The Winner Creek to 20 Mile River loop is a great first packrafting trip. It can be done as an overnight trip or in one long day. For those with packrafting skills, this route offers a quick, easy-to-access, multi-sport adventure. The hike up to Berry Pass is seriously underrated and the views of the 20 Mile watershed are not to be missed.
Head up the Winner Creek Trail 1.5 miles until the trail comes to a well-marked T. Turn right towards Berry Pass. In another 5.5 miles, after crossing creeks, tumbling waterfalls and fallen trees, emerge into Berry Pass. Enjoy the recent trail work that has greatly improved the upper trail. Stunted hemlocks, small ponds and blueberries dot the pass. On a clear day, the view of the headwater glaciers of upper 20 Mile river is one of the most stunning trail-accessed views in the Chugach. If doing this trip as an overnight, Berry Pass is the best location to set up camp.
From the pass continue down the trail towards 20 Mile River another 1.5 miles. There is an impressive bridge spanning a swift-moving tributary, but there is no trail continuing on the other side. The Forest Service had plans to continue the trail all the way to the highway, but for now the funding, and trail, end here.
From the near side of the bridge, hike down to the tributary. Some people will choose to packraft this tributary, but be advised there are fast corners and many wood hazards. The other option is to bushwhack to the confluence of the tributary and 20 Mile and put in there. The bushwhack is unpleasant but short.
The upper river, above the confluence with Glacier River, is the most swift and enjoyable portion of the float. Past the confluence, there is easy floating and some tedious paddling to the takeout at the Seward Highway. Don’t forget to turn around and take in the glaciated views of the upper valley while floating.
Tips for Success and Safety:
- Be on the lookout for jet boats traveling up the lower reaches of 20 Mile River, especially when the silver salmon are running. You should be able to hear them long before you see them, but they move quickly and can be dangerous around blind corners.
- 20-Mile River is mostly Class I with few significant hazards. But be aware of sweepers and strainers which have the potential to be channel-wide requiring a portage.
- Make noise and carry bear deterrents while hiking, black and brown bears live here.
- Check the tide table for Turnagain Arm. To avoid paddling against the incoming tide, try to time your exit of 20 Mile River for low tide.