The following are some suggestions for packrafting trips within a day's drive from Fairbanks. The 24 hours of daylight in the summer results in some of these trips being 12 hours or longer. The beauty of a packraft is the ability to carry the boat on your back to a remote put-in and then float back out to the road. Most of the trips below include a combination of hiking and rafting. A packraft is easy to transport and is also perfect for paddling a river with frequent road access points.
Conditions are constantly changing and packrafting has inherent dangers, including foreseeable and unforeseeable risks. Paddlers should consider river and weather conditions and their own ability level, among other factors. The trips listed below are a starting point and only contain a few details about access, routes, and river rating class or conditions. Some trips do have links to posts on the web with more information and photos. There are a lot more adventures out there. Pick up a map and go explore.
PLEASE NOTE - the whitewater ratings listed below are a subjective interpretation of the Packraft Rating (PR) classification system and are based on "normal" flow conditions. The rating is merely a guide to the type of water you may encounter while paddling during "normal" flow conditions. Ratings will increase dramatically during high flows. Please review the PR rating system for more information.
Beginner (PR Class I/II)
Middle Fork Chena River - Angel Rocks Trail: This a good introductory trip that includes a walk up the popular Angel Rocks trail, and requires a little bit of cross-country bog slogging just before the put-in. The roughly 12-mile hike includes some scenic tundra walking on a ridgeline connecting Angel Rocks and Chena Hot Springs. It is also possible to begin the hike at Chena Hot Springs Resort. At normal water levels, the river is class I/II (mostly flat-water) but there may be frequent sweepers and/or logjams blocking the river. After 2-3 hours of floating back to Chena Hot Springs Road, it's a quick 6-mile bike ride, run, or drive back to the Angel Rocks trail head. A trip report is available HERE.
South Fork Chena River - Mist Trail to Nugget Cr Cabin: This is another trip out Chena Hot Springs Road east of Fairbanks. After parking at milepost 36.4 and crossing the Chena River in your boat, the route follows the Mist Trail for about 6 miles through a black spruce forest to the Nugget Creek recreational cabin. It is possible to make this an overnight trip with a stay at the cabin. At normal water levels, the river is Class I but expect potentially dangerous sweepers and/or some log jams. The float back from Nugget Creek Cabin to the road can be 6 hours or more with steady paddling depending on water levels. A trip report is available HERE.
West Fork Chena River: Climb very steeply up a four-wheeler trail to the ridgeline between the West Fork and North Fork of the Chena River on the east side of the Chena Hot Springs Road a few miles before Chena Hot Springs Resort. There are nice views of the surrounding uplands as you follow the ridgeline back toward the confluence of the West Fork and Frozenfoot Creek. Float the West Fork back to Chena Hot Springs Road. At low water levels the river will be very shallow and likely not floatable. There are also a number of sweepers and log jams blocking the channel - be prepared to get in and out of your boat.
Chena River Downtown Cruise: A warm summer evening floating the Chena River through Fairbanks is an always entertaining way to enjoy the endless daylight. A Fairbanks tradition is to visit the random establishments along the river for food and drinks. Stash a bike at your take-out point, throw your packraft into your backpack, and ride back to your vehicle or home - no car shuttling required.
Intermediate (PR Class II/III)
Brushkana Creek: The Brushkana is a fast, fun, and scenic river easily accessed from the Denali Highway. There is a campground where the river crosses the highway and its possible to hike above the bridge, float downriver just past the campground, and get out and do it all over again. Another option is to continue floating several more miles to the confluence of Monahan Creek and the Nenana River, where the gradient diminishes dramatically, and then hike out to the Denali Hwy. During snowmelt and wet periods, the creek runs high and fast and can be solid Class II+/III. During normal to low flows, the water is less pushy and can even be a butt dragger at times. The Brushkana makes for a very long day trip but is also a pleasant overnight or weekend float. A trip report is available HERE.
Healy Creek: Healy Creek originates in the mountains east of Healy and flows west, draining into the Nenana River about a mile upstream of the bridge near the Healy Airport. The Nenana River is a cold, swift, high volume glacial river and expect much different conditions than Healy Creek if you decide to continue on and float the Nenana River to the bridge. At normal flows, Healy Creek is mostly Class II water with occasional braided channels and can be a good river for intermediate packrafters to improve their skills. At higher flows, the river is fast and much more challenging, and at low water there is some butt dragging over the shallow gravel bars. This is an old mining area and there are some potential hazards in the river, such as scrap metal and other mining relics. A gravel road parallels the north side of Healy Creek for many miles so it is possible to walk or bike up the road and put-in at any point. The road is gated and there is no vehicle access after about 2 miles past the Nenana River bridge.
Riley Creek - Triple Lakes Trail: Riley Creek makes for an excellent hike/float that begins and ends at the Riley Creek Campground. Therefore, no car shuttle or stashing of a bike at the take-out is necessary. The Triple Lakes trail crosses Riley Creek (over a bridge) and then follows the south bank before ascending a ridge paralleling the river. After roughly 6 miles the trail veers east heading towards the highway and this is a good point to leave the trail and descend back down to the creek. Riley Creek is generally a rocky Class II or II+ creek with a few tight bends that require some maneuvering skills. At lower water levels, expect some butt dragging, so it is worth paying attention to the water level as you hike up the creek the first couple of miles. There is a more significant drop (Class II+ or III) just after the Alaska Railroad bridge.
Windy Creek: This has become quite a popular destination for packrafters in recent years, and for good reason. Windy Creek is a splashy, Class II or II+ boulder strewn creek with reliable water levels. At normal flows the water is not too pushy and a packraft bounces down the river like a pinball; it's an amusement park ride. The hike begins in Cantwell and follows a four-wheeler trail to Windy Creek, at which point a smaller game-like trail weaves its way upriver in and out of the brush. The gradient of Windy Creek diminishes near its junction with the Jack River, and its possible to access the Parks Hwy just after entering the Jack, or continue floating down to the confluence with the Nenana River. A trip report is available HERE.
Intermediate/Advanced (PR Class II+/III+)
Moody Creek: This accessible gem is not far off Parks Highway near Glitter Gulch (Denali Park entrance) and is a challenging whitewater run. Solid class II+ and III+ water at lower flows and requires a lot of ferrying and back-paddling to avoid obstacles. Undoubtedly scary as hell during high water. It's a 7-mile hike, 9-mile float, and 13-mile bike or car shuttle back to the starting point. There is a primitive trail from the highway that leads above treeline, where there are superb views of the Alaska Range and Denali. Sheep trails lead almost all the way down to Moody Creek, although there is some scree hopping and then mild bushwhacking on the final descent. Moody Creek empties out into Healy Creek, and then the Nenana River. The take-out is at the Nenana River bridge near the Healy airport. This is truly a wilderness trip, regardless of its proximity to the highway. Here is some video footage from Moody Creek.
McCallum Creek: McCallum Creek is a rowdy ribbon of Class III whitewater draining steep, glaciated country near Rainbow Ridge along the Richardson Highway. The gradient averages approximately 170 feet/mile and is a very challenging, rock strewn creek, which is likely dangerous at higher water levels. When the water level is favorable, this is a "golden" trip since it begins and ends at the same location and does not require a car shuttle. Park in the gravel pit at milepost 206.5 and ascend a 4400 foot pass that leads towards upper McCallum Creek. Drop your packraft in the creek and hold on - McCallum Creek is fast flowing and requires a lot of back paddling and digging in deep with your paddle as obstacles approach rapidly. After about 3.5 miles, McCallum drains into Phelan Creek which takes you right back to your starting point. This trip can easily be done as a day trip but it is about a 3 hour drive from Fairbanks, so it may be wise to camp in the area to avoid a long day of driving. A full trip report is available HERE.