This bit of river system is a crystalline, spring-fed watershed that flows into the Tanana River and is famous as being the largest documented spawning area for Coho Salmon of the entire Yukon River system. It is a fairly short river of 20 miles with 12 miles you can float, but when combined with the 30 miles of Tanana River down to the Alcan Highway Bridge, a long weekend or up to a 3 day trip is possible and is entirely accessible by car. Shorter trips of 1 or 2 days are possible by staying on Clearwater Creek and taking out before the Tanana River. For a family of avid fisherpeople who enjoy a beautiful clear creek setting, this is an outstanding river trip. There is excellent access and camping at the put in and decent camping along the Tanana River. Clearwater Creek is a very brushy waterway while the Tanana is a giant braided glacial river and combined, they offer a superb destination for families. It is a fly fisherman's dream river with catch and release only prior to May 31 and then bag limits apply after June 1, while on the Clearwater. The Coho Salmon run is not until September and the fall colors are fresh and mosquitos are not as bad as mid summer.
From Fairbanks you will want to drive the Richardson Highway, 3 hours south along the Alcan towards Delta, Alaska. At mile 141.5 of the Alaska Highway turn left onto Jack Warren Road and on to Remington Road for 8.5 miles till you reach the Clearwater State Recreation Area, where there is a quaint 17-site camping area and a boat launch. There is a road off Jack Warren Road that leads to the Clearwater Lake system where you could actually start a float to the Tanana River, as well.
There are two common ways of ending a trip. For a short 1 or 2 day trip, float down from the campsite area the 12 miles to the Tanana and then 1.5 miles to where the outlet of the Clearwater Lakes is found. This outlet has very little current and is an easy paddle up into the lakes where you can then use the boat launch at the far southern end of the lake. There are a few dead end lake sloughs but if you go all the way to the south end, you will find the public boat launch and the short road back to the Jack Warren Road. This option eliminates running the much bigger, stronger, thus trickier Tanana River. The mighty Tanana River is a cold, silt river of many channels with potential sweepers and logjams to be on the look out for. After 28 miles the Tanana flows beneath the Alaska Highway Bridge just above the confluence with the big Delta River. Take out is on the left shore away from the security zone of the Alaskan Oil Pipeline, which also crosses the river.
Clearwater State Rec Are to Tanana River Confluence: 12 miles
At the Clearwater State Recreation Site you will find a well kept campground with 17 sites, a picnic area, toilets and a well-used boat launch onto the Clearwater River. The river here is small with the combined flows of Clearwater, Granite and Sawmill Creeks, and brushy banks with deep gin clear water. It is anywhere from 4 to 8 hours down to the lake outlet, depending how much floating, versus fishing you are doing. You will enter the Tanana River and will need to stay on the left shore for 1.5 miles to where the lake outlet is found. Where the lake outlet enters from the left, it is a 1-mile paddle up an easy current to where you enter the lake and another mile to the south end of the lake to the boat launch off Jack Warren Road. It seems like a person could camp at the put in, float all day into the lakes and camp another night along the lake or at the boat launch site for a nice 3-day trip.
Tanana River to Alcan Highway: 28 miles
As mentioned earlier, it would be possible to start a float trip at the lakes and float the extra 2 miles to the Tanana confluence where the nature of the trip changes drastically as you merge with the silty Tanana River. The bigger river is flowing northwest and, for many miles, is a deep, multiple channel river with gravel bar campsites. There is the need to have good life vests, PFDs, as there is an element of danger associated with such a cold river. There are log jams and sweepers to be on the lookout for as the river rushes along at 5 to 8 mph. after about 15 miles you will come to the bluff Cabin ridge, which forces the river into a main channel before it opens again. Just after is a large slough that leads up a ways to the mouth of the Goddpaster River. This is another hot fishing river and quite a bit of riverboat traffic goes up into its lower sections. There is a good camping zone across from the mouth of this slough. From here the river is north for a short bit then begins a swing to the west where it proceeds past several large wooded islands, finally turning more west and southerly as it winds the final distance to where the highway crosses the river. Stay well to the right side as you approach to make sure you will catch the best eddy for your take out. The pipeline crosses here and there is some security and/or fences to stay clear off but this is a popular boat launching area for fishermen heading up to the Goddpaster River.
- The Clearwater Lakes area is a great place to observe swans, cranes, geese, and other waterfowl.
- The busiest season for this trip is likely Labor Day weekend when a lot of traffic is on the river and the salmon run is starting. However, in the summer, prior to the Coho run, there is much less use by people.
- There is a map for this here.
Big Delta A-4