Six Mile Creek

Forums Alaska Rivers Girdwood and Hope Region Six Mile Creek

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    Jule Harle

      Character: Six Mile Creek is Alaska’s premier roadside run for class IV whitewater, but has something for all abilities! The section upstream of first canyon as well as between first & second canyons are great training grounds for aspiring class III paddlers or those seeking some surf practice. It’s also the venue for Tim Johnson’s annual Six Mile Creek Bluegrass & Whitewater Festival- a rowdy weekend with entertaining whitewater races and live music.


      There is almost always enough water to paddle Six Mile, however most packrafters seek out lower levels for the canyons, as they become pushy and powerful above 9.5 ft (1000 cfs). 


      The paddling season in Southcentral kicks off in mid-late April when Six Mile opens up. The flow starts low, approx 400-600 cfs, but begins quickly picking up as the days get longer & warmer, melting the winter’s snowpack. The flow increases drastically by mid May & generally reaches its apex in late June.  Expect rain spikes later in the summer or fall.  You’ll see packrafters on the canyons of Six Mile in the early season, before peak snowmelt, and again in late July-October, after the high waters of summer.

      Six Mile at high water is NO PLACE FOR A PACKRAFT unless you’re a BAMF.  Extremely skilled kayakers & rafters frequently rally the canyons at higher flows, but the rapids are too powerful & stout for the average whitewater packrafter. There are several different put-in options, depending on what kind of whitewater you’re seeking and what water levels are.


      Water Level: Six Mile is gauged by the USGS. It is normally packrafted at levels below 9.8 ft, or 1350 cfs. It’s most commonly packrafted between 300-1000 cfs. Six Mile canyons can and have been packrafted as high as 1600  cfs, but this is  rare. It’s only appropriate for small crews of solid class IV/V boaters who are familiar with the lines & incredibly fast at self-rescue/getting back into or capable of rolling their boats.


      Jule: “Hey, what’s the highest you’ve packrafted Six Mile?”


      Solid Kayaker Who Also Packrafts: “Well, I’ve been in there at 10 ft, but everyone in our crew swam-we all self-rescued quickly though. If a bunch of jabroni packrafters went into the canyons at 10 ft, they would probably be destroyed…they would definitely lose gear anyways.”


      Packrafters have gotten a negative reputation on Six Mile, as many kayakers & rafting groups have assisted with rescues or gear retrieval from under prepared folks who got in over their heads. Be smart: know the water level, your ability & go with someone

      who is familiar with the run, especially if it’s your first time down. Go when it’s low, but know that even at low water, it’s still class IV.


      Six Mile levels are usually referred to in “feet,” so here is a conversion for CFS:

      There are numerous put-in & take out options depending on your skill set, group size, time of year, water level, etc. For this reason, river sections are broken up, each with their own information. Sections appear in respective sequential order.

      While the sections before or between the canyons are suitable for packrafts at most water levels, please note that the difficulty ratings for the 3 canyon sections are based on commonly packrafted flows, in the 8-9.5 ft, or 200-1000 cfs range. The rapid ratings are in regards to these lower levels; the described rapids become more difficult with higher flows. Difficulty can increase to class IV+ (First & Second canyons) or V (Third canyon) with flows higher than 10 ft or 1500 cfs.



      Difficulty: II

      Length: 3 miles

      Time: 45 min-1 hour

      Gauge: Six Mile gauge

      Shuttle: 2.5 miles

      Put in: Highway Bridge over East Fork Six Mile, about 2.5 miles after Johnson Pass TH if coming from Turnagain Pass.

      Take out: Commercial put-in for 1st canyon, additional 2.5 miles from put-in; look for large paved pullout. 


      River Description: The upper stretches of the East Fork of Six Mile are great training grounds for beginning paddlers at most water levels, however it feels pretty low & slow below 9.2 ft.  There aren’t many notable rapids, but have the occasional class II wave train and rock to dodge. It’s a better learning environment than nearby Granite Creek, as the banks are less alder choked- wood is still present on some of the shores, but the East Fork is not as swift & much less intimidating. There are great venues for catching eddies & ferry practice.


      After 3 miles you’ll see take out parking on the left. It is possible to continue downstream

      another 2 miles, taking out directly above the start of the first canyon. This section of the East Fork is slightly more challenging than the initial 3 miles; there are sharper twists & turns, with a handful of larger waves & holes.  This section is worth doing, as the opportunities for practicing skills are excellent & the views stunning. The difficulty in this section increases slightly, class II+, possibly up to class III at certain water levels, with the largest feature shortly before the take out.


      Be sure to scout this take out! The road does not go down to the creek; there is a faint

      social trail near a small eddy on the left, upstream of Gulch Creek. This eddy is easy

      to miss-especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Also worth noting- at higher flows this take out eddy disappears! When Six Mile nears 10 ft, this is NOT a good place for large groups or inexperienced paddlers- if you were to miss this takeout, you’d be going into the class IV rapids of first canyon.  Whoopsy Daisy.




      Difficulty: IV

      Length: 2.6 miles

      Time: 30-45 min

      Gauge: Six Mile Gauge

      Shuttle: 2.5-3 miles, varies


      Put-in: Begin at the commercial rafting pullout, 68 miles South of Anchorage on the Seward

      Highway for a 2 miles of warm up. You can also put-in directly above first canyon: drive 1.5 miles after the commercial put-in, parking at the pullout before the green Hope Road cut off sign. From here, head down the social trail leading to the creek.


      Takeout: There’s a pullout near the island, about a mile after the canyon ends; look for a gravel

      road about 1 mile down the Hope Rd cut off; however, the Elbows & Boston Bar are more commonly used take outs.


      River Description: From the commercial raft put-in, you’ll have 2 miles of class II until Gulch Creek comes in steeply from the right. The river then makes an abrupt left turn; signaling the beginning of the first canyon. At flows under 9.5 feet you can get out on the rocks on the left & scout. You can also put-in here, immediately above the entrance rapid, 17th Ender (IV), via the trail leading downhill from the gravel pullout at the highway.  Note: There’s also great views from up high on the canyon rim here- excellent vantage points for photos & videos. This is also the staging area for the annual Six Mile Creek Whitewater & Bluegrass Festival’s head to head race series.

      Typical packraft race carnage in 17th ender at Sixmile Fest. July 2023

      Taylor entering 1st canyon, below 17th ender, 8.5 ft


      17th Ender (III+/IV) is a river wide ledge drop that has numerous lines, depending on the level.  Most paddlers avoid the dead center, as the hole & its seams can flip or surf boats.  Predator (III+/IV-) comes soon after, once the canyon walls become narrow & you enter a slot- running right of center is most common. There is a large recovery pool shortly after the bridge on the left when the slot opens up. Immediately downstream lies Waterfall (IV), a broken 5 foot ledge where the river constricts again; numerous lines exist , but left of center is common.


      After Waterfall, the creek pinches through a narrow slot known as the Notch (III) with an undercut wall at the end on the right. Stay left of the wall when you get to the bottom! Screaming Right Turn (III+) is a few more bends downstream; an angled ledge with a dramatic right turn- run on the right to miss the hole. 


      A few more class II+ features await before Canyon Creek comes in on the left. Soon after Canyon Creek, there’s a fun & long class III feature. (Refer to “Between 1st & 2nd Canyons” for description).  After another 0.3 miles, when Six Mile splits in two at an island, is your first take out opportunity; the Elbows & Boston Bar are also popular take out options.




      Difficulty: III

      Length: 4 miles

      Time: 30-45 min

      Gauge: Six Mile Gauge

      Shuttle: 3.5 miles


      Put in: Canyon Creek bridge. Underneath the Canyon Creek bridge on the Seward Highway. Turn right onto the Hope cut off road, immediately taking another right into the massive pullout. This is where local rafting outfits stage their guests for Six Mile; there can be a lot of activity in this lot during summer weekends. Look for a dirt road near the bathrooms heading down to the Canyon Creek & Six Mile confluence. 2WD vehicles can usually handle this road just fine.


      Takeout: Boston Bar, mile 3.4 on Hope cut off rd. There’s an ATV trail down to the creek. 


      River Description: This is an excellent, mostly class II+ run with a handful of friendly class III features- an

      ideal venue for learning and refining eddy catches & peel outs, ferrying and surfing skillz. This section is great at most water levels, but begins to feel slow & bony when the gauge reads under 9 ft.


      You’ll float down a few hundred feet of class II on Canyon Creek before the Six Mile confluence. Once on Six Mile, there’s just under a mile of class II before a continuous class III rapid. You’ll know it’s coming when you see a drainage coming in from the right; you can get out and scout it at the top of the island on the left side. There’s usually 2 channels here with higher flows; a really faint one on the left, with most of the water going right. This rapid has a series of waves and holes to either hit, miss, thread around or even surf. You can completely sneak it on the left when above 10 ft; most paddlers thread through the features, via numerous lines & catching micro eddies mid rapid.

      This is one of my favorite venues to teach & practice paddling skills and boat control.  You can hike back upstream on the river left side fairly easy for multiple laps. There’s also a large swirling eddy on the right that can hold logs… or rogue boats during swims.


      Shortly after the river splits, either channel goes, but the right has more water- be decisive however, as the top of the island is notorious for holding wood. From here, you’ll float another 1.5 miles of class II before The Elbows (III-). This feature has entry waves and swirly water when channels converge together at the bottom. About ⅓ mile after the Elbows, the creek makes a sharp right turn with a rock island just left

      of center. This is an excellent spot to play or surf around. There’s also a small slot that you can run on the far left side of the rock island if there’s enough water. 


      Expect a few more play waves and fun features on the way to Boston Bar takeout. As you near it, the creek makes a sharp turn to the left after the Boston Bar avalanche path- in early season it will still have snow, but later in the summer it’s a wide green area cleared of trees where invisible cattle graze wild & free :)


      The conservative move for beginners is to hug the left bank on the inside of the turn, especially at flows above 10 ft. There’s a super fun class III play wave… but it can flip an un-expecting paddler at higher flows. This isn’t a hazard in and of itself, however you need to recover quickly as the 2nd canyon rapids begin soon after. You can take out here on the left, walking a few hundred feet up an ATV trail to the road, or continue on down 2nd canyon (class IV).



      Difficulty: IV

      Length: 1.3 miles

      Time: 30-45 min

      Gauge: Six Mile Gauge

      Shuttle: 1.2 miles


      Put-in: Boston Bar, mile 3.4 on Hope cut off rd. There’s an ATV trail down to the creek.


      Takeout: Banjo’s Fishing Hole, a large parking area on mile 4.5 on Hope cut-off rd. Take the stairs down to the creek.


      River Description: The second canyon is a step up in difficulty from the first canyon, but is much shorter, consisting of 4 main rapids. You can warm up on the Boston Bar play wave before getting

      into the canyon. After the play wave, the creek bends to the right immediately before Pearly Gates.


      Pearly Gates (IV-) is a river wide 5 ft tall ledge. At levels below 9 feet, a boof ledge exists on the right (becoming a sticky hole with higher flows); a clean tongue on the left exists at all levels. There’s a large left eddy afterwards, just upstream of the Nozzle (IV); you can also get out here to scout. The Nozzle is a chaotic series of waves & holes best run down the center, but numerous lines exist.


      After the Nozzle, there’s a moment to chill, breathe or eddy out on the left before the class III move leading into the Anvil (IV). The Anvil is fast & continuous as the creek constricts, smashing into both sides of the canyon walls. The last notable rapid, Beaver Drop (III+), has an obvious horizon line and can be run almost anywhere, but a clean tongue exists right of center. There’s a great play wave just upstream of Banjo’s Hole; this is also the take out if you’re not paddling 3rd canyon.



      Difficulty: IV/IV+

      Length: 3.4 miles

      Time: 1-2 hours

      Gauge: Six Mile Gauge

      Shuttle: 3 miles


      Put-in: Banjo’s Fishing Hole, a large parking area on mile 4.5 on Hope cut off rd. Take the

      stairs down to the creek.


      Takeout: The 3rd canyon take out is a bit tricker & less obvious than the 1st & 2nd canyon

      access points. It is near mile 7.3 on the Hope Road. Shortly after a sign warning for hidden driveways, look for a steep gravel road. This road is immediately before a mailbox on the right, and a little ways before Chugach Outdoor Center.


      River Description: The difficulty between 2nd & 3rd canyon is significant; not only are the rapids harder,

      greater in number, but many have less recovery time than the other canyons. 


      From Banjo’s Fishing Hole, there’s almost a mile of class II with occasional class III rapids before a definitive horizon with a large jagged rock splitting through the creek. This is Staircase- the first of the major drops & hands down the most difficult. Walker Creek comes in a few hundred feet on the right upstream of Staircase; get out in the eddy on the left a few hundred feet downstream of Walker to scout or portage. The move involves starting right of center through the entry hole before working left through the 4 foot wide slot. The final part of the rapid involves a steep and sticky ledge- usually run right of center at lower flows.

      Charlie threads the entrance slot at Staircase Rapid, 8.8 ft.

      Staircase’s second ledge can EAT BOATS. Aggggh! :)


      Downstream of Staircase lie 2 class III rapids before Suckhole (IV). The first has a large boulder in the center of the river before making a sharp right turn. There’s a boof ledge/sneak line on the far right, but the common line is to avoid the hole on the left before working right. Suckhole is notorious for flipping rafts at medium flows, approx 1500 cfs, but with levels most packrafters run it, it’s lost a lot of its power.

      Spencer Williamson in Suckhole Rapid, 8.7 ft. Photo: Jule Harle


      Soon after is Zig Zag (IV-), a series of small waves and holes. It’s best run with a left-right-left move, but you’ll likely hit some features regardless.


      In Merry Go Round (IV), you’ll enter from the right before taking a ride on the merry-go-round, getting pushed left; there’s a small eddy above a large hole if you’d like to boat scout.  Either stay super left and power into the final hole, or ferry hard and try to ride down the tongue just to the right of that hole.


      Then comes Jaws (IV), named for the sharp shark fin looking rocks on the bottom left of the rapid, however, the crux moves are in the beginning. Numerous lines exist, as it consists of holes and potential pin rocks. A common line is to start right and work towards the center before moving right again, avoiding holes & rocks along the way.


      Soon after awaits George Foreman (III+), a steep and chunky ledge drop that is best run on the right. A few more class II/III- moves keep things interesting before the last significant rapid, Junkyard Dog (IV).  Junkyard Dog is a broken ledge of basement rock with an obvious chute on the right

      side. At flows above 9 ft, another chute to the left of this opens up, although it is rockier & has less water. Once in either chute, prepare for some funny laterals while you go down.


      The creek then eases up- stay on the lookout for one of the best play waves on the run upstream of the takeout. After Falls Creek comes in on the right, you’ll have about ¼ mile until the take out.

      • This topic was modified 4 months ago by Jule Harle.
      • This topic was modified 4 months ago by Jule Harle.
      • This topic was modified 4 months ago by Jule Harle.
      • This topic was modified 4 months ago by Jule Harle.
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    Forums Alaska Rivers Girdwood and Hope Region Six Mile Creek