The Talkeetnas are full of classic packraft adventures, and the Chickaloon can be the centerpiece of lots of different trips.
One great route involves walking up the Kings River drainage along the Permanente Road, which departs the Glenn Highway near Mile 72. The Permanente Road is a good 4WD/ATV trail until it reaches the East Fork of the Kings River. A rougher ATV trail continues up the north bank of the East Fork, rising steeply and then dropping back down to the East Fork, crossing several times, and finally petering out near the 2800’ elevation. A few miles of bushwacking lead to excellent alpine tundra walking in dramatic terrain.
After the East Fork swings to the north,ascend the east slope, aiming for a 5300’ pass into Moss Creek. From the pass you’ll have stunning 360 degrees of granite spires, countless waterfalls, and the distant Chickaloon River. Descend into Moss Creek, crossing to the north side of Moss Creek above a deepening gorge. If you stay on the south side of Moss Creek, you will run into lots of impassable terrain, and only if you are very lucky will you find a way into the Moss Creek gorge and then find a way out.
If you solve this problem and emerge where Moss Creek hits the Chickaloon, you’re roughly 25 miles into a 50-mile loop. Rest up because you’re in for a solid day of packrafting.
The Chickaloon starts off as a braided glacial river moving through a broad valley. Within a few miles the river character changes dramatically, as the valley narrows, the banks become forested, and the river begins dropping through continuous Class III and IV water for the next 20 miles. Some have compared the Chickaloon to the Talkeetna, and it is an apt comparison because both offer non-stop action over long distances. The Talkeetna is certainly harder, but don’t underestimate the Chickaloon, especially in a packraft. It is a cranking river that makes a buttboat feel awfully tiny at times. In my opinion, neither Embick’s Fast and Coldnor Tim Johnson’s Alaska Whitewaterwrite-ups accurately capture the character of the Chickaloon, but then again perhaps this is where Roman’s packrafting rating system comes into play. I would give the Chickaloon a solid Class IV, and would not take Class III boaters down it.
The hardest drops occur a few miles downstream of Moss Creek, above and below Hotel Rocks, and between Hotel Rocks and 8 Mile Canyon. Both Hotel Rocks and 8 Mile Canyon can have jammed wood and powerful eddies and boils that are white-knuckle challenges in a packraft. The intensity begins to lessen after 8 Mile Canyon, but there is plenty to keep you on your toes all the way to the Matanuska. The Ledge drop is the biggest single drop on the river and should be scouted when the powerline, road and cabins of Chickaloon come into view.
From the confluence, continue down the Matanuska roughly 7 miles and take out within 100 yards of your car. This trip has nice symmetry, with roughly 25 miles of walking and 25 miles of boating, and you end up right back where you started. A classic.