The Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve is a remote wilderness on the southwest Alaskan peninsula and the Aniakchak River and Caldera is the centerpiece feature of the park. The river is a challenging Class IV at times and is only 35 miles long from source to sea and is done in 3 to 4 days. Issuing out of turquoise colored Surprise Lake, the river runs a breach in the caldera wall and swiftly flows through one of the densest brown bear populations in the area on its way to the sea. It dumps out into Aniakchak Bay on the southern coast along the stormy Pacific Ocean. Weather has been known to get atrocious for days at a time. July is the month to go rafting here and inflatable 14-foot rafts are the ideal craft.
The Park is in such a remote place there is no direct link to it. By flying from Anchorage to King Salmon, Alaska on a commercial airline, you should be able to charter a floatplane from there to Surprise Lake. Allow some extra days for bad weather.
The take out consists of having a prearranged pickup by chartered airplane come to Aniakchak Bay. Wheelplanes and floatplanes are both suitable. Again, rough weather can sometimes keeps floatplanes from landing in the choppy ocean. The river empties right out into the ocean with good beaches for your wheelplane pickup.
Surprise Lake to Hidden Creek: 15 miles
The blue color of the lake on a bluebird day is not only spectacular, but also rare. Most days, the clouds are low and scud-like with windy conditions, but to camp inside this caldera and explore the crater rim is quite unique and should be attempted. Once you are in your raft, the lake spews forth gently for 1 mile until you are confronted by the section known as The Gates. This is the beginning of the Class IV section and many groups will line their boats along the shore to proceed past the main drops. However, a well paddled or rowed raft with a strong frame and rigged to flip can make it through here. Below the Gates, the river is still swift and after the 3 miles of The Gates there are about ten miles of Class III+, where the river widens but is still filled with large boulders and steep shorelines. At the confluence with Hidden Creek the river is narrow and hemmed in by sheer jagged, volcanic cliffs with huge boulders in midstream. This is another area to line boats if for any reason the river doesn't appear to be in a good mood. On a cold, rainy day it is especially hard to be motivated to risk a flip in the raging waters. Below Hidden Creek the river eases.
Hidden Creek to Aniakchak Bay: 17 miles
Once safely past Hidden Creek the river calms down a bit as it races along with walls of impenetrable willow and alder forming the shore. Anywhere you find a trail will likely have a brown bear walking down it to fish in the river. Proceed with utmost care as the bears are often in the river where you will want to go. Once at the ocean, you will be able to find a camp with some protection from the ocean winds and storms and accessible to either a plane that lands on the beach or one that lands on the water.
Sutwik Island D-5, D-6
Aniakchak River Points
On top of giving yourself a few weather days for any delays in or out, you should have an extra day for inside the caldera. Bearproof food containers should be used and camping protocol strict as there are so many bears here when the fish are in the river in the summer All your gear should be 4 season tough and in good condition This river is so remote and wild it is a good idea to have a ground to air VHF radio or better yet a marine band… ...more