2015 Happy River Trip Report

Like many of the other paddlers here, I’ve read about the Happy River in Embick’s Fast and Cold and was excited to get the spur-of-the-moment chance to float this with a friend this last weekend. We flew out of Talkeetna with Alaska Bush Floatplane service for $1120 total, roundtrip from the Sheep Lake dropoff at the headwaters to the Lake Creek Lodge, about 3 hours float time past the Skwentna airstrip. We left Talkeetna at 130pm and after a 15 minute walk over low brush at Sheep Lake were rigging the packrafts by 245 and floating by 330. The first hour or so of the Happy is a tiny creek with very little scraping and one 30 yard portage where the creek disappears into the alders. After that it picks up speed and around 30 minutes or so later, the Happy becomes a super fun, moderately spicy class III boulder garden that has one or two technical -IV drops. It’s an incredibly scenic section of moderate water depth and lots of rock dodging at the water level we experienced. We floated for approximately 2 1/2 hours as the river continued to pick up speed and eventually camped right above what we thought is the entrance of the canyon at about 8pm. This point is very close to the same longitude as Rainy Pass Lodge, although we never saw an obvious trail leading that way. The next morning we entered the canyon at around 10am and hit the Skwenta confluence at 130pm. The canyon is also incredibly scenic with blind and fast moving turns that require concentration and route finding as you enter the turns and powerful eddies. There was no appreciable wood hazard in the canyon, and I was pleasantly surprised to find most of the rapids to be “just enough” to still be fun for an intermediate paddler in a fully loaded packraft. There are a few good places to stop in the canyon to get pictures or to camp if you are a small group.

The Skwentna was running very fast when we arrived. It was also a scenic fun float, at least for the first few hours. After we passed the large rock monoliths it braided out significantly and became much less enjoyable with more route finding, scraping, tons of sweeper and strainer trees, and weird hydraulics. Stick to the main channel if you can find it, even if it means big sweeping river turns. We floated approximately 8 hours before camping at a large gravel bar where the river had congealed back down to one channel. The next morning we passed another canyon like section and from here there it was approximately another 4 hours of make-your-wrist-sore paddling to Lake Creek Lodge. You’ll see a handful of cabins on river left as you pass the Skwentna airstrip and from that point the beer and pizza can be found on river left at the lodge (there will be about 10 flat bottom boats, a big American flag, and unmistakable sign for the lodge). We called for pickup at 330pm and after 20 minute flight we were driving back to Anchorage by 5. Total trip length was around 98 river miles.

I think this is probably the most scenic river I’ve personally floated, and it certainly deserves the five star rating.