Wells Creek

Forums Alaska Rivers Alaska Range Region Wells Creek

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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: III (IV)
      Length: Varies, 8 miles/2-3 hrs
      Gauge: None
      Shuttle: None, start & end at your vehicle!

      Character:  Wells Creek is definitely worth your while if you’re in the Denali area.  A great intermediate day trip that seems to have water most of the season. The canyon section has unique bends with blind corners that might intimidate a novice boater, but stays class III (with the exception of one drop). The rapids are all scoutable/portagable- including the chunky steep class IV ledge series halfway into the canyon. The blue water and constant “busy action” of this creek is sure not to disappoint.

      Put in: From Cantwell, head East onto the Denali Highway.  Drive 18 miles (road turns to gravel about 2 miles in) until mile marker 177.  Look for the steep dirt switchbacks heading down to the Nenana River.  Drive to the turnaround at the bottom.  You’ll have to blow up boats and ferry across the slow moving class I Nenana to access the ATV trail on the upstream side of Wells Creek (river right side of Wells).

      Hike Description:  After ferrying across the Nenana, pack up boats and look for the ATV trail upstream of Well’s creek mouth, waypoint 63.37569, -148.37523. !!GUIDEBOOK AMENDMENT!! For where the trail begins, I wrote “downstream side,”in guidebook =incorrect, it’s upstream side of Wells aka river left.   (Thanks Tim Treuer for bringing this to my attention!) The trail starts off pretty decent, and quickly begins climbing uphill.  It tops out around 2500 ft, where good views of the Alaska range come into view once on the knoll.  The trail begins contouring the creek, heading east.  After 3.75 miles you’ll come to a fork, turn left here.  After about 4.5 miles of hiking, the trail conditions gradually deteriorate and give way to sloppy mud puddles and bog.  Expect to get your feet wet.  During some bog stretches, the trail seems faint and hard to follow.  After 8 miles, when the trail really seems to dissipate and thin out, start heading left/west towards the creek on whatever game trail looks best for the final 1/3 mile to the creek.

       

      River Description: 

      Continuous class II-III whitewater, low flows, September

      Wells Creek starts off as continuous class II/II+ for the first few miles and begins gradually demanding more of your attention the longer you paddle.  After 3 miles, the gradient increases and there are more rocks in the river; class II eventually gives way to class III features.  Most of the class III rapid stretches have class II breaks & boogie water between them; there’s plenty of time and opportunity to eddy out throughout the run.  At higher flows from early summer snowmelt, this creek will feel fast and incredibly busy, but remains class III in difficulty.  After about 5 miles, the surrounding topography becomes more constricted.  The canyon is relatively friendly as it never traps or walls you in; it begins when the river makes a sharp right turn at the large white boulders.  Most of the rapids are around sharp bends; paddlers comfortable with boat scouting can easily boat scout, although less experienced boaters may want to get out and look.  Although many paddlers feel a sense of tension knowing a significant class IV rapid is around one of these bends! 😉  When you see a waterfall drainage coming in on the right, know that you’ve got a few more bends until the big rapid.  The rapid is an incredibly obvious horizon line, unlike the “read and run” features in the rest of the canyon.  When you see the horizon line, GET OUT on the left to scout or portage.   Those interested in running it may want to ferry across and scout the entrance ledge from the right side of the river. 

      Jeremy Wells on the 2nd part of the Ledge Drop

      The rapid begins with a steep & chunky ledge that has an intimidating flake rock before continuing onto the second, more straightforward ledge with an easy tongue.  After this rapid, the canyon continues with more straightforward class III action for almost 2 more miles before it opens up and mellows out to class II until the confluence with the Nenana.  Approx water time: 2.5-3 hrs.

      Haley Johnston scouting 1st part of the Ledge Drop, late August

       

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    Forums Alaska Rivers Alaska Range Region Wells Creek