The Chatanika River, a Class II river, is a part of the Yukon River drainage and is a clear or lightly tannic stained rapid-runoff stream. It has its headwaters in the mountains of the northeastern portion of the Alaska Range and flows westward through valleys between summits and uplands for about four-fifths of its length before it enters Minto Flats, eventually joining the Tolovano River. It is most suited to small craft such as canoes or kayaks and encompasses the Chatanika River Canoe Trail (28 miles long), a BLM registered trail. The longest section of river suitable for floating is about 45 miles and would require 3 to 4 days.
Access to the river is from the Steese Highway, which runs from Fairbanks to Circle. The furthest upstream where one can reach the small upper river is at mile 66 but a better site is at mile 60 near Sourdough Camp. The official start of the Chatanika Canoe Trail is at mile 39 the Upper Chatanika State Recreation Site, where there is a campground and a road to the river.
The first, possible, take out is at mile 39 of the Steese for the upper run and this stretch should be doable in a couple of days. There is a more popular take out at mile 11 of the Elliott Highway at the Lower Chatanika State Recreation Site where another campground is. For the ambitious it, would be possible to float through the maze of swamp called Minto Flats to the Tolovana River and then upstream 10 miles to the village of Minto. The BLM brochure, "Alaska Canoe Trails," gives more details.
Mile 66 to Mile 30: 30 miles
This upper section of river is quite shallow with numerous sweepers and the occasional log jam that blocks the entire river. The river meanders in a way that does not allow good visibility of what is downstream; so pay attention for logjams. At mile 39 is the Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site.
Mile 39 to Elliot Highway: 15 miles
From the Upper Chatanika Rec Site, the Steese Highway runs southwest with the river for about 10 miles before departing to the southeast at Chatanika town. The river hugs the base of Haystack Mountain to the north for this 5-mile section. There is swift current all along and riffles and shallows to be ready for.
- There is decent fishing for Arctic Grayling all along its course. The Chatanika is rated as a class II, medium difficulty stream.
- There are no major obstacles, but canoeists should watch for low overhanging trees (called sweepers), logjams, and fast white water. Proper food storage for bears should be done at all camps.
- Be prepared for sudden rains that can cause the river to rise. Mosquitos are often numerous.
Circle A-6, B-5, B-6
Livengood A-1, A-2, A-3, A-4, A-5, A-6
Fairbanks D-4, D-6