The Tana River is a short, challenging Class IV+ stretch of river that leads to the Chitina River. It flows out of the Chugach Mountains directly towards the Wrangell Mountains and has a reputation that deserves skill and experience paddling along fast, cold glacier water. It starts as a medium size river flowing out of the Tana Glacier that is an ice tributary of the giant Bagley Ice Field. The Tana River alone is only 36 miles long but when added to the Chitina River, a 95-mile trip is possible. It has beautiful mountain scenery, unusual sand dune formations and a short but tricky whitewater section requiring some competent boating skills.
If you're looking for a guided raft trip, contact McCarthy River Tours & Outfitters. They are the only company actively rafting this river commercially.
The put in for the Tana River involves driving to McCarthy and then flying by small plane to a tundra strip near its source. The normal put in site is located at GPS N 61 degrees and 00 minutes by W 142 degrees and 42 minutes and is a short but spectacular flight of 35 minutes from McCarthy Alaska.
The take out can be one of two options. The first is at Jake's Bar, accessible by small bush plane, on the Chitina River and might be desirable for a kayak group that was after the whitewater run rather than the extended wilderness trip. The second option would be to continue down the Chitina to its confluence with the Copper River, where there is road access, and is a great wilderness trip that combines the thrill and adrenaline rush of big white water and remote wilderness. The common take out is O'Brien Creek and is described in detail for the Copper and Chitina Rivers.
Upper Tana Put In to the End of the Tana Canyon: 15 miles
The normal put in is the river’s left bank tundra beach and has a nice camp area just above the water with good hiking. The river here is lightly braided with good current and no real obstacles to speak of. One of the unusual features along this stretch is a large set of sand dunes that are slowly drowning a spruce forest and surely represent some past lake sediment that has been blown down and washed downriver from the glacier lakes that have formed here in the past. There is a nice camp here and the hiking around is very unique. Just below this spot is a decent size rapid that is easily scouted and easily run down the left hand side to avoid the big line of haystacks mid river. Six miles below this point and just after Granitic Creek enters from river left is the start of the Tana Canyon where the whitewater is. There are rapids immediately below Granite Creek and a left side sneak run is recommended. Below this the river is a narrow winding stretch with few eddies and several big rapids to run. The first major rapid is a long right hand turn and involves dodging big holes and then finding the line into the final plunge that is followed by a left hand turn and sheer walls. This rapid can be scouted from river right by stopping well above the turn in the bushy rocks. There are many more drops and the whole canyon is about four and a half miles in length and in places the canyon walls rise straight up from the river making scouting difficult. There are 8 to 10 individual pool and drop rapids and in mid summer the flow can be as much as 25,000 cfs and should not be taken lightly.
Tana Canyon to Jake’s Bar: 18 miles
Once through the Tana Canyon the river continues at a fast pace for a few miles then slows down as it widens and splits around sand bars. This is the area to watch for the American Bison that inhabit this area. Where it joins the Chitina River, the upriver view of the Chitina and Castle Bluffs is huge. A short distance down the Chitina takes you to the river right spot known as Jake's Bar, where planes can pick you up.
Jake’s Bar to O’Brien Creek: 60 miles
Now you are on the Chitina River and it is easy to navigate even though the current is strong and getting pulled over to shore is sometimes no easy feat. The river is running NNW in a meandering fashion with a 10 to 12 mile an hour current. The river again becomes immensely wide where it turns to run due west and there are many nice camping zones along here. Where the river takes a sudden bend due north marks the area just before the clear Tebay River on the left where bears are likely to be fishing. From here it is only 20 miles to the confluence with the Copper River and takeout. If you are trying to take out at the McCarthy Road Bridge, get over to river right for the last mile, along the base of the steep bluff to enable you to stop and line your boats up the Copper to the bridge. If you plan on going to O'Brien Creek get to the right side of the Copper River right away and space out between your boats in case the pull in is congested with fishermen, as is often the case. If it is, the best approach is to land one boat at a time to displace fewer fishermen.
Bering Glacier D-6
McCarthy A-5, A-6