Chickaloon River

The Chickaloon River flows south out of the Talkeetna Mountains and provides some excellent packrafting options for one day and multi-day outings. The Chickaloon is well-described in Tim Johnson’s Alaska Whitewater, but primarily as a fly-in trip. The access options are more varied for packrafting.

The easiest access to the Chickaloon is via a dirt road that parallels the river for roughly 15 miles. To get to it, drive east on the Glenn Highway to the Chickaloon spur road and turn north, following the river on a paved road for the first mile. After two bridges over the Chickaloon, the pavement ends exactly opposite the Ledge, a fun Class III drop. Park beyond the end of the pavement on the river side of the road and walk upriver towards a red-roofed house. Follow this dirt road along the river, passing numerous No Trespassing signs that line the road. My understanding is that the dirt road is a legal access, but the signs are a bit intimidating.

Walk as far upriver as you want. On October 7th we put on just above Boulder Creek and floated to the Glenn Highway in roughly two hours. The scenery is spectacular and the boating is generally Class II with lots of play waves and a few Class III holes, including the Ledge. Much of the river faces south, so it’s a good choice for cold but sunny days.

If your plans involve the Chickaloon, be advised that there is a nasty strainer log immediately upstream of the Ledge Drop shown in the photo above. Also, the Chickaloon is running very high and feels like a big river for a little packrafter. This might be where Roman’s PR rating system comes into play, because the Class III Chickaloon feels more like Class IV at present levels.

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.

Planning to go down from mile 12. Anyone know where problem wood is? or current water level.
Any info much appreciated.
The trail does go to mile 12, right?

Toby Schwoerer and I just did the King-Chick loop that I described here in 2008 and confirmed this as one the all-time great packrafting loops. The hiking, scenery and boating are all top-notch. The route has perfect symmetry of roughly 30 miles of hiking and 30 miles of boating.

We confirmed that there is a good caribou trail on the north side of Moss Creek but the creek crossing is a bit hairy. When looking for the route remember that, unlike moose, caribou hate to bushwhack.

Toby and I concurred that the Chickaloon is solid Class IV. The whitewater is nearly-continuous throughout the float. We estimated the flow at 1,500 cfs, and even though it was milky blue-green it was still bossy at times. The most intense section is a mile-long stretch between Hotel Rock and 8-Mile Canyon.

Toby and I did the route in 2 days, one long day for hiking and one 6-hr day of non-stop boating. This is a must-do trip for Alaska packrafters.

Has anyone floated the Chickaloon this year? Thinking of doing it this Sunday. Word is NOVA has run it, but i haven’t heard any for sure info on log jams.