Lion's Head, Matanuska River

September 22, 2006

The fall is a great time to run Lion’s Head on the Matanuska (Mat)
by small watercraft; (kayak, IK, or packraft) typically being too
shallow to navigate with a full size raft. The trees offer a
wonderful array of colors and the peaks in the area have a touch of
snow on their summits. Last weekend, several folks put in at Caribou
Creek and floated down to the first bridge at the Glacier Park Road.
Dr. Joe, Kim Mincer, Jim Hack, Bill Chapman, Chris Cook, Cornelia
Jessen, and I. Connie and I were in packrafts and the rest were in
kayaks except Kim in her IK, the “Tomcat.” We all were fortunate to
arrive shortly after a semi trailer full of vegetables had toppled
over the bridge and landed directly at the put in. It was a bonus
for us as we walked away with some fresh veggies and fruits and ate
cantaloupe while floating down Caribou creek.

Caribou Creek meanders down for 15-20 minutes or so, getting pretty
shallow in some areas entering the Matanuska in to some easy class 2
water. The Mat is extremely cold so drysuits are a necessity. The
character of the river is basically a set of rapids followed by a
brief respite of Class 1-2. There are about 4-5 rapids that are
Class 3 to 3+ at a lower level like this- roughly 2.75 ft.
Information on river & stream data can be obtained at

It is a fun river, but would recommend that only experienced
packrafters that are comfortable with their ferrying techniques and
water reading abilities attempt this section.

Jeff Jessen

With Echo Bend, Six Mile and Ship Creek running at levels that are a bit challenging for packrafts, it’s time to look elsewhere. Because of the cool weather, the Lion’s Head run on the Matanuska is quite good right now. Jeff Jessen’s description below still applies. If you are comfortable in Class III water this is a good time to give this one a go, as it gets much burlier as the water comes up with the summer heat.

On June 4th we ran from Caribou Creek to Hick’s Creek in about 3 hours, with plenty of stops for surfing and playing. There are some good holes that will trash you but most can be avoided with attentive paddling.

Boat on,

Brad Meiklejohn

Anyone run the East Fork - South Fork of the Matanuska in a pack raft? Seems like a natural to me - easy walk in then easy walk out. Or if the water level is right I suppose some paddlers would finish off by running Lions Head.

The East and South forks of the Matanuska are described in Embick’s Fast and Cold and do have some worthy packrafting. I’ve gone in via Alascom Road that leaves from the south side of the Glenn Hwy at about Mile 118. The East Fork is pretty scrappy boating, especially in the middle sections where there have been major slumps and landslides into the canyon bottom. My first and only time through the upper and middle sections it got pretty ugly as the creek flowedthrough big clumps of alders that had slumped into the river.

A better approach is to start at the Majestic Mtn Lodge and ask if you can hike on their trails out to the lower section of the East Fork. They have a nice trail that takes you right down to the river, and you’ll by-pass the ugly middle section. From the put-in it is a rather short float down to the intersection with the South Fork. The South Fork has a gorgeous canyon section of Class II braided river that continues down to the Caribou Creek confluence.

I know folks who have hiked into the upper reaches of the South Fork via various routes, some good, some not so good. And if the water is low on the Lion’s Head run, it is a blast in a packraft.

The water level reads 7.15 feet, what water level is this considered (low/med/high)? And what would be optimum to run LH in a packraft? Thx.

Hey Matt,
This is the one you need for LH,1,1,1,1,1,1,1

Currently it’s 2.73 ft. or 1,320 cfs. By most standards this is considered the low side of low, but packrafters seem to rate everything differently. :unamused:

Thanks, that makes more sense.
I think we are going to run LH this weekend.

Ran Lionshead at 1100 cfs and it was a blast. Good rapids and small holes all over the place but never anything that felt threatening. Used the Glacier Park gauge reading. We were surfing small waves all the way to within sight of the lower bridge. Took out there. What a great day! Thanks to all who were present. Photos at

I have 2 short videos of the day but I seem to be tech-challenged and have not been able to get them uploaded to You Tube.

Who knows when Lions Head may first be boatable?

Before the water comes up on Lions Head we also hope to run the East Fork of the Mat into the South Fork and on down through Lions Head. If you have never done that, I highly recommend it for just nice splashy fun on the East Fork, a flat float on the South Fork and the excitement of Lions Head to end the paddling day.

Will probably shoot to do this late in May. Let me know if you want to join us. :laughing:

Just ran this at 2.1’ at Glacier Park. It was a very fun level with minnimal surprises. It was MUCH more managable than when we ran it at 3.0’ last fall. We didn’t find any holes that we couldn’t punch right through. At this level, I thought it was easier than guardrail at medium water. Tons of fun though.

Lions head was fun for a first float of the season this past weekend. It’s running below 2’ according to glacier park gauge, but no butt dragging and caribou creek is flowing better than late last summer when lions head was running at about 2.3’ - likely due to being constricted from ice and with snow melt feeding caribou providing a more substantial boost than the glacier melt feeding the mat. There are ice shelves along the banks in some areas though the lions head stretch, but overall pretty clean. Also some boulder-like ice bergs in the rapids and possibly some frozen underwater ice chunks.

Packrafted Caribou Creek Bridge to Glacier Park Saturday. The Glacier Park gauge was at 1.35 ft. A few shallow areas on Caribou Creek; other than that there was more than enough water to float. At this low level the water felt 2+/3-. Ice shelves had formed along most of the banks, but it didn’t cause any problems. Something to keep an eye on though.