A tip o’ the hat to Mik Shain for turning us on to the Bull River. Put it on your list of “must-do” packraft trips.
Tony Perelli and I did a Bull River triathalon by starting at about Mile 187 of the Parks Highway. A dirt road takes off to the west immediately adjacent to a communications tower. Follow this road for approximately 0.5 miles to a gate at a railroad crossing. Park here and continue on bikes approximately 5 miles to the Bull River, just upstream of its confluence with the West Fork of the Chulitna. We stashed our bikes at this point and used our boats to cross the Bull and continued on foot on the dirt road all the way to the Dunkle Mine, roughly 5 more miles. We continued cross-country on good tundra to a point overlooking the Bull and outstanding views of Broad Pass and the Alaska Range.
Bull River First Canyon.jpg
A short morning walk downhill through light brush brought us to a braided section of the Bull, running blue-green and surprisingly clear. Several miles of swift Class II preceed the start of the first canyon, which has a series of fun Class III drops. After about 5 miles the first canyon opens up, giving the impression that the fun is done. Class I and II water eventually give way to a second canyon which has more, larger and longer drops than the first canyon, but nothing harder than Class III+. The second canyon ends in a hurry just downstream of the Costello Creek confluence and immediately before the dirt road.
Bull River Second Canyon.jpg
This “lollipop” route makes a great two-day, one-night trip, with about 10 total miles of biking, 12 miles of walking, and 15 miles of boating. The canyon is very tight in places and it is certain that the grade would be at least Class IV at higher water levels. Since there is no guage I would describe our water level as “medium-low,” running approximately a foot below bankful. If the Bull is bankful and very turbid and silty when you first reach it, you could have a very intense run through the canyons. I’ve heard stories of several epics on the Bull, and believe that the difficulty is a function of water volume.
The Bull can also be done as a day trip by following a 4-wheeler trail that leaves the Parks at approximately Mile 195. Other options include continuing by bike beyond the Bull River, riding upstream as far as possible on the West Fork of the Chulitna, then strapping the bike to the boat and continuing down the West Fork of the Chulitna to Honolulu Creek, where the Parks Highway approaches the river.