Packrafting South Central Alaska, Chugach National Forest

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14017A, Backpacking, Raft


  • Learn to packraft on several Class I and Class II rivers in south-central Alaska  
  • Experience the midnight sun while camping, hiking, and packrafting
  • Hike to the Harding Icefield, the largest ice field contained entirely within the U.S.


  • Packraft, life jacket, helmet, kayak paddle, dry suit, and waterproof bag
  • Packraft instruction and guide service
  • Transportation to/from Anchorage and to various south-central Alaska locations


DatesJun 21–27, 2014
StaffElaine Grace

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Please note that the dates and price of this trip have changed from what was originally published. If you have questions, please contact us.

The focus of this trip is to experience several south-central Alaska creeks, rivers, and glacial lakes from the intimate perspective of a packraft. Originally packrafts were invented for crossing rivers in Alaska, especially while competing in the Alaska Wilderness Classic. Little did anyone know that packrafting would become the next “hot” way to descend a river.  Packrafts allow paddlers to hike into a remote location with a five-pound raft and float down a bouncy river back to civilization.  First you will receive all-inclusive instruction about how to safely operate your packraft.  Then, we will venture up a trail and experience the sheer joy of effortlessly packrafting down a creek or a river back to the trailhead. 

Each morning we will pack our lunches and snacks, break camp, roll up our packrafts, pack our waterproof packs, and drive  to the “trailhead of the day.”  We will hike from two to four miles, unroll our packrafts, snap together our paddles, slip on our dry suits and paddle down a beautiful Alaska river.  At night, we will talk about conservation in Alaska, take walks at midnight with the midnight sun, and rest up from the day’s activities.


Day 1: Fly into Anchorage, Alaska no later than June 21. Plan to meet for a group orientation dinner (included in the trip price) at 5:00 p.m.

Day 2: In the morning, you'll be picked up from your Anchorage hotel.

Learn to Run the River: this two-day introductory class on a lake and creek near the Kayak Center near Palmer, Alaska will teach you what you need to feel safe on Class I & II water, including:

  • Equipment needed to be safe on moving current
  • Packing and carrying your boat
  • Efficient launching and landing
  • Reading the current and avoiding hazards
  • Using an eddy as your “brakes”
  • Forward and back ferry technique
  • Efficient paddle skills for packrafts

After our lake class on day one, we will head north to camp for the night. Showers and hot water are available at camp.

Day 3: After breakfast, we will spend the day practicing our skills on a Class I creek.  We will learn how to swim the river, self-rescue, throw ropes to rescue others, read the current, and avoid hazards.  After our creek adventure, we will drive to a campground in Portage Valley, where we will spend the night.

Day 4: Our day begins with a visit to the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center on Portage Lake. This is an excellent interactive Forest Service visitor center that will help you understand glaciers and gain a better appreciation for the rivers we float and terrain we hike during the week. At the Portage Valley Learning Center (adjacent to the visitor center), we can meet with some of the conservation education staff to explore conservation issues in the Chugach National Forest. After lunch, we will drive past Turnagain Pass and put on Granite Creek for a three-hour float down this Class II river. We will practice ferrying, eddying out, and other skills learned yesterday. This is a beautiful area with great views to snow-capped mountains. We will return to a campground in Portage Valley, Alaska for the night.

Day 5: We will board the Alaska Railroad today in Portage at 1:20 p.m., riding the train past Spencer Glacier to Grandview Pass. This gorgeous terrain is used by the Nordic Ski Club in winter for its great views and excellent ski trails. The train will drop us at the Hunter Stop near Trail Glacier, headwaters of Trail River. You guessed it -- our next expedition will be on Trail River, a bouncy glacial creek with one channel.  We will have dinner along the banks of the river. After floating five miles, we’ll catch a small motor boat and ride across Upper Trail Lake, where we will meet our van. We will then drive to Seward, where we will camp in Forest Acres Campground, a small campground with great views of nearby mountains.

Day 6Today we will take a day off from boating and spend the day hiking and sightseeing. Our plans are to hike the 8.2-mile round-trip hike to Harding Icefield. The elevation gain is 1,000 feet and we will be allowing six to eight hours for the hike.  Along the way, we will have excellent views of Exit Glacier and the valley below.  We will camp a second night in Seward, allowing for a shower in town if you so choose.

Day 7: We are off to the world-famous Kenai River, known for its huge salmon runs and world-class trout fishing. We will float the Kenai Canyon (Class II), an area few visit due to the “no motors” regulations. Ah, the beauty of a packraft! This emerald green river is gorgeous. At the end of our three-hour float, we land on the banks of Skilak Lake. Again, the beauty of a packraft -- those who float down in dories will have to paddle seven miles across the lake. We, on the other hand, roll up our five-pound boats and hike 45 minutes (two miles) up and out of the canyon. We will pack up our van and head back to Anchorage. You will be dropped off at your Anchorage hotel or the Anchorage airport, depending on your preference.



Getting There

Trip participants are expected to fly to Anchorage, Alaska at least one day before the trip starts. We will stay in the same hotel (not included in the trip cost) in downtown Anchorage. The hotel shuttle will transport participants from the airport to the hotel.  We will gather at 5:00 p.m. for an orientation dinner (included in the trip cost) with our packraft outfitter. The next morning, we will be issued all equipment and fitted for a packraft. After the trip, participants will be transported to the Anchorage airport or a hotel of their choice in Anchorage.

Accommodations and Food

We will be camping in Forest Service, State of Alaska, and City of Seward campgrounds all five nights of the trip.  Bring your own light backcountry tent. All meals are included for the six-day trip.  The cook will prepare healthy meals (vegetarian-friendly and non-vegetarian) for breakfast and dinner. Lunches will be packed and eaten on the trail or on a river.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated moderate.  Most trails are well-maintained. The elevations of the trails are from sea level to 1,000’. While packrafting, we will be sitting in a boat and using kayak paddles to move downstream.  While hiking, participants will carry waterproof day packs, with approximately 15 pounds of personal gear, seven pounds of packraft gear, and two quarts of water. Backpacks will be strapped to the packraft for the river descent. We will be camping every night.  While snow is unlikely, it could rain almost anytime, day or night.  This is a very active trip.  Participants will be hiking, rafting, and possibly swimming every day. Participants should be in relatively good condition.

Equipment and Clothing

All packrafting equipment will be provided. Backpack rental is available. Other equipment & clothing needs (provided by participant) include: 

  • Water bottle
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen/lip protector
  • Camera (suggested waterproof)
  • Binoculars
  • Two sets of Polypropylene underwear (worn under a dry suit)
  • Clothing for camping/backpacking
  • Sunhat or cap
  • Mosquito net for head
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Socks
  • Neoprene booties
  • River shoes or sandals
  • Evening shoes and clothing
  • Bathing suit
  • Towel for showering
  • Light weight backpacking tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Foam pad

A detailed list of equipment and clothing will be sent to participants upon acceptance for the trip.



Conservation issues in Alaska are huge (just like the state). All of the rivers and creeks we will be running are free of dams, but that may not always be true in the future. Some conservation issues we will be discussing include updates on the Pebble Mine, the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric project (near where we will be rafting), and the effects of the Fire Island Wind Farm on birds and other wildlife.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

This trip is being conducted through a third-party concessionaire, which is authorized to operate in the Chugach National Forest under a Special Use Permit.



Elaine Grace is currently retired after a 32-year career with the federal government (National Park Service, the USDA Forest Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service). From 2000 to 2008, Elaine worked as a Habitat Restoration Biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Fairbanks. There she worked to improve fish passage and restore rivers. Her love of rivers led her to start packrafting in 2004. Elaine has packrafted on many Alaskan rivers as well as the Green River through Desolation Canyon (6-day trip) and the Lower Salmon River (4-day trip) twice.

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