Twentymile River

Forums Alaska Rivers Girdwood and Hope Region Twentymile 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: II
      Length: 14 miles
      Shuttle: 13 miles

      Put-in: Rosehip Creek

      Takeout: Twentymile boat launch, south of Girdwood

      Character: A popular beginner packrafting run for southcentral Alaska paddlers.  Great symmetry with equal amounts hiking & paddling.  This can be done as a long day trip or casual overnight.  This is many people’s first real taste of Alaska packrafting.  This trip has a reputation for being “epic” as the river portion has some surprises for the unaware beginner & the hike is often underestimated. This run is often spoken of casually, however although the whitewater is beginner friendly, there are some safety concerns & trip planning considerations to be aware of when getting ready for this trip (see below descriptions)

      Water Level: Twentymile almost always has good water levels.  However, the initial 3/4 mile of the initial Rosehip Creek is glacial; expect it to be higher in the summer & low in the fall.  Some packrafters walk down Rosehip Creek vs. trying to scrape down late season.   Twentymile usually isn’t attempted until mid June, as Berry Pass holds snow for awhile.  Water levels can good later into the year, but once it begins snowing up high, the Twentymile season is usually done, as hiking is less ideal & in avalanche terrain.

      Hike Description: You can begin the hike at either Alyeska Resort or the 5K Nordic Loop in Girdwood on the Hand Tram/Winner Creek Trail.  If beginning from the Nordic look parking lot, stay to the right on the gravel road (groomed ski trail in winter) for ½ mile, keeping your eyes open for a small trail on the right that connects you to the Winner Creek trail.  From here, the trail is wide & easy walking for the next 2 miles.

      Creek crossing before Berry Pass

      At the trail junction, head right, following signs towards Berry Pass.  The trail soon begins gradually working up the Winner Creek Valley and becomes more narrow.  In summer months, expect the trail to be overgrown & brushy with berry bushes & cow parsnip- you may get soaking wet if there’s morning dew or it has rained recently.

      There are a few creek crossings, but most have strategically placed logs over them as makeshift bridges.  Just before 6 miles into the hike, there’s a steep & rocky creek crossing that looks intimidating, as the water is loud from the gradient & there’s a cascading waterfall from above.  The better place to cross is 20-30 ft higher than the trail would suggest.  

      After the crossing, it’s another mile until you get to Berry Pass, elevation 2070 ft.  From here, the trail winds through beautiful alpine tundra with views of neighboring Chugach Peaks.  It’s worth taking some time up high to soak up the views or take an extended break.  Plenty of camping spots if you’re doing this trip as an overnight.

      The trail descends gradually at first from the pass into the Primrose Creek Valley.  Once you leave the alpine, the trail again becomes thick & brushy & hard to see your feet at times.  This part is what many people refer to as “the bushwhack,” although there is a social trail the whole way down.   After 10 miles of total walking, you’ll see a bridge over Primrose Creek.  This bridge to nowhere offers some cool views of Primrose Creek, but follow signs towards the left that direct you down towards the creek.  Follow this unmaintained social trail for less than ¼ mile until meeting with Primrose.  Hike distance & time: 11.5 miles, 5-7 hrs. 

      River Description: Most people put on here, on the gravel bar & paddle Primrose Creek for ¾ mile until the confluence with Twentymile.   If the water is high, the gravel bar is not the most ideal spot for a large group put in, but it works.  If the water is low & clear (late summer or in the fall) it might be worth walking down Primrose Creek.  Even if it looks like there’s enough water to float, expect this section to feel bumpy and rocky. 

      Although Primrose is class II, beginners often get in trouble here, as there is problem wood and mandatory portages that come up quickly.  Most of the portages are on the left, but this can change as new wood spots can easily be created.  If you’re not familiar with looking downstream & avoiding hazards, go with someone who is familiar with the run or can read rivers.  MANY paddlers have had scary swims and lost gear in these sections.  In 2021, the longest portage was ¼ mile in,  (waypoint 60.96507, -148.89275).  Get out on the left, as the creek becomes impassable from overgrown brush.  Walk a few minutes downstream before putting back on.  The creek may braid & thin out at times; stay on guard for wood & be ready to get out of your boat quickly.

      Putting back in downstream of the brush portage

      Once you actually get to Twentymile, you’ll have much more water and better views.  However, don’t relax just yet, as there are some tricky wood spots to maneuver around and brushy banks to avoid for the next 2 miles.  After 2 miles, you’ll have to get out & portage on the left; the creek again goes into impassable overgrown brush.  In 2021, this spot was: waypoint 60.95425, -148.86108, but this could easily change from year to year.

      You’ll navigate about 2 more miles of class II before the river begins to widen and gradually slows down to class I.  Great photo opportunities & break beaches throughout this stretch.  As you progress downstream, the water becomes even slower moving- less of a river and more of a “moving lake” kind of feel.   The last 6-7 miles are a popular jet boating area; be on the lookout and please yield. (it’s courtesy to “group up” or at least paddle to the same side of the river when a motorboat approaches).

      The final 2 miles can serve up a pretty strong upstream wind from the Turnagain Arm.  Be prepared to paddle hard- it is definitely worth timing your last few miles with an outgoing tide.  Attempting to paddle against an incoming high tide can feel like a lost battle, especially with an upstream wind.  Total paddle time: 4-6 hrs. 

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    Forums Alaska Rivers Girdwood and Hope Region Twentymile River