Hitching up and rolling out of Fairbanks heading South for Valdez, we had no idea what we were in for. We had a few adventures planned here and there, but nothing could have really prepared us for all the untold awesomeness that a road trip down the Richardson Highway would hold for us.
Our epic hikes at the Gulkana and Castner Glaciers surprised us, but this next adventure really blew our minds!
What a ride! With all of our planned paddle boarding on Banff’s beautiful lakes having gone South, it had been well over a month since we were on the water and we were both itching for an h20 adventure; This rafting trip down the mighty Gulkana River more than hit the spot.
The Gulkana River
The Gulkana River was designated as a “Wild and Scenic River” in 1980, a label that carries some weight. Wild and Scenic Rivers are special and unique places, waterways that have been set aside to and protected to preserve their outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational value to the American people. They are left to be “free-flowing” which means no damns or unnatural impediments to the flow of water. Nature as it is, and as it should be for all to enjoy.
When they say Wild and Scenic River they mean it. Not only is this river chock full of fish (even though we didn’t catch a thing), king and red salmon, arctic grayling, rainbow trout, to name a few- the skies and shoreline are loaded with wildlife as well.
Details On Floating The Gulkana River
As far as we can tell Walt over at Gulkana Raft Rental is the only raft rental there is for a trip down the river. To be honest, even if there was another raft rental company out there, we still would have gone with Walt. He’s the very embodiment of the Alaskan spirit; Incredibly kind, abundantly knowledgeable about the area, and an all-around great guy!
The cost of rentals varies depending on what type of raft you’re interested in renting. Gulkana Raft Rentals has a full inventory of floaty boaties to choose from, that will best suit your group. You can find that list here.
We chose a pair of fish cats for a full day rental on the river. The fish cats were an insane amount of fun to paddle, allowed us each to do our own thing while getting to share the experience. We would highly recommend them to couples or a large group who might want an extra raft to play around on.
How Much Time Does It Take-
Gulkana Raft Rentals offers half-day, full-day, and multiday rentals. We opted for the full-day option and it took us about 6 hours from the time we splashed the boats till when we made it to the pullout at the Richardson Bridge. Had we known how much we were going to love this little adventure we would have certainly booked at a minimum an overnight trip. But then again after 6 hours of paddling, we were pretty exhausted, so maybe not! If you’re interested in a full list with details of trips offered by Gulkana Raft Rentals you can find that here.
How Hard Is It-
The Gulkana River boasts rapids ranging from Class I-IV, if that sounds intimidating to you don’t let it be. Remember that the class of rapids you’ll encounter is dependent on the current flow volume of the river and the sections that you will be paddling. On our 6-hour trip, we didn’t see anything above a Class III rapid, and certainly nothing we would label as dangerous or unmanageable by even a novice paddler.
If you’re planning on paddling your own rafts like we did, you will need to be in semi-decent shape. After 6 hours of paddling, our shoulders were pretty well worked over, when we got back to the RV we took a shower, drank a beer, and promptly went to bed. It’s not hard to paddle these rafts but it will take some physical effort.
Where We Camped-
The Richardson Bridge spans across the Gulkana River and is a popular spot for locals to haul out their rafts at the end of a trip down the river and also coincidentally where our raft trip ended as well. Conveniently enough, there is a massive “pull-out” and parking area at the base of the bridge. When the fishing is hot, this area turns into an impromptu campground. We honestly weren’t sure what to expect when we made the choice to spend 2 nights here, but it turned out to be a lovely free spot right on the river. If you choose to follow in our footsteps know this, Alaskans will fish no matter the time of day, so don’t expect it to be the quietest place even in the middle of the night.
GPS Coordinates: 62.2680899,-145.3834768
Packing List For A Raft Trip Down The Gulkana River
Waterproof Bag- Unless you are an incredibly highly skilled paddler, you’re going to get wet on this trip, and so is your stuff. A good dry bag is worth the spend to keep your gear protected. We have carried this one for years, and it’s never let us down: https://amzn.to/2YY6HHh
Personal Flotation Device- All raft rentals include a PFD, however, if you already have your own or if you’re picky about how they feel you and are planning on multiple on the water adventures you might want to look into bringing/ getting your own for this trip. We have used Astral PFD’s forever and love them: https://amzn.to/2Btfid1
Waterproof Neoprene Booties- If you’re not planning on renting a fish cat like we did these won’t be as necessary, however on the cats your feet are exposed to water and when the sun hides behind a cloud it can get a little chilly on the toes. A lightweight pair of booties will keep your feet happy. We use these: https://amzn.to/2YlKrYO
Cooler- We used our ultra-cheap, but also lightweight cooler we snagged from Walmart, and it worked like a charm to keep our beer and snacks cool. Amazon sells a similar model: https://amzn.to/313BaXe
Drinks- Like any adventure make sure you pack more than enough water to get through the day. If you enjoy a frothy adult beverage like we do from time to time you’ll also want to save some room in your cooler for the beer.
Snacks- Paddling a river takes work, work requires energy, energy comes from food. Make sure you’ve got enough stashed away to keep everyone in the group from getting hangry.
Camera- We wouldn’t recommend going anywhere in Alaska without a camera, you just never know when you’ll see something incredible. We love our GoPro’s for any adventure where we might get wet.
- Go Pro Hero 7: https://amzn.to/2YmjyEf
- Go Pro Hero 8: http://bit.ly/33nUOdQ
- Go Pro Accessory Pack: https://amzn.to/3hQMpbw
Fishing Gear- The Gulkana is a world-renowned river for fishing, so if you’re inclined to dip a line while in Alaska this would be an excellent place to start. We carried some very basic gear with us, and although we didn’t catch anything were overall happy with how everything performed.
Fishing Regulations- Aside from having a good pole, proper lures, and adequate test line, the most important thing you can have with you on this river is an understanding of the rules and regulations as they relate to fisheries in Alaska. Each river has its own rules, and sometimes what applies to one bank won’t keep you out of trouble on the opposite side. Fish in Alaska are an important and highly protected resource. Do your research before heading out, and when in doubt ask a local. This is a good place to get started: https://bit.ly/2Nh3mhg
Have you ever done a river rafting trip? This trip has us hungry for more wild and scenic adventures! Tell us your stories, tips, and tricks in the comments. We always love hearing from you!