Duke River, YT

Hanson and I, floated a portion of the Duke River as part of our “pre-moon” in the Yukon in late July. About 5 miles north of Burwash Landing the highway crosses the river, on the north side of the bridge is a gravel road. We drove about 3 miles up the road and started hiking from there, this is an access point for the Donjek Loop trail. Not knowing the river we hiked next to it, which was fairly easy in soft moss and same growth forest.
We hiked in about 8 or 9 miles and made a camp, had a caribou and wolf walk through camp (actually chase would be a better description), plenty of bear sign as well.

The following day we floated out as we had a ferry to catch in Haines. For the rough 8.5 miles we floated there were three different river types, we started with a consistent swift river. If you try this you should be completely comfortable in class II+ water and should be fine in class III. Debris along the edge had indicated that the water had recently been about a foot higher than when we ran it. This short section could easily be done in a day.

The river is fairly consistent back to the vehicle, swift with small drops a few class III sections, definitely the possibility to get in over your head if you miss a turn, but we didn’t have any wood to deal with. Downstream of the vehicle is a canyon for a few miles. We hadn’t been able to scope the canyon so did that blind. It was fun swift water, no drops to speak of, and no wood. There is certainly the possibility of wood here so if you run it be aware.

The last section is the wider braided river that you can see from the highway.

We highly recommend this float as the scenery is grand and the floating is simply fun, with little slow water . We floated the lower section in about 1.5 hours, which includes several stops to bail.

Orange = Drive in ~3 miles
Red = Float ~8.5 miles
Blue = Obvious option ~20 miles

The “blue option” would make for about a 30 mile round trip, head up Congdon Creek (pretty sure there is a jeep trail for part of the way), hike down Dickson Creek to the Duke. If the river in section is similar to the lower section then the trip will be an “instant classic”.

Map link Duke River (NTS 115G06)

Just to reiterate, while this is not a particularly difficult river (at the water levels we had), it is by no means a beginners trip. It is remote, the water is glacier fed, and there are short sections of class III with almost continuous class II.

The Duke is easily the best river I’ve paddled so far in the Yukon both in terms of scenery and fun paddling. The sweet spot is between Atlas Creek and the highway where you have basically uninterrupted Class 2 rapids interspersed with bigger rapids. The downhill gradient on this river is continuous and steep but never any big falls or drops. A tight canyon below Black Valley Pass needs to be scouted as it has a couple of tough rapids in it, one that we portaged. Below that it is read and run with some big waves and small drops until you reach the put-in where the previous post has described it well. The final canyon above the highway was one of the best parts, very scenic.

The upper Duke has a couple of canyons, one of which was too low to run, but there are also some major braided sections. At lower water we were scraping along and/or walking and kicking boats through the small channels.

There are numerous hiking routes that will bring you in near or upstream of Atlas Creek to make an easy two-day trip. We did this in four days starting at Tachal Dal accessed the Duke just below the glacier. Trip reports can be found here:


Pictures for these words on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrQ8tIExXAc&feature=youtu.be

In July 2019 we took a walk up the Copper Joe creek drainage and down to the Duke. There are many different ways of getting to the Duke, seems like the best way for the whitewater section would be this route.

Just jump right into the creek, once your feet are wet you can stop shawking through brush and just walk gravel bars on either side.

Climb up and over the pass. We stayed middle right and found easy terrain. Once you pass the lake and head down the other side you will run into game trails and an old mining bench cut. Follow these trails down to the Duke. It took us about 5 hours to do the hike. We were not trying to win a race, but we do move pretty fast.

Inflate and expect class II to III read and run for about another 5 hours. There is a goofy section where the entire river piles up on a rock…at some flows I’ve heard it is not runable. When we did it you could read and run that rapid. I’d say it was hard class III or easy class IV. I don’t want to argue it with anyone so rate it yourself.

To be honest this video is a hack job. I did not really capture any of the key moments of the river or the hike…but here is a starting point for future beta and trip reports.

This river is pretty darn quality. Easy hike in, good white water, easy shuttle back to car.