River rafting in Alaska's Southcentral region
Photo Credit: ATIA, Michael DeYoung

River Rafting in Southcentral Alaska

River Rafting in Southcentral Alaska

Rivers are a mighty force in Alaska, carving valleys out of the land and housing millions of salmon that flood out to the ocean, then back again. Get to know Alaska’s waterways firsthand in this six-day rafting and float tour through the Southcentral region of the state.

Day 1: Anchorage

Start your great Alaska float trip in Anchorage, where you’ll board an Alaska Railroad train bound for the Spencer Glacier whistle stop. Once you disembark at this train-access-only backcountry destination, you'll take a guided paddle amongst the icebergs floating in the lake in front of the glacier, then float the fun, splashy Placer River as part of your return trip. Spend the night in Anchorage.

Day 2: Anchorage to McCarthy/Kennicott

Rent a car and make the five-hour, 250-mile drive to the small Copper River Valley community of Chitina. Here, you have a choice to make: Either take a small-plane flight to the quirky little town of McCarthy, located inside Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, or drive the 60-mile access road from Chitina to McCarthy. Be sure to check with your rental agency to see if it covers the 60-mile gravel-access road. If you do drive, leave yourself at least three hours for the trip. Once you reach McCarthy, enjoy the slow, relaxed pace of life here before you turn in to your lodgings, in either Kennicott or McCarthy, for the night.

Day 3: McCarthy

Take a morning raft trip down the Kennicott River, which flows right past town. The float usually lasts about four hours and takes you through big, fun Class II and III whitewater. Once you’re back on dry land, catch a shuttle bus to the old mining town of Kennicott, about 5 miles away. Here, you can tour the historical buildings of the old Kennecott copper mine or book a half-day trek on the beautiful Root Glacier. Return to McCarthy or stay in Kennicott, where you’ll spend one more night.

Day 4: Valdez

Drive or fly back to Chitina. From there, you’ll drive another 120 miles to the beautiful port town of Valdez. Leave yourself plenty of time for sightseeing on the last 30 miles of roadway, which include sweeping views from Thompson Pass and two spectacular roadside waterfalls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls. The two waterfalls flow into the Lowe River, the same splashy Class I to Class III waterway you’re going to spend your afternoon rafting. If you want a more tranquil adventure, you can book a half-day fishing or sea kayaking trip instead. Overnight in Valdez.

Day 5: Valdez to Whittier

In the morning, you’ll board an Alaska Marine Highway ferry for the approximately seven-hour trip from Valdez to Whittier through Prince William Sound. Alaska’s ferry routes have been designated as a National Scenic Byway, mostly due to the knockout coastal scenery. From Whittier, drive 30 miles north to Girdwood, where you’ll spend the night.

Along the way, consider stopping at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to view tons of Alaska wildlife up close — including musk oxen, wood bison, bears, wolves, moose, and much more. As you head north from there toward Girdwood, you’ll be on the Seward Highway, which is also a National Scenic Byway. It snakes up the east side of Turnagain Arm, a relatively narrow offshoot of Cook Inlet. Along either side, mountains surge skyward. At different times throughout the summer, beluga whales can be spotted in the water right from the highway. Spend the night in Girdwood, a small ski-resort town located about halfway between Whittier and Anchorage.

Day 6: Hope or Cooper Landing

It’s time to make a choice again. If you want a pulse-pounding whitewater adventure, drive to the small mining town of Hope to rendezvous with professional guides for a Class IV–V rafting trip down the canyons of nearby Six Mile Creek. If you want a more calm outing, take a relaxing float down the blue-green waters of the world-famous Kenai River from Cooper Landing. At the end of the day, drive back to Anchorage, where you’ll spend one more night before starting your journey home.

Optional Add-On: Denali National Park

If you haven’t yet been to Denali National Park, consider extending your trip by at least two days. It’s a 240-mile drive or an eight-hour train ride from Anchorage to the park entrance. Once there, you can enjoy tours that include whitewater rafting, horseback rides, ATV tours, ziplining, day hiking, flightseeing and visits to the National Park Service’s working sled dog kennel.


Alaska: AKA Your Next Adventure

Where will your Alaska adventure take you? Order our Official State of Alaska Vacation Planner and plot your course.