Float the mighty Yukon River or paddle the Charley River at this preserve
Straddling the Yukon River in Interior Alaska, Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve includes more than 2.5 million acres along the Canadian border.
The national preserve extends between the gold-rush communities of Eagle and Circle in protecting 128 miles of the 1,979-mile Yukon River and the entire length of the 108-mile Charley River. Best known for its rich gold rush history, when thousands of hopeful miners floated the Yukon, staked their claims and prayed for gold, old mining cabins and roadhouses still stand as crumbling remnants of the miners' optimism.
In addition to history, the preserve also boasts abundant wildlife, important archaeological sites and the Charley River, a National Wild and Scenic River, which has been called one of the most spectacular rivers in Alaska. The Charley is a cold, clear, intermediate free-flowing stream. Most of the river is rated as Class II water on the international scale of river difficulty, with limited areas rated as Class III (more difficult) and during periods of high water some upper sections of the Charley are Class IV rapids. In contrast, the Yukon is a broad, silt-laden river in summer due to glacial runoff that flows gently across a narrow floodplain flanked by high bluffs and heavily forested hills.
The Yukon-Charley Rivers are home to the largest nesting habitat of American Peregrine Falcons in all of North America. The falcons nest on the bluffs above the rivers, and are evidence of the species’ rebound from the effects of DDT, which was outlawed 1972. In August 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the American peregrine falcon from the list of endangered and threatened species due to its increase to healthy populations.
In addition to the falcon, the refuge is also home to a wide variety of waterfowl and migratory birds, such as eagle, loons, owls and cranes. Mammals in the preserve include arctic ground squirrel, brown bear, Dall's sheep, moose and snowshoe hare. For over 20 years, the Preserve has been monitoring up to twelve wolf packs that routinely utilize its land, providing on-going data for the second longest wolf study in Alaska.
Rafting the Yukon or Charley rivers is one of the most popular activities in the preserve. Camping, hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing and exploring historic sites are also popular options. The preserve is a prime breeding ground of the endangered peregrine falcon and calving ground of the Forty-mile Caribou Herd. Winter activities include dog mushing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. The 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race traverses the frozen landscape, bringing racers, veterinarians and race enthusiasts in the middle of the otherwise quiet winter.
Most visitors to the Charley River charter a flight from Fairbanks, Circle or Tok to Gelvin's airstrip near the headwaters of the Charley, float 75 miles downriver to the Yukon and then continue another 70 miles on the Yukon and take out at Circle. Average float time from the headwaters of the Charley to Circle is eight days. Others simply float the Yukon from Eagle to Circle, a 158-miles trip that is usually done from late May through September. Visitors who float 30 miles a day and camp each night usually take around 5 days to reach Circle.
There are no maintained trails in the preserve for hiking or backpacking. Game trails and some old mining trails do provide limited hiking opportunities while many find summer hiking best above timberline (3000 to 3500 feet) since there are fewer insects, less brush and improved vistas.
The preserve has seven public-use cabins that are available on a first come, first served basis. The Nation Bluff, Glenn Creek, Kandik River, Slaven's Roadhouse, Slaven's and Smith public use cabins are easily accessed from the Yukon River while the Coal Creek Camp public use cabin requires some hiking off river. The preserve also has a number of historical sites that are reached from either river and include Washington Creek Steam Tractor, Coal Creek Dredge, Frank Slaven's Roadhouse that was built in the early 1900s and has been restored as a visitor contact area and public-use cabin. The roadhouse is also an official "dog drop" along the Yukon Quest route.
There are no entrance fees in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Nor are there any fees for the public use cabins.
The preserve can be reached from Eagle or Circle, both of which are accessible by air taxi from Fairbanks. Eagle may also be reached on the Taylor Highway during the summer months. Circle is at the end of the 161-mile Steese Highway. The river is the primary method of travel in the park, as there are no roads or facilities.
The best source of information for the national preserve is the Eagle Field Office Visitor Center (907-547-2233; www.nps.gov/yuch) which is open year-round.