Lake Creek is one of south central Alaska’s most famous streams, primarily due to its superior salmon runs. King Salmon use Lake Creek and Chelatna Lake as a spawning site and return in large numbers and trout and grayling follow right behind them. Lake Creek is a clear, swift, and at times, very strong river with two sections of Class III+ and IV rapids and many technical boulder garden rapids to get through. The two hardest sections can be lined down the sides as they are short. It averages 23 feet a mile gradient over the course of 54 miles and can be anywhere from a 3 to 7 day trip. Some groups will spend 30 hours of floating time over a 10-day period. The creek bed is littered with car sized granite boulders that create drops and chutes between pour overs. As a float trip you are able to get away from the crowds that are fishing and camping on lower Lake Creek. But the river is demanding enough you should have solid rafting/paddling skills to get you down to the confluence with the big, silty Yentna River. It does require flying in and out but its close proximity to some air charter services can make it an affordable trip. Remote with incredible scenery it has a lot to offer for those hardy enough.
This trip begins by flying in a floatplane to Chulatna Lake, the put in for this trip. Floatplanes are available from Kaswitna Lake, Willow or Anchorage with flight times from Anchorage under an hour. There is a gravel strip on the south end of the lake adjacent to the lodge.
The take out for the 54 miles described here is by floatplane from the Yentna River just below its confluence with Lake Creek. You could float further. It is another 36 miles to the Susitna River where you could find a gravel bar for a wheel plane pickup or arrange for a riverboat pickup from Susitna Landing area.
Chelatna Lake to Canyon: 30 miles
The flight in to this beautiful lake is fantastic with big views of Denali and Foraker and the Kahiltna Glacier. Ask your pilot to give you a view of the river as you fly up so you can scope out where other groups ahead of you are camped. Never count on a spot being unoccupied. The Chelatna Lake Lodge is located at the south end of the lake. The lake is headed by Cripple Creek drainage and to the west is the small Sunflower Basin that feeds Sunflower Creek. There are lots of mining claims and cabins so check with your pilot or the lodge folks about camping. There is an airstrip on the south end of the lake and the west end has room for camping. As you leave the lake, you will be engulfed by alder choked and brushy banks and there is no real campsite for the first 9 miles down to Sunflower Creek and someone may be there. For 2 miles out of the lake it is a slough rather than a creek. Then the Creek becomes narrower and there are the first of the glacial erratic that litter the creek bed to maneuver past. Clear and brushy, it is a Class II float, the 9 miles to where Sunflower Creek is met. Here the creek drops into a known fishing hole and for 4 miles run through rocky rapids and along shores that are filled with sweepers where it is narrow. Camp Creek enters from the right after 13 miles and Home Creek at 19 miles. Camping is usually at the stream mouths but there are a few other bench camps and lots of islands and gravel bar camps that you don't have to "compete for." This is the section where there are no motorboats and it is remote in the sense that you are not as accessible to immediate help.
Canyon to Yenlo Creek: 12 miles
Beginning at a point just below Shovel Lake, the river makes a sharp oxbow like bend to the right and the first rapids are just after at GPS N 62.18 degrees by W 151.06 degrees. The Canyon runs to where it ends near Quiet Lake, a few miles above the confluence with Yenlo Creek. There are two distinct major rapids and each one is only 200 yards long and could be lined or portaged down the right side. Scouting is recommended at all times. As you enter the first rapid watch out for the sweeper on the outside bend where the water is being forced. The first rapid Embick called The Drop and should be scouted from the right. There is a potential for a log jam down the one channel, otherwise the left side would be the run. The second set of Class III+ rapids comes five miles above Yenlo Creek at N 62.1 degrees by W 150.95 degrees and has another potential log jam spot. This is the one that is more technical and has less room for mistakes. Being broached or wrapped on a big rock midstream is no easy drill. Scout this one from the right as well. Just after the canyon opens a bit you will see Yenlo Creek entering from river right. There is a good camp here.
Yenlo Creek to Yentna River: 12 miles
This section is only Class II for 3 or 4 miles as it winds along before straightening out and then becomes Class I all the way to the Yentna River with the biggest danger being hit by a jet boat speeding upriver with a fresh batch of fishermen. Motorboats are allowed up to mile 50.
- The King Salmon Run is usually going by early June. Pinks and Chums arrive in July and the Coho run is in August.
- Have plenty of rope in case you line your boats.
- Canyon: N 62.18 degrees by W 151.06 degrees
- Boulder Garden Run: N 62.17 degrees by W 151.05 degrees
- Last Rapid: N 62.1 degrees by W 150.95 degrees
- USGS Maps
Talkeetna A-2, A-3, B-3
I, II, III, IV