Birch Creek

Just north of Fairbanks, Alaska, flowing out of the low mountains and rolling hills west of Chena Dome and south of Mastodon Dome, is the Birch Creek National Wild and Scenic River, one of only a few rivers of this status that is accessible by road and requires no flying in or out to do the 126-mile section of Class I to III+ river. A swift, shallow stream, Birch Creek begins above its confluence with Twelvemile Creek and for the first 10 miles is a narrow, winding and shallow, stream that requires dragging over riffles at times. It is more suited to canoes and kayaks but small rafts can easily make the trip. The river winds and twists its way through the forested hills before spilling out into the Yukon Flats country with the last 30 miles low relief, muskeg country. It is a lovely trip with enough challenge to keep things interesting. There are up to four Class III+ rapids in the stretch between Clum's Fork and Thomas Creek and if the river is high they could be Class IV.

Put In

The put in is along the Steese Highway at mile 94.5 and is reached by driving from Fairbanks up the Chatanika Valley, over Twelvemile Summit to a pull out where the road crosses the North Fork at its confluence with Twelvemile Creek. The North Fork, and Twelvemile Creek join to become this section of Birch Creek.

Take Out

The take out is reached by driving further along the Steese Highway to mile 137 where there is access at the bridge across the river. Options to the takeout would be to continue another 218 miles, through the maze of channels and islands in the Yukon Flats country to the Yukon River where a chartered floatplane can pick your party up.

The Trip

North Fork to Clum’s Fork: 40 miles

It is about ten miles of shallow, potentially boat dragging river down the North Fork to where it joins the Harrington Fork, swings to the east, and swiftly gathers speed as it winds its way through the forested hill sides of this region. This is a Class I and II section with a few more continuous spots as it approaches the confluence with Clum's Fork. It is about 33 miles to a point where the Class I ends and the beginnings of swifter Class III section begins. For the 7 miles to Clum's Fork watch for rock gardens to navigate through.

Clum’s Fork to Thomas Creek: 7 miles

Once you arrive at the Clum's Fork, which enters from the right side of the river, be ready for a swift, very busy section of fairly continuous paddling. There are four distinct rapids that, when the water level is high, can become Class IV so you may want to line your canoes down through the worst of it. Once you reach Thomas Creek this swifter section ends and the rest of the way downriver is easy Class I and II.

Thomas Creek to Take Out: 79 miles

Below Thomas Creek, things become very mellow, very quickly. There are sections of muskeg and meanderings as the river works its way east out of the domes and small mountains that characterize this region. Along the left side of the river is a long ridgeline that separates Birch Creek from Harrison Creek and offers a few good hike potentials and where the ridge meets the river, Birch Creek swings sharply to the southeast. After Harrison Creek there is a lessening of gradient and current and the river is quite open when the South Fork enters from river right. At this point Birch Creek swings to the northeast and after 10 miles, the foothills end and the Yukon Flats begin. It is another 30 miles of low to no current and oxbow like meanderings through a maze of lakes and channels. This area is full of waterfowl and moose and you may be rewarded when paddling along quietly. The take out is where the highway crosses the river. Unless you plan to float all the way to the Yukon and have a floatplane pick you up.

USGS Maps

Circle A-3, A-4, B-1, B-2, B-3, B-4, C-1

Distance

126 miles

Days

5-7

Difficulty

Moderate

Class

I, II, III, III+

Craft

Canoe

Kayak

Raft

Cost

$$

Getting There

Coordinates
Latitude: 64.846365
Longitude: -147.708442

Show Map

Birch Creek Points

The put in is along the Steese High­way at mile 94.5 and is reached by dri­ving from Fair­banks up the Chatani­ka Val­ley, over Twelvemile Sum­mit to a pull out where the road cross­es the North Fork at its con­flu­ence with Twelvemile Creek. The North Fork, and Twelvemile Creek join to become this sec­tion of Birch Creek.

There is access at the bridge across the river.