Upper East Fork Chulitna River or Upper West Fork of same

Has anyone walked into the upper reaches of the East Fork of the Chulitna River say parking about 1.5 miles north of the highway crossing, dropping off the highway, fording or PR x-ing the East Fork then walking to the Hardage Creek - glacier drainage, up and over that to the Upper reaches of the East Fork then boated that back to the cars?

Or, has anyone walked into the Upper West Fork of the Chulitna from the “Colorado” locale west of Broad Pass along the Parks Hwy? It looks like it would be an easy walk up a mining road (or maybe even a 4WD truck road?). Putting onto the West Fork it looks like you could take out just a little below the confluence with the East Fork at a footbridge over the Chulitna with a 1 mile walk back to the highway near Little Honolulu Creek. But . . . that west fork looks like there might be a LOT of boulder gardens the way it hugs the edge of the ridges along there. I know where the East and West Forks join, when I have been there by canoe (2 times?) I have always been impressed with the volume and power of the West Fork.


I’ve done both the east and west forks of the Chulitna. The East Fork has better boating by far, and better hiking. There are a variety of ways to get into the upper East Fork, including starting on ATV trails near where the Parks Hwy crosses the Middle Fork, the Hardage Creek approach, the creek just south of Antimony (my favorite route) or even Roman’s approach to the Waikiki section of Honolulu Creek. There is some good Class III boating in the East Fork and it almost always has good volume.

The West Fork can be easily approached on the dirt road that passes through Colorado and hits the Bull River right above its confluence with the West Fork. You can easily ford or paddle across the Bull and follow that road up the West Fork for several miles, and then continue on gravel bars are far as you want to walk. The river is generally fast and braided Class II from the 2500’ elevation down. Several miles downstream of its confluence with the Bull the West Fork enters a narrower valley for 3 miles, but the difficulty does not increase dramatically. There are some larger eddies, eddy fences and swirlies that can give you a thrill in a packraft.

Boat on!


We were up in the East Fork Chulitna country over Labor Day. ON Monday we put in at the highway bridge and took out at the railroad tracks just up stream of the Honolulu Creek confluence. Walked along the ARR corridor for 10 minutes, crossed the bridge. Walked a few minutes more and found a great dirt road that led right up to a gravel pit parking lot at Mile 176.9.

While not “remote” this is a fabulous PR 2-3 float of about 8 miles - 4+ hours if you play it like you would Willow Creek, which at this Labor Day low water, I compare it very favorably to. Similar to Red Gate on Willow. At this low water, nothing as challenging as Willow Cr. Guardrail section.

My wife looked for Brad’s access point to the valley south of Antimony Creek but only found 4 wheeler trails that led to boggy ends. Brad please do share – from what mile marker do you depart the Parks Highway to walk into the mountains/ backpacking approach to the Upper East Fork; the route you mention in an earlier posting that goes up the creek south of Antimony Creek?

I just did the Hardage Creek approach to the East Fork of the Chulitna, and it is the best one I’ve found yet. I parked the car where the Parks Highway crosses over the East Fork of the Chulitna. From there I hiked straight uphill until I intersected the powerline, which I followed for several miles. I heard an ATV to the east, so headed over that way and found a decent ATV trail that parallelled Hardage Creek. I ended up following that ATV trail up Hardage Creek to about 2900’ where I hit the old glacial moraines, and continued on moraines up to the 4600’ pass. The last half-mile of moraine is loose and unpleasant, but all the rest of the walk is pleasant. I continued over the pass and down to the confluence with Crooked Creek at about 2400’, where I put on and boated back to the car.

The boating is mostly Class II, but there are several short canyon stretches that are a bit more exciting, perhaps Class III+. The first canyon is only about 150 yards long and has 4 fun drops and the second canyon is longer, perhaps 1/4 mile, with the hardest single drop of the run at the entrance to this canyon. After the second canyon it is fun Class II boogie water all the way back to the Parks Highway.

This loop is about 12-14 miles of walking and about 15 miles of boating, making for one long day or a pleasant overnight trip.
East Fork Chulitna Second Canyon Entrance.jpg

Hello, my name is Chris Bulard. I grew up in Cantwell and own the homestead on the upper east fork of the chulitna river. I don’t raft, but have wondered about the possibility of doing raft tours from the homestead to the hi-way. There is an 1800 foot runway, a float pond, and a horse trail available to use for transport in. We have the aircraft/ horse component handled. I would like to know if the river is a safe return route. Pardon my ignorance regarding the rafting end of the bargain. Chris

Mik Shain and I followed the Hardage Creek approach advice a few weeks back. It is an amazing hike and spectacular float. After going through the pass, we contoured left and walked the ridge down to the river - highly recommended for anyone headed there. Mik is also a creative video editor and we filmed much of the day (click below): This trip is an absolute classic.


On a separate note - embedding videos seems to be messing up for me. Any suggestions?

You can get to that good water faster and without the scree bash by hiking in from near Fourth of July Creek and taking the ATV/horse trail upstream as far as you want.

Hey, I’m interested in the route to upper East Fork Chulitna River. Where do you start by 4th of July Crk. and are there
any other trail forks once on your way to follow? I know where 4th of July Crk. crosses the Parks Hwy.(MP 190) How far (miles) and time would it take to get close to where Crooked Crk. flows in. Thanks.
Steve Johnson
Email sbejohn1@mac.com

after a brutal sunday going through the hardage creek approach last weekend; i’m also pretty interested in this alternate route…

Did a fantastic day trip on the East Fork last weekend. Started from the Middle Fork bridge on the Parks Highway and headed into the mountains to the east on an ATV trail. A good amount of up and down on the hike, but it is super-scenic, easy walking. We put in about a mile above Crooked Creek. The boating on the East Fork is excellent. Tons of fun.

Nerdy trip details, photos, map, etc.: http://www.endurefun.com/2010/08/17/packrafting-the-east-fork-of-the-chulitna/

You wrote’s nice and I support you!

We ran the walk-in day trip version on Saturday. Easy walk in but I think it could have been easier if we had found the ridge-crest ATV trail rather than starting out right at 4th of July Creek and its beaver pond complexes. Fun none the less.

Check out the photos at http://www.meetup.com/AnchorageAdventurers/calendar/14559500/

Ok, it looks like there are many ways to get up the east fork and everyone seems to have a favorite one (and conversely there seems to at least one person who had a difficult time with each of these favorite routes). So I put it to the veteran east forkers: which access point is the easiest to the approximate confluence with Crooked Creek? The Fourth of July Creek horse trail favored by Roman, the Hardage creek ATV trail and mountain pass favored by Brad, or the Middle Fork bridge and mountain route favored by Corey? Mileposts and/or road signs would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Ryan Hickel

I floated the East Fork last week, starting about 5 or so miles above the crooked creek confluence where the tributary comes in from the North. I was surprised to find enough water for floating that far up with the river at about medium water levels. The boulder garden just below this spot was very challenging and I portaged the final third of it. Seemed to get tougher the further into it you go.