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Essential Paddling Guide: Prime Paddling Spots, Alaska


I gave my heart to the mountains the minute I stood beside this river with its spray in my face and watched it thunder into foam, smooth to green glass over sunken rocks, shatter to foam again. I was fascinated by how it sped by and yet was always there; its roar shook both the earth and me. — Wallace Stegner

Rivers run fast and tumbling throughout the National Park System, there are streams with lazy meanders, and placid lakes perfect for dipping a paddle. This diversity poses a delightful dilemma when you have the urge to float and paddle. What follows is just a sampling of the experiences that await you, whether you have hundreds of watery miles under your paddle, or are looking for calm waters to take your youngsters. Where available, links take you to paddling information specific to the park unit.

Alaskan Parks

Noatak National Preserve, Alaska 

Paddling information:

Situated in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and Noatak National Preserve, the Noatak River drains the largest mountain-ringed river basin in America that is still virtually unaffected by human activities.

Three-hundred-thirty miles of this river -- from its source in Gates of the Arctic National Park to the Kelly River in the Noatak National Preserve -- bear the Wild and Scenic River designation. Floating the river can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience...but it’s one that shouldn’t be taken lighten, as it involves a lot of logistics (bush planes to get you to the river, for starters) and some measure of experience.

“The headwaters of the Noatak River are in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and flow 400 miles to its mouth in Kotzebue Sound on the Chukchi Sea,” the park staff notes. “The rugged mountain walls of the Brooks Range enclose the portion of the river that is within Gates. Once the river flows into Noatak National Preserve, the landscape opens up to vast tundra plains and long vistas.”

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Paddling information:

Head to Alaska and you find big water -- not necessarily big rapids, but rivers that make those in the Lower 48 look like creeks. The most popular rivers in Wrangell-St. Elias for floating are the Copper, the Nizina, Kennicott, Chitina and Nabesna.

As park officials put it, “The rivers of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve offer visitors adventure and solitude. It is possible to travel for days at a time without seeing another person, trail, sign or bridge."

Go prepared and experienced, or find an outfitter who can take you downstream.


I recently floated from McCarthy down to Cordova in Wrangell-St. Elias down the Kennecott, Nizina, Chitina and Copper. They were two of the most amazing weeks in my life!! Kurt is right! Highly worth the trip. I recommend it to all. John

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National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide