Indian River -- Whistlestop Packrafting

Alaska now has two whistlestop trains, the original from Talkeetna to Hurricane and a new one to Grandview. No doubt folks are figuring out that the Grandview train opens up some packrafting options.

Last year I used the Talkeetna train to access Clear Creek (aka Chunila Creek), and that trip is still one of my favorites. The train makes a perfect shuttle to Curry where you pick up an ATV trail that gets you in the alpine country above Clear Creek. After learning about the ATV trail Roman used to access the “Waikiki” section of Honolulu Creek I thought I would check out the Indian River. It looks great on the map, with a narrow, twisty canyon section.

Unfortunately, the Indian River is a dud. First off, it’s more of a creek than a river, and secondly, it got trashed in the epic floods of 2006. Think “braided forest”, as the creek abandoned its old channel to flow through thick forest and under giant piles of cottonwoods. It really is too bad because the alpine hiking is superb, there are some spectacular California-style granite slides and ledge drops, some decent boulder gardens, and an interesting but short canyon. If you’ve got a good “no-hands” roll you might even earn a beer off the many fisherman camped along the canyon.

I parked at Hurricane, found the ATV trail on the north side of Hurricane Gulch and hiked up and over a 4200’ pass. I boated intermittently on the Indian between 3000’ and 2000’, and continuously (except for innumerable logjam portages) thereafter. I wish I could report that conditions improve below Chulitna, but they don’t. I walked a dry creek bed for almost a mile waiting for the river to re-emerge from the woods. I finally made it to the Susitna and caught the train at Gold Creek back to Hurricane.

The boating is generally Class II - III, but the water was exceptionally low. One steep boulder garden through VW-bettle-sized rocks could be intense (think “Little Su”) at high water. If you go despite my admonition, plan on 2 or 3 days round-trip. And remember that the whistlestop train only runs Thurs-Sun.

So that one didn’t work out so good, but it gave me some other ideas…

We ran Indian River last Friday/Saturday, took the train in to the very last point and did a short whack to the river’s (more like a creek) edge. We only portaged around 2 small log jams & 1 tree. We were able to duck under 2 other large cottonwoods. Fun run but mellow and the whitewater ended pretty quick. I wouldn’t really call it a canyon, just occasional cliff walls to add to the aesthetic pleasure of the trip. We found a handful of bony class II+/III- drops. High water would make this run a good time, although you’d have to portage the trees we ducked under at higher levels, but could probably paddle around the log jams. We documented the whole trip on video

check it out:^) had a small bear encounter too!

Timmy J.

Paddled the Susitna last weekend using the whistlestop train, put in at the indian river (hiked on trail from railroad tracks to susitna, less than a mile, they will drop you off right at access trail, you could use another put in like gold creek and have less hiking), then floated back to Talkeetna, camping one night along the way. It is really just a float trip, no real hiking involved, but the train allows for an easy shuttle to float a 40 mile stretch of scenic water.