Anyone have any info on the Gulkana river? I’m looking at putting in at paxon and floating down to Sourdough but anything would be helpful as I am thinking about other options that start further upstream. Wondering about the rapids in the canyon too.
The BLm has this float guide which is pretty detailed
Saw some people in packrafts on it last summer. From Paxon to Sourdough it’s a mellow float and the canyon is straight froward along with a good trail that you can scout / spot from. I have some pix here.
I did this with my teenaged brother and cousin who were visiting from Chicago last July. We hiked in from an ATV trail south of Paxson Lake (the Middle Fork trail, I think), which allowed us to skip paddling the lake. It was about eight miles of wonderfully rolling hills. We pulled out at Sourdough. It was kind of a slog at the end, but a beautiful trip, great fishing. The canyon rapids are a fun go if you are up to it. They are very easily scouted and/or portaged if you decide to go that route.
Some additional notes, including those from a raft on bike shuttle to bike on raft float perspective…
Contrary to hopes of high terrain tundra to bike or hike on, the area around Paxson Lake is full scale brush so the only realistic access from the Paxson Campground to the outlet is to paddle.
To skip the paddle across the lake, but also missing the first 3 miles of the main fork, the Middle Fork ATV trail can be utilized. This marked trail begins on the north end of a gravel pit just south of Meyer’s Lake Roadhouse (which is a decent spot to grab some grub). It follows the edge of the gravel pit and “officially” begins on the back side of the pit. It is 8 miles long, with an arduous climb (at least if you are pushing a loaded bike up) near the beginning. In the dry conditions we’ve had lately, most of the 8 miles are bike-able, but the parts that aren’t were pure misery, fortunately mercifully fairly short parts. I can see in wet conditions it being a chore (especially the steep climb up to the ridge line), and I’m not sure I was much faster “biking” than had I just hiked in. At the end of the trail near the river the trail forks, the left fork is less messy.
At moderately high water a couple weeks ago the upper parts of the Main Fork and North Fork (from Tangle Lakes area) were taking out other groups canoes and larger rafts left and right, and made the Canyon rapids a definite portage for me (and were even a handful for the drift boat guides coming through). Same high water, however, made the slow sections up to the “canyon” a little less slow, made the 8-9 miles of rapids afterwards a fun and moderately challenging (rocks providing most of the challenge) continuous splashy PR3, and made the ending slow sections up to the Sourdough Campground again a little less slow. With the carnage from other groups being evident, I would thus caution against this being a “beginner” trip, depending on the water level. That being said, there was hardly any wood that could be considered troublesome at all, as long as one stayed in the main channel, and I never felt pushed even with the extra load of a bike and (too much) gear on the raft.
There is a somewhat little known ATV trail from the Canyon rapids to the highway, Haggard Creek, if needed for escape or for access to start there. I don’t know the ride-ability conditions of that trail. Nor do I know access from the highway spot as I didn’t notice it.
The BLM list of recommended campgrounds are for the most part easily noticed, although a GPS would help. There also are numerous other gravel bars and other places that could be used in a pinch.
Due to the “easy” access and popular fishing destination, constant solitude is not going to be prevalent, but even using the BLM’s estimates of peak use, neither are crowded conditions. The last couple miles being the exception.