Float the mighty Yukon River or paddle the Charley River in this remote preserve.
Straddling the Yukon River in Interior Alaska, Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve includes more than 2.5 million acres along the Canadian border.
Things to Do
Floating 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.
The Charley River is a designated National Wild and Scenic River and has been called one of the most spectacular rivers in Alaska. Most of the river is rated Class II, with limited areas rated as Class III. 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.
Most visitors to the Charley River charter a flight from Fairbanks, Circle, or Tok to land at Gelvin's Airstrip near the headwaters of the Charley. From there, they float 75 miles downriver to the Yukon River and then continue another 70 miles on the Yukon and take out at Circle. The average float time from the headwaters of the Charley to Circle is eight days.
Others choose to float the mighty Yukon from Eagle to Circle, a 158-mile trip that is usually done from late May through September. It typically takes five days to reach Circle for visitors who float 30 miles a day and camp each night.
The preserve has a number of historic sites that are reached from the rivers and include Washington Creek Steam Tractor, Coal Creek Dredge, and Frank Slaven's Roadhouse, built in the early 1900s and restored as a public use cabin. The roadhouse is also an official "dog drop" along the Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race route.
There are no maintained trails in the preserve for hiking or backpacking. Game trails and some old mining trails do provide limited hiking opportunities. Summer backcountry hiking is best above timberline where there are fewer insects, less brush, and expansive vistas.
Winter activities include dog mushing, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling. The 1,000-mile Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race traverses the frozen landscape, bringing racers and race enthusiasts to the region in February.
The Yukon-Charley Rivers are home to the largest nesting habitat of American peregrine falcons in 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 falcons, the refuge is also home to a wide variety of waterfowl and migratory birds such as eagles, loons, owls, and cranes. Mammals in the preserve include arctic ground squirrels, brown bears, Dall's sheep, moose, and snowshoe hares. For over 20 years, the preserve has been monitoring up to twelve wolf packs that routinely utilize its land, providing ongoing data for one of the longest wolf studies in Alaska.
The national preserve extends between the gold-rush communities of Eagle and Circle, 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 searched for gold, the preserve is still home to old mining cabins, roadhouses, and historic sites.
Facilities and Camping
There are no roads, designated campgrounds, hiking trails, or visitor services in the preserve. Backcountry camping is permitted. Visitors who float the Yukon and Charley Rivers typically camp on gravel/sand bars along the river.
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 Eagle Visitor Center and the Fairbanks Public Lands Information Center can provide information on the preserve.
The preserve can be reached from Eagle or Circle, both of which are accessible by road and by air taxi from Fairbanks. Eagle is 170 miles north of Tok on the Taylor Highway near the Canadian border and is accessible by road during the summer. Circle is accessible by road year-round and is located at the end of the Steese Highway, 160 miles north of Fairbanks. Floating the river is the primary method of travel in the park.
For more information, visit the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve website.