Alaska Rivers: Gulkana River

Alaska Marine Highway

Alaska's State Flower is the "Forget-Me-Not. Forget me not flowers are very fragrant in the evening and night time, though there is little or no scent in the daytime. They can be annual or perennial plants. Their seeds are found in small, tulip shaped pods along the stem to the flower.

The Gulkana River offers tourists a broad scope of activities, from fishing to picking wild blueberries. The Gulkana is one of the most popular sportfishing rivers in Alaska, providing rich habitat for rainbow trout, arctic grayling, king salmon, red salmon, whitefish, longnose suckers, and lamprey.  A popular river for fisherman and boaters in the summer, this river has also played an important role in the lives of the Ahtna, providing access to subsistence resources throughout history and pre-history.  During winter months the frozen Gulkana River was historically used as an important travel route from the Copper River to the Tangle Lakes and what is now known as the Denali Highway area. 

The river flows through wild country affording views of the Wrangell Mountains. This major recreation river is a 'Wild & Scenic River. The river is also popular with canoeists and river rafters. A float trip down the Gulkana may take 4 or 5 days. The Gulkana system, designated as a wild and scenic in 1980, is one of a handful of Alaska rivers with easy road access at both the put-in and take-out points. Best of all, there are three different routes, the main stem, the middle fork and the west fork, which each offer a variety of whitewater challenges, varying degrees of solitude and generally outstanding fishing.

The Gulkana River is accessed via the Richardson Highway, just north of the town of Glennallen. The Gulkana is known for its excellent grayling fishing and also has respectable runs of both Alaska King (Chinook) salmon and the world famous Copper Red (sockeye) salmon. Rainbow trout are also present in the Gulkana River.

The Main Stem of the Gulkana is one of the most popular multi-day whitewater trips in Alaska, and the reasons are obvious: aside from the easy access and great fishing, it has challenging rapids, clear and relatively warm water, and a wilderness setting. Consequently over 3,600 boaters travel this section every year -- mainly in June through August.

Summer visitors to the Gulkana can therefore expect to have company, particularly on the 8-mile stretch between Sourdough and the confluence of the West Fork, where high-powered jet boats have run of the river. Power boats aren't allowed above this confluence or below Paxson Lake before August 15 of each year, but an increasing number of commercial trips keep a steady flow of rafters drifting downstream, and numerous fishermen hike in at various access points.

The most popular trip on the main stem begins at Paxson Lake and ends at Sourdough Campground, at MP 147.5 on the Richardson Highway. Total distance is about 50 miles and typically involves a four-day float trip.

There are 83 miles of Gulkana River between Paxon Lake and the Richardson Highway bridge. Roads and trails departing the Richardson Highway provide access to portions of the river. Floating the 50 mile stretch from Paxon Lake to Sourdough is the best way to access the upper section of river, but there are also two trails about 7 miles long that provide access to this section as well

The Gulkana River Watershed drains approximately 2,140 square miles of Southcentral Alaska.  The river begins in the Alaska Range near Summit Lake and flows south into the Copper River, eventually draining into Prince William Sound.  Several hundred lakes and ponds are scattered throughout the spruce-dominated forest of the Gulkana River Watershed, providing abundant nesting areas for trumpeter swans and waterfowl.


Gulkana River offer rafting fishing and kayaking

Gulkana River in Alaska

Alaska Rivers:

Alaska has more than 12,000 rivers including the nine major rivers listed below:

Learn more about Alaskan rivers

Colville River Copper River Gulkana River
Kuskokwim River Noatak River Porcupine River
Susitna River Tanana River Yukon River.