East Fork Susitna - Clearwater Mtns

For those looking for a long weekend trip next summer off of the Denali Hwy with no shuttling involved. We started our hike on the Valdez Cr Mining Rd (nr the SU River bridge), hiked 25miles NE to the E. Fork Susitna River, floated 32-miles back to the SU river bridge, and then some of us ran while others biked 11-miles back to the vehicle. EXCELLENT solid tundra walking with very few tussocks and no bushwhacking. Great alpine lake swimming, caribou viewing, scenery, etc. The E. Fork had a 1.5 mile stretch of rapids; class II with very short class III (?) section that is easily portaged. The remainder was easy flat water. We did encounter a couple miles of ass dragging in a highly braided section of the SU but higher water levels may eliminate any outbursts of frustration.

pics and map here: http://edplumb.blogspot.com/2009/09/packrafting-in-technicolor.html

This looks like an awesome route and a group of us would love to do it this 4th of July weekend. Just two questions:

(1) How many days/nights did this route take you? I’m guessing it could comfortably be done in two and a half days of hiking at a leisurely pace - so two nights out.
(2) Would it be possible to leave a vehicle at the boat take out and thereby forego the last 11 mile bike or run back to the the vehicle at the trailhead? (One group would be coming from Fairbanks and another from Anchorage, so we would have two vehicles).

Thank you!

Ryan Hickel

We did a variation on this trip last june in two nights, three days - with two days of hiking and one of floating. The hiking was pretty mellow, but the last day spent floating was pretty long. The East fork was fast and fun packrafting, however sections of the main Susitna were pretty slow. The main Susitna in sections is very silty and wide, with lots of sandbars covered by enough water to be hard to see but not enough water to float. It was somewhat surreal to walking in the middle of a half mile wide river dragging your boat… Wonderful trip though, and well worth doing - very scenic and the hiking was pretty good.

It is very possible to leave a vehicle at the takeout and use it to do the shuttle rather than biking or running.

6/6/11 - 6/8/11

I just did another variation on this trip with my sister and her boyfriend, we left a bike at the bridge across the Susitna, drove a truck up Valdes Creek to just before a highwater crossing and started walking. Approaching Grog Lake we encountered waist deep isothermic snow that slowed us down to less than 1 mile per hour. We decided to shoot for the pass above Grog Lake and look for an alternative. Just over the other side we exited the high country and dropped down 1000 feet to lose the snow. The walking and views were as advertised by the other folks who wrote about this area. We were going to walk straight over to the E. Fork Susitna staying lower and further South than Ed Plumb’s route, probably about the same route as Spruceboy, but when we got to Boulder Creek it looked great for floating. We floated Boulder Creek down to where it really canyons up and starts dropping. The first few miles are nice and mellow and then it has some fun class 2-3 drops that all end with nice flatwater sections before dropping again. We scouted and ran these until they started lookin unreasonable to us and then pulled out and walked about three miles to where Boulder Creek flattens out again after the canyon and put back in. Excellent game trails take you through the bushes on river right. We put back in on the last mile or so of Boulder Creek before in dumps into E fork Susitna and floated out to the bike and retreived the truck. I would do this trip over the Santuary any day if you are going to drive all the way up to that area from Anchorage.

Cody Arnold

Just did this trip. Started walking on 6/24 at 11pm after driving from Palmer. Back at truck via bike shuttle at 3:30pm 6/26. We did not run the Class 3 drop on the EF Su. Great trip. We saw lots of Caribou and two bears and lots of mosquitos in the river valley.

My husband and I did this trip last weekend. We chose Spruce Boy’s route. Our GPS indicated 26 miles of hiking and 30 miles of floating, plus the 11 mile bike shuttle at the end. I would recommend Ed Plumb’s route during the later summer months due to the significant bushwacking we encountered descending down to the East Fork of the Susitna. Also, it would have given us better views of the glacier if we had been several miles upstream descending on tundra to the river. It was a great trip regardless, and the scenery was truly amazing on these warm sunny days!

I floated the river in the first week of September. All week long lots of sunshine and maybe mid 70’s. It cooled off a lot during the clear nights but did not get down to freezing. River was probably running at medium-high level, higher than usual for that time of year. Rapids were a lot of fun but do not continue very far. There were a few hungry holes and nice drops. The rest of the float was slow and mellow. One section was very frustrating constantly running into sandbars having to pull my boat down the river while your feet sink a foot into the mud underneath you. I think the best bet is just to stay on the left bank when the Susitna and East Fork Converge and beyond. I started my backpack by going up the Maclaren River, then making a pass into the West Fork, up over another pass and finally over the divide to the northern most creek which enters the East Fork Susitna from the east. Took my time did some side trips and peak bagging, totally impressed with the great hiking and beautiful scenery being that it was my first time in the area. Caribou were all over the place, ran into a grizzly and two cubs in the upper West Fork Maclaren.

Has anyone done this trip in the last few weeks? A friend and I are planning to later this month and are looking for any recent beta on conditions!


I am also very interested in this trip. Myself and 3-4 friends are looking for this exact distance , conditions and scenery. We will be looking there Aug 23-Sept 4 if anyone would be willing to help out with more details and possibly to speak on the telephone. Thank you.

I just floated this river again a couple days ago. I originally didn’t plan to float the river so I did not bring a dry suit but I was able to make my way carefully along the side of the river to stay out of the biggest rapids. River level was medium-high. Still a pain in the ass on the lower East Fork near where the rest of the Susitna joins in because of the barely submerged gravel bars. Mosquitoes were horrendous out in the Clearwaters at the moment.

Does anyone know the current condition of the river? We are doing this trip tomorrow but I’m hearing most rivers are class 4-5 now with all the rain. Any information is greatly appreciated.

Let us know how it goes! I might try to head out there early September, would appreciate an update on conditions.

Would also appreciate an update as far ad flows go! Planning on heading up there next week.