Bull River

I received this report via Daryl Miller, lead climbing ranger for Denali NP:

I wanted you to know mountaineering ranger Mik Shain and two friends from Califorina who are whitewater boaters just got back from a trip descending the Bull River by hiking the East Fork of the Toklat River, over the Alaska Range near Mount Pendleton, then decending by foot several miles before pack rafting the Bull into the West Fork of the Chulitna. The 18 miles of Bull river thru the canyons offered some class #4 and #5 water with awesome views. They did float back to Talkeetna but said if they repeated the trip they would take out eariler.

Daryl Miller

I’ll post a full report soon on this trip, but wanted to quickly note that the Bull River (in mid-August) was mostly fun class III with the odd low volume class IV drop/boulder garden (a perfect “moderate” trip). The canyon section was outstanding, but would be much harder in the spring/summer with higher flow. We started this trip by boarding the train in Talkeetna, however if you’re doing a car shuttle, the best place to take out is at the bridge near the Princess Lodge. Check out wildbeta.com for more trip reports.

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.
Bull Put-In2.jpg
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.

A crew of us recently (September 10) did a nice variant on the Bull, starting at MP 195 of the Parks Hwy, just west of where the Parks crosses the railroad tracks and the Middle Fork of the Chulitna. An ATV trail takes off west from this area and offers nice walking for a few miles before you encounter some sections of muck and bog. The trail continues to an overlook approximately 1 mile from the Bull and the open country walking is fine from there to the river. You are aiming for the area where the Bull turns from running southeasterly to southwesterly. The first canyon begins about 1/4 mile upstream from the confluence of a small creek coming into the Bull from the East. It took us about 1.5 hrs of walking from the Parks Hwy to reach the put-in.

We found the Bull to be running clear and low, but with enough flow to float without scraping or dragging. At the water level we encountered, estimated at 200 - 250 cfs, the Bull was mostly Class 2 with a few spots of Class III-.

We added on another 10 miles of floating on the West Fork of the Chulitna through a spectacular canyon with no significant whitewater. We exited at the confluence of the East Fork of the Chulitna and followed an ATV trail up the south bank of Honolulu Creek. A half-mile walk brought us to MP 177 of the Parks Hwy.

Mark, Will, and I ran the Bull River last week. This easily made the “top 5 reasons why a PR was one of the best purchases I ever made” list. The only disappointment was that it didn’t last longer.

Mark Paddling the First Canyon

Typical Bull Boulder Garden

Lower Class III+ Canyon

Four of us ran the Bull today, August 23rd, at a level at around 350-400cfs. The first canyon is 95 percent class II, with one drop maybe class III-, the second canyon was funner for us, but still had limited class III, maybe 4-5 drops. Nothing is class IV, it would take more water to reach that difficulty. One spot we called the Dog Leg was a spot that narrowed down somewhat, it was probably the most interesting section, but still had lines that are easy.
We had fun, and had to do it once, but I doubt I will go back considering the logistics involved. The Bull is a good river for those who have good class III skills,and want a hike involved, but don’t expect the gnarly whitewater we have heard about.

Brad M’s “Gelded Bull” is a super easy hike in for lots of fun paddling in small canyons (II-III on Bull, I on W Fk Chulitna). Double track ATV route from Parks Hwy goes to a small knoll from which the river is visible, and from there it’s a short walk down to the banks. For takeout, pull out on gravel beach on river left directly below Honolulu confluence. Head upstream on ATV trail, which leads directly (in about a mile) to the gravel pull out.

Ran the Gelded Bull route on Sept 21 at probably 200-300cfs. This is a great day trip, with the exception of the bog crossings because of the temperature - 30 degrees. I made a mistake at the top of the high knoll and took about a two o’clock approach to what I thought was the river, but actually was a small unnamed tributary. This added about a 1/8th of a mile of criss crossing the stream to get to the Bull. Not a big deal, but next time I’ll walk around. I was pleasantly surprised at how pretty the floating on the West Fork of the Chulitna was, and wouldn’t mind making that part a 2 day trip for fishing.