The Nizina River flows out of the Nizina Glacier and into the heart of the Wrangell Mountains from a point not far from the divide with the St Elias Mountains to the east. This area is a part of the largest protected parklands in the world and from near its source, it offers a 45-mile or 90-mile trip with moderate Class III difficulties. It is a tributary of the Chitina River that flows into the even larger Copper River. The Nizina has wide braided glacial plains as well as a narrow canyon in its lower reaches and runs through a great wilderness where bears, moose and even bison exist. It is bounded to the east by the St Elias Mountains, to the north by the Wrangell Mountains and to the southwest by the Chugach Mountains. There may be no more beautiful mountain scenery in the state than what is found here.
To get to the Nizina River headwaters involves quite a few logistics, one of the reasons you will likely see no other traces of people of modern times. Most groups will start their trip from the town of McCarthy. This involves driving the McCarthy Road to its end at the Kennicott River where you must shuttle your gear another few miles to the McCarthy airstrip. When you use a local flight operator they will likely be able to do this for you. From here, if you are lucky, you can get a bush plane fitted with wheel/floats so you can land on the lake at the toe of the Nizina Glacier. If no suitable planes are there you may try Valdez or Gulkana flight operators. Otherwise you will need to charter a bush plane to land on one of the gravel strips below the Nizina Glacier Lake.
There is a strip just below the glacier toe, which involves carrying your gear a half-mile to the river or there is a strip at Glacier Creek on the Chitistone River where a short 8-mile stretch of Class I and II will take you to the Nizina. There may be a strip at Dan Creek as well. Either way the logistics are many as you sort out how best to start your trip.
Take out has two basic options. The first is from a river right gravel strip where the Nizina joins the Chitina River and involves chartering a bush plane. This is the end of the 45-mile trip. Otherwise you could float an additional 45 miles of the Chitina River to just below its confluence with the Copper River and take out at O'Brien Creek where there is vehicle access.
Nizina Glacier to the Chitistone River Confluence: 10 miles
From the lake at the toe of the glacier is a spectacular starting point and well worth the effort and cost to get there. The best hiking along the river is found here, in the recently glaciated landscapes. The river issues forth from the iceberg filled lake and is full of wave trains and strong current right away. It is running a southerly course and quickly moves over to the river’s left bank where it then swings over towards the right bank. It is a wide valley of glacial outwash plains with steep cutbacks and many shallow channels to avoid. Where it reaches the river’s right bank is just above the confluence with the West Fork tributary. Chitistone Mountain forms the left side valley wall as you move along to where it joins the Chitistone River at the southern end of its mile wide delta.
Chitistone Confluence to the Nizina Canyon: 30 miles
The river pinches into a main channel at the confluence and then opens up again into the widest stretch of river of the trip. After a few more miles the river begins a slow wide turn to the right where Dan Creek enters from river left. Here the river now flows mostly to the west with Sourdough Mountain forming the northern valley wall. Young Creek enters on river left and soon the Sourdough Ridge drops down toward the river and marks the area where the river, again, narrows and flows to the north. This marks the area just before the confluence with the Kennicott River. At a point where Five Mile Gulch joins the river from river right, the Nizina makes another dramatic due north turn and then swings south and then west. This is the where the river again opens up and the Kennicott joins, adding its volume to the already big river. Only 3 or 4 miles of wide valley remain before you enter the Nizina Canyon.
Nizina Canyon to Take Outs: 5 miles or 45 miles
It is only 3 or 4 miles below the mouth of the Kennicott River to where the Nizina River suddenly narrows and begins a twisting tortured course through a beautiful limestone gorge. Immediately below the canyon is the much larger Chitina River. The mini gorge is about four miles long with up to 7 main wall encounters where the strong current has been known to flip rafts. Even at moderate flows you will want to quickly move to the inside of the turns away from the walls where the boiling hydraulics are. High water should be approached with extreme caution and is common after long periods of hot weather or after heavy localized rain. There are spots to relax and at least one above waterline ledge that offers a unique campsite. Quite suddenly, after the last sweeping turn to the south, where big views of the Chugach Mountains loom, the Nizina merges with the much larger Chitina River. If your plans are to take out here you will want to get along the right shoreline to get stopped. Stop early to locate the gravel airstrip and then move your boats as close as the current will allow to facilitate the take out. There is an old cabin here and remnants of cable crossings and various mining activity relics. If you are going the extra 45 miles to the takeout on the Copper River, ride the main current out into the huge valley of the Chitina. (There is a detailed description of the O'Brien Creek take out in the section on the Chitina River.)
McCarthy A-6, B-6, B-7, B-8
Valdez B-1, C-1, C-2