 miles of class III-III+ boulder gardens follow, generally interspersed with class II pools before the 2nd major rapid, Slideways.  (You’ll know you’re near Slideways after a long stretch of class II is interrupted by a class III boulder drop rapid with a significant creek coming in at the end from the right)   Slideways can be scouted on either right or left (the left side is the better scout, although the right side has better portaging).  At certain flows, the center of this drop could be quite retentive at the steep pourover in the center; there are possible lines on the right or left sides.   Continue for 1.5 miles of class II-III boogie water before a final mini-gorge referred to as “Monkey’s Garden.” This section begins when you see canyon walls and the river turning to the left; big rocks appear sharp and more undercut when compared to Honolulu’s other Class III boulder gardens.  You can look at the entrance rapid on the left, or boat scout it as you go.  With higher water levels, some of the drops in Monkey’s Garden Gorge will take on more of a class IV character as the holes become much larger (I’ve flipped in them, they’ve caught be off guard:) & water significantly pushier.

      Jule Harle playing in the Monkey’s Garden, mid July.  Photo: Trip Kinney

      After 2.5 miles, Monkey’s Garden ends & the valley opens up. Honolulu slows down and turns into class II as it makes its way out of the mountains into the Chulitna valley. Keep your eyes open for wood during the final 3 gravelly miles to the Parks Highway bridge.  Paddling time: 2-3 hrs.

      • This topic was modified 2 months ago by Jule Harle.
      • This topic was modified 1 month ago by Jule Harle.
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    Forums Alaska Rivers Alaska Range Region Lower Honolulu Creek: “Waikiki” Section