The Talkeetna River is, according to almost every guidebook or reference you may consult, the most classic, wilderness, whitewater trip in Alaska. Its remote location, steep, fast-water canyon, abundant fishing and wildlife viewing make it one of the true classics for sure. It requires a bush plane to fly into the Talkeetna Mountains where there are huge views of the highest peak in North America, Denali, and in the headwaters area there is good hiking. Its only disadvantage is its popularity, especially on its lower reaches where jet boats bring fishermen far upstream during the peak King Salmon run. Its whitewater canyon is a very continuous Class IV to V stretch and one outfitter calls the canyon "the longest rapid in Alaska", even though there are some breaks but precious few scouting locations or recovery eddies. It has gradient anywhere from 60 to 20 feet per mile and during the big salmon run can be swarming with bears. It is a cold, swift glacial river at all times with a beautiful turquoise color to it. The normal trip is 60 miles in length and is sometimes done in as few as 3 to 4 days but a much more enjoyable pace is 5 to 7 days and is suitable for medium to large rafts or kayaks.
The best spot to put in is at Yellow Jacket Creek, about 20 miles from the Talkeetna Glacier, even though the gravel strip itself is not a favorite of some pilots. But groups do go there and it is where we recommend you go. By starting at this point you have good hiking in the upper alpine mountains. The other option is to use a floatplane and fly to Murder Lake and descend the 8 miles of bear infested Prairie Creek. It is a shallow creek with logjams and bear jams and is used by kayak groups and never by rafting parties.
The take out requires no planes and involves pulling in to a public boat launch on river left just 1 mile above the river mouth at the town of Talkeetna.
Yellow Jacket Creek to The Canyon: 24 miles
There are several flight services in the town of Talkeetna that drop groups off at Yellow Jacket Creek strip. Be sure and get one that lands there regularly and has no qualms about it. From here you have a pleasant Class II stretch of river of glacial braids and swift water and you will want to spend a couple of days or more in this region as the best hiking is found here. Further downstream, the river becomes hemmed in by dense, impenetrable thickets and steep canyon walls. Once you see Prairie Creek entering from river right, it is only a swift 6 or 7 miles to where the canyon begins and if you aren't ready there is a spot to camp just below Prairie Creek. Prairie Creek is a major salmon stream so be vigilant about managing your food odors and keep all foods and soaps out of your tents. Below Prairie Creek comes Cache Creek, and then be on the lookout for the high granite walls that loom up on both sides of the river.
The Canyon to Iron Creek: 15 miles
This is the Toilet Bowl rapid, the most challenging of the trip and you will want to pull over to the right to hike down the bear trail to where you can scout the drop. There is a first rapid called Entrance Exam then a big drop into the Toilet Bowl where a dog leg turn to the right begins and surging hydraulics pile off the walls. There is another big drop after the dog leg and then one of the longest continuous stretches of whitewater in the state known as The Sluice Box, with few eddies or stops as you scream through the deep, mossy rock gorge. Don't be surprised to see a black bear or two scrambling up the cliffs in here. When the river suddenly emerges through a gate of sheer rocks you know the canyon is behind you and Iron Creek will soon appear.
Iron Creek to Take Out: 31 miles
You are now in the area that sees heavy jet boat traffic, especially on weekends, as fishermen charter rides up into this region to fish. You will pass Disappointment Creek on river right and if no one is camping there it is a nice spot with excellent fishing opportunities. Further along will be Sheep River on river left and Clear Creek on river right. All this stretch is an easy Class I to II section with ample current to carry you along at 5 to 7 miles an hour. Always be listening for the roar of an approaching high speed jet boat and yield as fast as you can to avoid an unpleasant encounter. Most raft groups will plan to run the entire canyon then camping soon after exiting. The following day you can float this stretch down past Clear Creek and camp so that the following day is a short float to the take out on river left just before the railroad bridge over the river. A vehicle will be necessary to transport you to the town site, unless you decide to float all the way to the Susitna confluence where you can stop river left at the end of Main Street Talkeetna, where beer, pizza, and hospitality services are waiting.
Talkeetna Mountains B-4, B-5, B-6, C-4, C-5
I, II, III, IV, V