Alaska Boat Launches & Harbors
Alaska features scores of boat launching sites and ramps, offering access to more navigable lakes, streams and ocean coastline than all of the other states combined. They range from high-capacity, fee-based facilities inside harbors and ports, to state park ramps aimed at vessels on trailers, to totally unmaintained dirt slopes that anglers and hunters have pioneered next to river bridges or along a shore.
They are managed many different public agencies and a few private entrepreneurs. No official, comprehensive directory exists. Outside of core recreation areas, the ramps may not always be located in the most convenient or sensible spots. But with some flexibility and a little research, you can almost always find a usable launch site for navigable water near your destination.
- Launching into the ocean? Check first with the small boat harbor or launch site in the community nearest to your boating destination.
- Launching into a lake? Park and recreation sites adjacent to the shore will often be your best bet.
- Launching into a river? While parks and recreation sites will often feature well-appointed launch sites (the Kenai River corridor has many examples,) Alaskans regularly pioneer their own launch ramps, both for trailered boats and paddling craft. If you know what you’re doing, don’t hesitate to check pullouts beside highway bridges for access options.
For More Information
Here are several links to boat ramp lists. They have been posted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to help anglers and hunters figure out access to fishing and hunting, often in less-traveled areas in the Interior. Scan these as an additional resource to find launch sites along your itinerary.
Boat Launches & Harbors by Destination
Want to let the kids romp on a beach beneath a million-dollar view of mile-high peaks? Paddle a pristine lake? Tucked into the woods at the northern foot of Eklutna Lake in Chugach State Park, this campground offers families unique access to a mountain wilderness valley laced with interesting features and 25-mile network of multi-use trails.
If you want to camp beside subalpine Upper Summit Lake close to trumpeter swans and fishing for rainbows, take the family to this campground deep in the Kenai Mountains off Mile 46 of the Seward Highway. The 35 sites are spread along a loop in the alder, willow and spruce woods on the hillside above the lake, with clear-running Tenderfoot Creek passing through
Established in 1964, Seward’s Small Boat Harbor is located on the northern edge of Resurrection Bay, which multiple publications have ranked as one of the top sailing destinations in the United States. From the harbor you’ll find easy access to Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, fishing, kayaking, camping, flight-seeing, and an assortment of other activities. Seward plays host to a variety of vessels that make up the commercial fishing… ...more
This park is the confluence of the Kenai and Moose Rivers. Take a break at this recreation site named for the English author Izaak Walton who wrote The Compleat Angler. Look for the informational sign to learn about the Moose River Archaeological Site. You will also find a hosted campground and boat launch. There’s excellent fly-fishing in this area.
This is a popular boat launch for drift boaters fishing for king salmon. The Kasilof River red salmon dipnet fishery is here, but only open to Alaska residents. It’s worth a look if you’ve never seen dipnetters in action before. There are 16 campsites, water, tables, toilets, hiking trails, a boat launch and fishing.
Prince William Sound
“Out the Road” ends at Echo Cove. You’ll see only a boat ramp and some outhouses, but walk about a mile down the beach and you’ll come upon the beautiful view of Berner’s Bay, Lion’s Head Mountain, and possibly a whale or 20. You likely won’t be alone, though; this is a popular spot for ATVs, so be prepared for their noise. It’s also a popular spot for kayaking, as Echo Cove offers great access to Berner’s Bay. But the cove is narrow, shallow,… ...more
Susitna River Valley
Overview 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… ...more
Surprise! This bridge over the Susitna River appears without warning, so if you want to stop and see this huge drainage, slow down and pull off the road at either end. Alaskans call it the Big Su. We fish it, paddle it, and snow machine its frozen braids. Bush pilots even navigate by this river. The Susitna River winds its way over 313 miles of Southcentral Alaska; this old railroad bridge crosses the water on the eastern edge of Denali… ...more
Matanuska River Valley
Overview With the Talkeetna Mountains to the north and the Chugach Mountains to the south, the Matanuska River pours forth from the large Matanuska Glacier in a swift, freezing cold, torrent of Class II to Class IV whitewater for nearly 70 miles before it meets the sea where the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet reaches into the interior. The river runs down the trench formed where the Border Ranges Fault line separates the two mighty mountain ranges,… ...more
Copper River Valley
Overview This interesting combination of rivers and lake is a rarely done circuit that would be a great multi-day wilderness float trip for kayaks and rafts. With good fishing opportunities and only Class III at times, it is mostly a Class II trip and for 80 miles it travels through an amazing landscape. The Nelchina River system is a rocky glacial river with daily water level fluctuations amid a forested valley and with spectacular views of… ...more
If you’re not heading right back to Anchorage, here’s another great side trip. A scenic 19-mile drive north takes you into the park. Lake Louise is known for its trout and grayling fishing, views of Tazlina Glacier and Lake, and berry picking — harvest wild strawberries and blueberries in July and August, or cranberries come September.
This swift, glacially-fed river delivers one of the top sports salmon fisheries in the Copper Basin, with productive bankside fishing for famed Copper River reds and decent opportunities to land a big king salmon. You’ll find good parking and direct access to public easements along the river in Copper Center. Many professional guides also operate in the community.
The Gulkana River is an approximately 80-mile long river that can be done in 5 to 7 average length days. It is a National Wild and Scenic River and one of Alaska’s most popular whitewater river trips. It is an excellent fishing river trip, as well, with a large King Salmon run and lots of smaller sport fish to try for. The first three miles are, generally, Class II with 4 mph current and some Class III. The next 13 to 15 miles to canyon… ...more
Interior Alaska & Fairbanks
You are now entering the 397-square mile Chena River State Recreation Area. Here you’ll find activities year round from hiking, rock climbing, and berry picking to dog sledding and cross-country skiing. Maintained and well-marked trails lead into alpine country and access very different hiking experiences. Once above treeline, smaller trails lead away from the main, developed trails to reach even more remote areas, many with unobstructed… ...more
The Delta River, including Tangle Lakes to mile 212 on the Richardson Highway, is an outstanding river to float, although there is a set of falls to portage around. It offers a variety of water challenges: quiet lake, fast and rocky Class I to the falls, good Class II rapids following the falls, Class I meandering water to Eureka Creek, and fast glacial water to the takeout 7 miles below Eureka Creek. The scenery is superb with canyon,… ...more