Aniakchak -- JT Lindholm

I would like to start a thread on the Aniakchak - a popular
buttboating destination.

I have some basic information at:

Feel free to add a note about your experiences or ask a question about
the trip by replying to this post.

I hope other common trips get thread, as well.

Happy boating!

Aniakchak Web.jpg

Awsome trip JT - great photos. And a first-rate expedition. I’m thinking about doing it as well. My dad was stationed in Port Heiden during WWII and tried to climb Aniakchak but was turned back by deep snow. As a kind of pilgrimage to the forgotten battlefields these guys served in in the Aleutians and Alaska, I’d like to climb it and raft down to the sea. I’m an old whitewater guide from way back, and have done several trips around Alaska, but I love the idea of the Alpaca pack rafts. Your photos pretty much answered my questions, first of which was going to be can it be done in Alpacas with no gear boat. Obviously yes.

Couple of other querries: What size Alpaca raft did you use? Did you just lash everything on the bow, and how did that effect the whitewater paddling?
What about wind and bear trouble - two things I’ve heard a lot about on the Aniakchak?
How difficult was the whitewater in the Alpacas? It’s described as Class 4 in two sections.
Did you have any trouble with the sharp lava rocks and these light rafts?
Would you do it again?



Hi Frabo,

I saw your questions on sizing and also Roman’s answer in another post. Don’t automatically go for a Llama. it is really about getting a boat that fits you well. Go for a llama if you are 6’ or taller but not if you are under that. There is pretty good sizing info on the site itself. That is tried and true over the years now. Where people got into trouble in recent years is several people sized down into yaks that really should have stayed with llamas. Those people are now rebuying llamas again. But it really is about getting the size that fits your particular height and leg length best.

Aniakchak is a great trip. And don’t worry about the rocks, the boats have never had a problem with them. Since I was out there 4 years ago there have been at least 10 other expiditions to Aniakchak and no one has reported any punctured tubes. And neither of the IV’s are really that grade for a packraft. Both rapids are totally runable with a packraft and the rest of the river is just fun.

Cheers, Sheri

Our crew is having a heck of a time getting in touch with air charter options out of Port Heiden and Chignik Bay for a post Aniakchak River pick-up. Any info you can pass along would be much appreciated.

Matt Hage
Anchorage, AK


Have you considered just closing the loop Hig & Erin style by paddling/walking the coast south a ways then hiking over to Meshik River and flat water paddling back to Pt Heiden?


Far, far better than the Meshik flatwater would be to continue down the coast to the Chigniks. Penair flies into/out of the Chigniks on the same route that stops at Port Heiden, thus completing your roundtrip ticket.

Hig and Erin’s first trip to Chignik came up the Meshik valley. They found a “petrified forest” in the pass above the Meshik.

Their more recent visit to the are is not quite as useful for re-visits:

We hired a charter with pilot Warren Johnson (Kenai/Big Bear Lake) for our return to Port Heiden from Aniakchak Bay. Warren appreciates the biz and can be contacted via email at . That is the best way to get in touch with him. Phone contact is (907) 989-2216 in Kenai and satellite phone at Bear Lake Lodge
1-480-768-2500 then enter 8816 3163 4197. Cessna 170 on the beach at low tide.

Returning via Chignik would be a great option. Alas our crew only had a week to make the traverse and explore along the way.

Matt Hage

I have two questions for those that have done the Aniakchak trip starting at Port Heiden:

  1. How did you obtain bear spray, and/or get some to Port Heiden?
  2. What was your cooking system, and again how did you get it to Port Heiden (white gas? alcohol?)

I’m trying to figure these things out because these items aren’t allowed on passenger flights. Thanks for any information!

Three of us had a good trip down the Aniakchak over the 4th. We flew out all of the gear (bear spray, fuel, rafts) with ACE air cargo) the day before, picked up our gear after exiting the Penair flight, and then were flying directly into the caldera with Branch River Air by 11 am. There were no bugs and full sunshine inside the caldera for two days, and the hikes up the 1931 Vent and around the warm springs were outstanding.

A day later I had relocated and greatly reinforced my tent inside a fort of willows because it had attempted to take flight during the night’s storm. There were steady 20 knot winds inside the caldera with an occasional much higher gusts and consistent lake-wide whitecaps by the afternoon. This forced a portage around the lake. Surprisingly, the winds around the entrance to the Gates were no worse than elsewhere so we continued out of the crater, and eventually scouted and portaged the Gate’s rapids. The river seemed higher than what I’ve seen in the videos online. We witnessed several large rockfalls hiking through this area.

The two day float to the coast was a continuous cycle of light rain and steady headwind. The beginner packrafter in our group navigated Hidden Creek rapids without any problems, and we portaged one sketchy corner of river that had some willows clogging part of the channel. We didn’t see any bears, but the low tide paddle at the mouth of the river didn’t reveal a substantial amount of fish either. By noon one day later we were flying out during a very fortunate break in the storm from the northern area of the lagoon near the NPS cabin.

Six of us did this trip from June 28th through July 5th from Anchorage. It was misty and rainy the first couple of days and great weather the rest. Had to navigate by previous parties GPS points coming into the caldera, as vis was about 200 ft or less. Great and easy hiking to the rim. If you can see, you will have no problem getting into the caldera. The atv trail that Jimmy (proprietor of Aleut Trading Post) dropped us off at, actually goes all the way to the rim. Though it is just a faint pair of ATV tracks once it gets real high.

I would recommend spending as much time as you can in the caldera (at least two full days) and at least two full days once you reach the coast (which is also amazing). Good NPS cabin on the coast. We flew out from Aniakchak bay with Katmai Air on a beaver.

Here is a video of the first day on the river. We walked the Gates (about a mile) because we didn’t want to risk a swim right off the bat. It was class 3 plus/4 minus at the flow we encountered. We ran everything else, including the rapids at Hidden Creek, which were about the same difficulty as the Gates. This video cuts out a little before Hidden Creek rapids. The river seemed a little low to us, but the vegetation wasn’t much above the water line:

Have not seen anything recent on this trip so I thought I’d add my experience. I did this trip solo from 14-18 July 2018, starting from the Meshik coastline. The villagers in Port Heiden are very helpful and were aghast that I wanted a ride to the OLD Village instead of the “trailhead”! My goal was coast to coast, no cheating. So…I flew commercial to Port Heiden. Weather of course is an issue. I waited for a weather (wind) window for my trip but that limited the number of days available for the trip . I was now down to the minimum: 3 day hike and 2 day paddle. Port Heiden had bear spray but no isopro fuel for stove. I ended up getting car gas and used my heavy MSR multi fuel stove. Call ahead to be sure they have supplies if you need them. Other option is pay to have gear flown in by cargo hauler. I did my own route planing/finding for the challenge so I may not have taken the easiest route. First regret was not having enough pre planned GPS waypoints. Weather was total fog/cloud so visibility was extremely limited so I relied on these often. (Never saw the rim until I got to Surprise Lake!). I followed the ATV trail out of the village past the “reindeer cabin”. The ATV trail diverged from my desired route so I did leave the trail as I was unsure where the ATV tail actually led. Sounds like it may go all the way (via Reindeer Creek) but I enjoyed the big ridge up along Barbara Creek. I circumnavigated several snow fields/creek beds for safely. Saw Reindeer. Rim crossing was sketchy in low vis. Again, pre planned waypoints would be helpful and this is when my GPS stopped performing this task, grrrr. Cautious descent till I got out of the cloud base…then was blown away not by wind but the scene. The caldera is amazing. Second regret: NOT spending a day or 2 just exploring the caldera! Camped at the Lake and rafted the next 2 days. I portaged most of the Gates as I was solo. Great run, first day dropped 760 feet in continual II with maybe a III or two on some drops. I admit I did flip at Hidden Creek rapids though…inattention on my part…its very doable. Saw bears once I got down to the flats but no problem. River mouth will be tricky at low tide, lots of mud flats. The cabin is renovated/preserved from the cannery worker days. (There used to be a fish trap off shore). Vey historic and beautiful. I chartered Rick Reynolds of Bigfoot Air out of Pilot Point for the pickup. He is awesome and very reasonable on price. Flew to Pilot Point and then caught commercial back to ANC. Feel free to contact me via email ( if I can help. FABULOUS trip! Obligatory youtube promotion: