Alsek

An Alaskan Adventure of a Lifetime

Overview

This adventure is more than just a river trip. Consistently rated as the top expedition river trip in the world, the Alsek trip is a 12-day, 155-mile journey through a truly wild part of North America. We will float through the largest non-polar ice cap in the world, through a landscape whose scenery and giant scale is unparalleled. Watch and listen to massive icebergs calving off active glaciers in this dynamic environment, evidence of the last ice age still in motion. Experience a helicopter flight over one of the most impressive gorges known, Turnback Canyon, that a lucky few get to experience. From the magenta blooms of River Beauty wildflowers to sunsets on snow-capped peaks and glacial lakes, these images and memories will be with you for a lifetime.

Trip Highlights

  • 12 days, 155 miles
  • Experience Canadian and Alaskan wilderness
  • Wildflowers and wildlife
  • Unparalleled scenery
  • Helicopter portage
  • Witness dynamic glacial environments
  • Fantastic hiking

The Upper Alsek River is a legendary journey through the largest contiguous protected park in the world. The Alsek begins in Kluane National Park in Canada’s Yukon, winds through the Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Provincial Park in British Columbia, and ends in Alaska’s renowned Glacier Bay National Park. It is protected within a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which encompasses all of the Parks. Together, this collective wilderness complex is 97,000 square kilometers (almost 24 million acres), the largest international protected area in the world.

There is a reason that National Geographic has consistently rated this trip as the #1 rafting adventure in the world. From the narrow beginnings in the Dezadeash River to the confluence with Kaskawulsh, the mighty Alsek braids and bends towards Alsek Lake, joining with another Alaskan classic, the Tatshenshini river. The Alsek is famous for many things aside from its striking beauty: such as flowing into iconic glacial Lake Alsek and Lake Lowell, floating through the largest non-polar ice cap in the world, and containing one of the most daring and legendary river-running expeditions in history: the 1973 solo kayak descent of Turnback Canyon. Turnback is a 4 mile section of intense class V+ whitewater, is impossible to get out of once you commit, and is to this day run by only the world’s most elite kayakers. Our helicopter view of Turnback Canyon is breathtaking and invigorating and a view that few get to experience. On the remainder of the river that we do get to float, there is a perfect balance of exciting class III/ III+ whitewater, and the slow, scenic pace that allows for the time that this landscape deserves to truly experience it in all of its glory.

Photography possibilities on the Alsek are endless. Experience some of the best of Alaskan landscape with the striking peaks, pristine glacial waters, and abundant wildlife. One might see bears, wolves, moose, deer, Dall sheep, mountain goats, eagles and occasionally a wolverine. Wildflowers blanket the hillsides, contrasting this massive, striking landscape with delicacy. The many side hikes on this trip are remarkable. On these walks you can discover small lakes of clear glacial water, walk on giant sand dunes, glass for wildlife, take advantage of photo opportunities, walk on glaciers, hike up an Alaskan peak, or study up on the diverse wildflowers (to name just a few).

Play Video

The Stats

Departure Month July
State / Region Alaska & Canada
Adventure Level High
Price Range $3000+
Activities Rafting, Wildlife, Hiking

Reviews

Logistics

The Alsek trip begins in Haines, Alaska (HNS), and ends in Yakutat, Alaska (YAK). You will most likely travel to and from these locations from Juneau, Alaska (JNU).

Before the trip:
You will fly commercially to Juneau, Alaska and take either Wings of Alaska (907.789.0790), Air Excursions (907.766.3800) or Alaska Mountain Travel (907.766.3007) from Juneau to Haines, Alaska. There is also an option for a half day ferry from Juneau to Haines with Alaska Marine Highway, which is a great option if you have the time. The ferry is less expensive compared to flying, but the schedule is limited. You will need to arrive in Haines, Alaska no later than 6 pm the night before your trip is scheduled to launch.

We will have an orientation at the Halsingland Hotel ( 800.542.6363) the night before the trip to discuss details, distribute waterproof bags, and answer any last minute questions. We recommend staying at this hotel to make things logistically simpler.

The next morning on the date of your scheduled launch date we will cross into Canada to Haines Junction, and arrive at the river in the afternoon. (A Passport is necessary when passing into Canada.) We will drive as far as we can, depending on road conditions. Typically it will take a little more than 3 hours of driving. From here, we may hike several miles through a scenic part of Kluane National Park. The length of the hike could be up to six miles, but with very lightweight packs. Four-wheel drive trucks deliver the gear to Serpentine Creek. The lead guide will give a river orientation and safety talk. Depending on the weather (especially the wind) we may camp at the put-in or possibly head downriver a short distance to our first camp.

After the trip:
We provide a flight for you from the river to Yakutat, Alaska, where you will catch your commercial flight to Juneau (only one flight per day in the evening) with Alaska Airlines. You will need to make your reservations for the flight into Juneau and out of Yakutat. If your bags cannot make it to Yakutat because of weather, we will have them in Juneau waiting for you. There is also the option to purchase a shower at the Yakutat Lodge, before your flight to Juneau. Depending on flight schedules, you will most likely need to spend the evening in Juneau and continue your trip home the next morning. We recommend the Frontier Suites (800.544.2250) in Juneau.

Sample Itinerary

Day Before: Arrive in Haines, Alaska before 6 pm. Fly commercial airline to Juneau, and with Wing of Alaska (907 789-0790) or by ferry to Haines. Make your reservation at the Hotel Halsingland Hotel in Haines (800 542-6363) for the night before the trip. We meet up around 6 pm the evening before to distribute dry bags, discuss trip logistics for morning departure, go over the gear list if needed, and answer any last minute questions. After meeting the group usually has dinner together at the Halsingland Restaurant.

Day 1: Early on the first morning we will drive up the Chilkat River Valley to Haines Junction and Kluane Park, crossing into Canada (don’t forget your passport). While we register you can get an introduction to the natural history of the Park. We will drive as far as we can, depending on road conditions. From here, we may hike several miles through a scenic part of Kluane National Park. The length of the hike could be up to six miles, but with very lightweight packs. Four-wheel drive trucks deliver the gear to Serpentine Creek. The lead guide will give a river orientation and safety talk. Depending on the weather (especially the wind) we may camp at the put-in or possibly head down river a short distance.

Day 2: We hit our first current, and once we reach the confluence of the Dezadeash and Kaskawulsh, the Alsek proper begins. From here we enter the river’s braided channels, a common characteristic of the Alsek. We may explore some lakes on this day or even swim if the weather feels right.

Day 3: As we head down towards Lowell Lake, we encounter the first rapids of the trip. Weather depending, we may set up camp on the shore of the lake. From the lake you can see three very impressive mountain peaks at the head of Lowell Glacier. Once we enter the lake, we also get our first views of icebergs and glaciers.

Day 4: Weather permitting, there is an optional hike to Goatherd Mountain, a great opportunity to stretch our legs and gain even more impressive views of this breathtaking lake and glacier. For non-hikers, this could be a relaxing day around camp with possible bathing in nearby clear lakes.

Day 5: As we leave the lake the rapids increase in size and difficulty. After some exciting rapids we will find a nice place to camp. Depending on the group, hiking could also be an option from camp.

Day 6: We will pass from the Yukon Territory’s Kluane National Park and enter British Columbia’s Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park, camping somewhere upstream of Tweedsmuir Glacier.

Day 7: We will head downstream to our rendezvous spot with the helicopter, and possibly explore the impressive upper Turnback Canyon in the afternoon. We will also prepare boats for the heli-portage.

Day 8: After breakfast we begin the heli-portage over Turnback Canyon. This is often an exciting highlight of the trip. We should finish the portage around lunchtime and head down river. We hope to camp right at the confluence of the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers, known in some mythology as the “center of the universe.”

Day 9-11: We will float the spectacular 30+ miles of the lower Alsek River to Dry Bay with opportunities for a glacier walk and exploring many other beautiful spots. Camping on the lower section of the trip offers spectacular views of Walker Glacier and Alsek Lake. With the right conditions, the views of Mount Fairweather are breathtaking.

Day 12: It is an early morning on the last day. After breakfast and a few hours on the river we arrive at Dry Bay. Your trip includes the flight from Dry Bay to Yakutat, Alaska, and we will arrive around lunchtime. Then you will catch your Alaska Airlines flight from there back to Juneau for the evening (you will need to have arranged this flight). Depending on where you are flying, most people end up staying the night in Juneau after the trip. If your bags cannot make it to Yakutat because of weather, we will have them in Juneau waiting for you. There is also the option to purchase a shower at the Yakutat Lodge, before your flight to Juneau. Depending on flight schedules, you will most likely need to spend the evening in Juneau and continue your trip home the next morning.

FAQs

Camp Life and Meals

Will we be at a new camp every day?

We typically change campsites every day. This allows us to cover new scenery, rapids, and side adventures each day at a fun, comfortable pace. The Tatshenshini has one scheduled “layover” day where we stay at the same camp and spend the day exploring, hiking, or relaxing.

Will there be a campfire every night?

Yes, we almost always have a campfire every evening and morning.

What clothes should I bring for camp?

Your river and/or hiking clothes can double as camp clothes, but you are welcome to bring something else if you would like, such as a cotton shirt, an athletic dress/skirt for women, dry pants, layers, or some fiesta-wear. Weather can be extremely variable in the Alaskan wilderness, so be sure to have warm layers for around camp. It is also nice to have camp shoes to change into.

How big are the tents? Do we have to share a tent with someone else?

Most of our tents are high-quality three-person tents, but we only put two people in each tent. If there is an odd number in your group we will not make you share a tent with a stranger. We offer brands like Mountain Hardware, North Face, and Sierra Designs.

Will my tent be set up for me?

In the interest of a more genuine wilderness experience, we encourage people to pick their own sleeping sites and set up their tents (or sleep under the stars, weather permitting!). If you need assistance, we’re happy to help and always show you how the gear works.

What kind of food will we be eating?

Wonderful, gourmet backcountry cooking! We are consistently told by guests that we out-do their expectations when it comes to our food’s quality that we can accomplish in the wilderness. Breakfasts consist of a combination of grains, vegetables, eggs, and breakfast meats, and dinners consist of culinary delights such as wild salmon and steak, many of which are cooked over open campfires and dutch ovens. Lunches are a combination of tasty salads, sandwiches, fruits, and assorted snacks. Healthy and nutritious options are always available, and meals always include fruits and vegetables (sourced locally when we can). For more information, check out our "Sample Menu" page.

Can WRO accommodate dietary restrictions?

WRO will happily do our best to accommodate any dietary restrictions at no additional cost! We have experience working with vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, nut allergies, etc. Please notify us of any dietary restrictions or allergies as early as possible so that we can adjust the menu accordingly. In certain cases, individuals may want to supplement meals and snacks with some items of their own.

Does WRO provide drinks/ snacks?

WRO provides ample snacks as well as plenty of drinking water, fruit juices, and coffee, tea, and cream in the morning. We do not provide soda or alcohol. If you feel you would like to have soda or other canned beverages on the trip, please bring what you wish and we will help keep it cold! You are also welcome to bring your own hard alcohol (packed in non-glass containers whenever possible, please).

How does personal hygiene work during the trip?

We need to keep soap out of the rivers in order to protect sensitive fish populations, so if you want to use soap and bathe on the trip, you need to do so above the high water mark (even biodegradable soaps). We will try to have a day where we collect some extra firewood and can heat up some water for a bucket shower if you would like. There are also a few clear water sources which on a sunny day can be great for a quick dip. Face and body wipes also work well for helping stay clean.

How does the bathroom system work during the trip?

In order to keep these places beautiful for years to come, all rivers are “pack it in, pack it out.” We bring fabulous portable toilets and handwashing stations that we place in a private location away from camp with the best bathroom view you will ever have.

On the River

How long will we be floating on the river each day?

Each trip is tailored to the desires of the guests, but generally we will be on the water a total of 5 or so hours each day (give or take a couple of hours), broken by a lunch stop and any other side adventures. We usually start floating when the sun hits the water each day and arrive in camp late afternoon. Each day will be different, with varying options for hiking, exploring, relaxing, and great lunch stops. Your lead guide will give you an overview of the day each morning.

What will I do with items I need accessible during the day or on the boat?

In addition to the large waterproof bag issued for packing clothing and camp items, everyone is also issued a smaller “day bag” to carry items you will need access to while on the river (sunscreen, camera, extra layers, rain gear, etc.). Put anything you might need during the day in this day bag, as the larger bag will usually be inaccessible until we reach camp for the evening.

How will I keep my phone/camera/other valuable items safe from the elements?

We discourage bringing any unnecessary valuables on your trip. Phones can be placed in a Ziploc bag or water proof case and put in your day bag if you would like to have it accessible for taking pictures during the day. If you are bringing a large, expensive camera, we recommend you bring a hard waterproof case in which to store it and accessories.

What kind of boat will I be riding in?

Our Alaska trips are logistically unique, so we do not have as many craft options as some of our other trips in Idaho and Montana. We have 16 foot oar frames for these trips, in which a guide will be rowing you and providing engaging interp, stories, etc. We recommend switching guides throughout your trip to experience different personalities, experiences, and areas of expertise.

What will temperatures and weather be like? Will it be cold? Will it rain?

Summer temperatures in the Alaskan Wilderness can fluctuate dramatically in a 24-hour period, from freezing at night to sunny 50’s or 60’s the next afternoon. Storms can also roll in unexpectedly, and it’s best to be prepared for anything. Rain is always possible, and Alaskan rain storms can be intense. Be sure to check out the weather section of the packing list for specific seasonal information and average temperatures for your trip, as well as doing your own research a week prior to your trip, checking anticipated weather at Haines Junction, AK ( close to our put-in) as well as at Dry Bay, AK (close to our takeout).

Is it possible to rent a drysuit?

If your trip’s weather forecast is particularly rainy, we also have drysuits available to rent for added comfort. Let us know if you’re interested in a drysuit and we can ensure we have the right size and add it to your invoice. This will need to be done in advance of booking your trip, so we know to pack them from Idaho to Alaska.

Clothing, Footwear, and Gear

What kind of footwear should I bring? What shoes will I wear in the boat?

For most trips you will need two pairs of shoes, one to wear in the boats and one to wear hiking and around camp. For Alaska trips, we recommend neoprene socks to wear on the river with your river shoes. Most people enjoy wearing water shoes or sturdy sandals with an ankle strap (popular options include Chacos, Tevas, and Keens). Old running sneakers can also work well as river shoes. A lightweight rain boot might be nice for around camp if your weather forecast predicts heavy rain. For most trips, sneakers or a lightweight hiking boot will be fine for side hikes.

What clothing should I wear in the boat?

This will depend on the weather forecast, but it is best to be prepared for anything. In general, think layers! What you will be wearing will depend on what section of river we are running, as there are very cold whitewater sections, as well as long scenic stretches. Light long underwear, quick dry shorts or pants, synthetic layers, quick dry sun shirts, and heavy duty rain gear should cover most of the weather patterns. In Alaska, rains can get heavy, so it is recommended to look into rubber, non-Gortex options to stay dry (which are often actually cheaper.) There are also extremely high UV indexes in Alaska this time of year, so brimmed hats and eye protection are also important. Quick-dry clothing, layers, rain gear, and sun protection are the most important things to keep in mind.

Why do you recommend synthetics instead of cotton?

While on the river you will get wet going through rapids (what fun would it be if you didn’t?!). Synthetic materials are lightweight and dry much quicker than cotton. They also keep you warmer when wet. Comfort is essential to having fun!

What size and type of sleeping pad does WRO provide?

We provide deluxe, self-inflating basecamp “Therm-a-rest” pads. These are very comfortable and fit very nicely in our gear bags.

Can I bring my own sleeping pad/bag/tent/other gear?

You are welcome to bring your own sleeping gear if you wish, but if you do, please bring your own complete sleep kit and let us know ahead of time. Our sleep kits consist of a "Therm-a-rest" pad, a 0 degree sleeping bag, a pack-able pillow, and a ground cloth. We can provide an empty dry bag to store your sleep kit in.

How big are the waterproof bags and how much stuff can they hold?

Everyone is issued a waterproof “day bag” to carry items you will need access to during the day while on the river. This day bag is 9 inches in diameter and 20 inches tall. Everyone is also issued a large waterproof bag for your personal gear and clothing. This bag should be plenty large enough for everything listed on our suggested packing list. We recommend limiting your personal gear to 35 pounds.

Logistics

When do we need to be there?

You should arrive in Haines, Alaska the day before your trip is scheduled to begin. There will be an evening orientation with WRO guides and guests, where we will go over trip details, answer last-minute questions, and hand out 16 oz Hydroflask mugs and waterproof bags to repack your gear into. You will head to the river the next morning (the official starting date of your trip).

Is there a place to store our non-river luggage while we’re on the river?

Yes, we will store your extra bags and make arrangements for them to be transported to meet you at the end of the trip. However, we do recommend that you leave any unnecessary valuables at home. Your wallet & cash should be placed in a Ziplock bag and taken with you on your trip.

Are there fishing options in Alaska?

We will not be fishing while on the river, due to large amounts of glacial silt in the water, as well as to protect spawning salmon.

Is there somewhere to purchase last-minute items before the trip?

Yes, there are usually outdoor stores located fairly close to all the hotels we recommend or on the way to the river. In Haines, options include Alaska Backcountry Outfitters and Alaska Sport Shop.

Can I stay at a different hotel than your recommended options before the trip?

You are welcome to stay wherever you’d like as long as you are at 1) orientation the evening before your trip and 2) your trip’s designated pickup location ready for departure the morning your trip begins. We recommend the most convenient lodging, which is usually where orientation is held and where group transportation will pick up and drop off guests before and after the trip. The towns where we begin and end our trip have no taxi options like Uber or Lyft, so staying in the recommended lodging is especially convenient for our Alaska trips.

Miscellaneous

When do we need to be there?

You should arrive in Haines, Alaska the day before your trip is scheduled to begin. There will be an evening orientation with WRO guides and guests, where we will go over trip details, answer last-minute questions, and hand out 16 oz Hydroflask mugs and waterproof bags to repack your gear into. You will head to the river the next morning (the official starting date of your trip).

Is there a place to store our non-river luggage while we’re on the river?

Yes, we will store your extra bags and make arrangements for them to be transported to meet you at the end of the trip. However, we do recommend that you leave any unnecessary valuables at home. Your wallet & cash should be placed in a Ziplock bag and taken with you on your trip.

Are there fishing options in Alaska?

We will not be fishing while on the river, due to large amounts of glacial silt in the water, as well as to protect spawning salmon.

Is there somewhere to purchase last-minute items before the trip?

Yes, there are usually outdoor stores located fairly close to all the hotels we recommend or on the way to the river. In Haines, options include Alaska Backcountry Outfitters and Alaska Sport Shop.

Can I stay at a different hotel than your recommended options before the trip?

You are welcome to stay wherever you’d like as long as you are at 1) orientation the evening before your trip and 2) your trip’s designated pickup location ready for departure the morning your trip begins. We recommend the most convenient lodging, which is usually where orientation is held and where group transportation will pick up and drop off guests before and after the trip. The towns where we begin and end our trip have no taxi options like Uber or Lyft, so staying in the recommended lodging is especially convenient for our Alaska trips.

Book Now