Brushkana & Upper Nenana Trip Report

From my favorite series, “short wilderness trips with easy access” :mrgreen:

Put in: Brushkana Campground, approximately 30 miles east of Cantwell on the Denali Highway.
Take out: Normal put-in point for the Nenana on the Denali Highway, 14 miles east of Cantwell.
Shuttle: Mountain bike with trailer along road (gravel), approximately 2 hours of riding. Day use area at campground provides handy covered and semi-hidden place to lock bike next to creek.
Total float time: Approximately 7 hours, with moderate paddling along slow sections.
Rating: PR3 for about 1 1/2 hours, then PR2 for 1 hour, then PR1 for 4 hours upon entering Nenana, then PR2 for last 1/2 hour.
Suitability for other craft: Good for kayaks. Canoists might have a handful early with the rocks, while larger rafts might run aground with same, but more than likely doable.
Drysuit recommended: Tough call, will get a little wet at first, but it would be overkill after the first 1 1/2 hours. Probably dependent on weather. Splash gear probably suffices.
Water level ran: Nearest gage Nenana at Healy = 10.6 approximately. Didn’t appear to be either high or low.
Hazards: Rocks on Brushkana, very few sweepers on Nenana that are very easily avoided.
Topography: Entirely below tree line, generally rolling terrain.
Camping options: Numerous gravel bars or small clearings along entire route. River right preferred as some sections on left are accessible and used by the ATV crowd. Brushkana CG (BLM, fee) looked clean, with toilets and drinking water.
Hiking/Wandering options: Good exploring river right before reaching Nenana. Along Nenana might be a little mushy.
Quick synopsis: Brushkana starts out similar (but not as challenging) to Crow/Glacier Creek near Girdwood, entertaining, a little technical due to many rocks, but not deep nor overly demanding. No big drops or waves, PR3. After coverging with the Monahan, widens out and starts to slow down, transiting through PR2 and becoming PR1 when joining with the Nenana. The Upper Nenana here is quite slow, good for relaxing and enjoying the scenery but perhaps a bit too slow for some (particularly if headwinds are encountered). The perhaps desirable current as seen from the takeout only manifests itself just prior to then, making the last 1/2 hour PR2. Note the takeout is on a left channel, fairly easily seen from afar but it is conceivable to miss the channel if not paying attention. Made for a good 2 day escape from reality with camping and wandering along the water, certainly could be done in one long day.

We did a variation of this in early July, and that is to walk a few miles upstream of the Denali Highway on the Brushkana. There’s some fun Class II of the same nature as the II+ below - consistent-flow boulder dodging. The walking is easy through sparse dwarf birch initially, and then there are plenty of game trails to follow along the creek. Avoid the private land where the highway crosses the Brushkana by starting the walk about .5 mile east along the highway at the crest of a hill. Wander south through the dwarf birch, maybe even follow the ATV trail, but the walking’s so easy it’s not really needed. Eventually work your way back to the west and cruise along the creekside until you feel like putting in. In early July of this dry year the water was probably at a medium flow.

If one is into avoiding the flat water on Monahan and the Nenana a good variation would be to take out just below the last rapid on the Brushkana. There’s a trail from the BLM campground downstream to an old bridge buttress along the Brushkana. About a quarter to half mile below that bridge buttress is the last real rapid on the Brushkana. If one were take out after that rapid it would be an easy shwhack up river-left back to the trail, which would take you back to the campground.

I did a variation on this last weekend - we floated down from the camp ground and took out on one of the many ATV trails once we reached the nenana and hiked back to the denali highway. This let us skip the longer section on the Nenana and kept the total time including a bike shuttle down to around 6 hours.

Thanks for posting this! Its a really quick and easy float that is quite fun.

Had a good time with this loop on Saturday. Pretty similar to what was posted above: Nenana @ Healy was at 10.4 and Brushkana was a fun little ride and then there was plenty of time to crack a few cold ones on the way to the Hwy where the Nenana comes up ride alongside it. Had stashed a bike at the take-out and rode what ended up being about 13 miles back to the vehicle at the campground. Found out I’m a pretty terrible fisherman, but it’s a fun solo day trip if that’s what you’re looking for.

Take the trail that comes to the Nenana about two miles from the mouth of Brushkana, saves 10 miles of slow Nenana. I take my kids down two or three times a year. great fishing

Take the trail that comes to the Nenana about two miles from the mouth of Brushkana, saves 10 miles of slow Nenana.

I thought about that, but I had time to burn and beer to drink, and it was a good bike ride back to the vehicle. Turns out that the Denali Hwy would be a great place to get in shape biking because even when you want to stop and take a break, you can’t because the skeeters will immediately swarm you and cause a full blown panic attack. Apparently mosquitoes top out at 1.5 mph so that ends up being your minimum uphill speed.

That being said, it was a little too much slow water, and I doubt I’d float that entire flat-water section again.

My family and I just did the trip and walked out, even with camping gear. Saved about an hour, even though we walked the whole way instead of leaving bikes at the trailhead. The River really changed from the flood, and judging from my observation of debris and boulders reworked, was epic. The fishing also seemed to take a hit from the flood with several holes filled with muck and sand

When I went to Brushkana and Nenana trip I also enjoyed a lot last year and there we have also done a lot of bike riding so if anyone will go there do bike riding once as it is a wonderful place for riding where you can enjoy riding.