Imagine blasting through a giant wave and paddling down the powerful Nenana River in your own boat without even knowing how to kayak. You can do it with the Denali Outdoor Center in an inflatable kayak —a durable, lightweight whitewater boat that’s easy to paddle. Don’t just hold on for the ride —be part of the action.
If you tip over in a regular kayak, you must perform a maneuver called an Eskimo Roll to return to an upright position. In an inflatable kayak, if you tip over, you just climb back in. There is no small cockpit or spray skirt to hold you in, upside down. Warm clothes underneath a dry suit help keep you warm and you’ll find paddling generates plenty of heat. The dry suit keeps you dry, even if you take an unexpected swim, and that is always a possibility!
Your experienced guide will be paddling a hard - shell kayak, which gives him or her more maneuverability and speed. Your guide will also offer a comprehensive safety presentation before you ever get on the river, so you shouldn’t encounter anything unexpected.
The river you will paddle is called the “upper stretch”and it is considered an easy section of the Nenana. By the time the first Class II rapid appears, about 20 minutes into the trip, you should feel pretty confident that you can make that boat go where you want. When the splashy water appears—and you usually hear it before you see it—just fall in line behind the guide and maneuver through the waves in follow-the-leader style. With only 5 inflatable kayakers per guide, it is pretty easy to navigate those sections.
There are long stretches of calm water between rapids on this 14 - mile stretch of river, so there’s lots of time to relax, just float, and admire the mountainous view in the middle of the Alaska Range. Be sure to look back upstream toward Windy Pass. You are in true Alaska wilderness. If you’re really lucky, you’ll see a grizzly bear or moose at the water’s edge. Alaska Railroad tracks run right next to the river at several points and you’re likely to solicit a loud horn blast from the engineer. Inevitably, scores of flashbulbs pop inside the passenger cars as tourists snap photos of your group on the river.
About 90 minutes into the trip, you’ll be approaching the biggest rapid on the river, a Class III. Follow your guide closely through this rapid. Waves and holes (river features where water re - circulates on itself) are a little bigger here. This is where all your practice pays off and helps you stay upright. The adrenalin rush is indescribable.
After that rapid, the last half hour of the trip is all play, and you’ll have mixed emotions - from exhaustion to elation - when you pull to shore at the take - out beach at McKinley Village Hotel.
Note: Flipping and swimming are always a possibility. It’s just part of the adventure.
Denali Outdoor Center also offers two-hour mild and wild rafting trips down the Nenana. Choose a scenic wilderness float, a whitewater run through the canyon, or do a half-day with both. You can leave the work to your guide in an oar raft, or be a part of the action on a paddle raft.
No experience necessary. This is an exciting river trip for people in good physical condition. If you enjoy vigorous hikes, mountain biking, or similar endeavors, this could be the trip for you - whether you’re 25 or 50 years old. Minimum age requirement is 14 years old.