Coming ashore at the base of Miles Glacier on Miles Lake.Floating the Copper River is a spectacular trip through one of the largest protected wilderness preserves in the world: Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. Along with Kluane National Park along its border in Canada, this internationally recognized reserve is over 28 million acres. From its headwaters draining the glaciers of the Bagley Ice Field and the summits of Alaska’s highest volcanoes – Wrangell, Blackburn and Drum – the Copper flows 290 miles to the Gulf of Alaska. Once you pass through the barrier mountains, the highest coastal mountains in the world, numerous glaciers dump their icy loads into the river. Miles and Childs Glacier calve directly into the river creating an unbelievable sight and some tense moments as you float by. The river willFloating down the Copper River near the Tiekel River confluence.. often be choked with thousands of icebergs below Childs Glacier. The river ends in the Copper River Delta, probably the most significant bird nesting and feeding area in North America. As you journey down the river, you may encounter grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolf and bison. Brown and black bears are often seen fishing along the banks of the lower river or waiting for salmon in Abercrombie Rapids. Seals become a familiar sight from Wood Canyon down to the mouth. They will suddenly appear out of nowhere staring at the rafts with their large dark eyes. Bald eagles are so commonplace on the lower Copper that you will quickly lose count of them. Fishing is impossible on the Copper River itself due to the glacial silt in the water, however at Chitina and Wood Canyon you will see many native and subsistence fishermen dip netting for sockeye salmon or scooping them from the river in the Athabascan fish wheels. A few freshwater streams flowing into the Copper will have sockeye in pools at the mouth.

The Million Dollar Bridge crosses the Copper River at Childs Glacier.The Copper River is one of Alaska’s greatest historical waterways. The once famous railroad that carried millions of tons of Copper Ore from the Kennicott Mine now lies abandoned and hardly noticed except for the huge wooden trestles and occasional section houses seen along the south bank of the river from the village of Chitina to the delta. Just above Cordova, the old railroad crosses over the river across the famous Million Dollar Bridge that was partly destroyed and rendered useless by the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.

The wildlife is great and the scenery is spectacular and the glaciers are fantastic, but the weather can be extreme. If it is cloudy it will be cool and rainy. If it is sunny, you can have ferocious winds every day starting about 2:00 to 3:00 that create huge dust clouds. Also, warm sunny days create very high water a day or so later due to glacier melting. Navigating the Copper can be challenging due to theManeuvering through floating icebergs on Miles Lake. heavy glacial silt and difficulty telling deep water channels from shallow. The only rapids you will encounter on this stretch are the whirlpools in Wood Canyon (easily avoidable by staying left) and Abercrombie Rapids at the entrance to Miles Lake. This rapid is unavoidable. At low water it is nothing but large swells. At high water, after a few hot and sunny days which accelerate glacier and snow field melting, it can look like big rapids on the Colorado with 15-foot standing waves. It is not technical, no rocks, sometimes fishing bears but it can swamp you if you catch a bad wave. We have never had a problem however. Paddling across Miles Lake and in front of the face of Miles Glacier and the huge Child's Glacier is an incredible and sometimes humbling experience as you maneuver through the strange and beautiful ice bergs floating downstream with our boats.

For a trip of 7 days or less, I would recommend starting the float trip at the Klutina River near the town of Glennallen. This stretch of river from Klutina to Chitina parallels the Edgerton Highway. This is not wilderness, but it is wild country with beautiful open hills and sage covered benches typical of the north side of the mountains. This is also the stretch of river with the best chance of seeing grizzly bears and bison.  Two days later we will reach the A Model-T Ford abandoned during the glory days of Chitina. confluence of the Copper and the Chitina Rivers. Here lies the old mining community of Chitina once the largest town in Alaska but now a ghost town of 50 residents, old log cabins turned art houses and a handful of old Model T Fords. A few miles below Chitina we enter Wood Canyon where we leave the road system and enter into some spectacular mountain scenery. You are unlikely to see another person from this point until you reach Flag Point on the Copper River Delta and the dirt road leading to the town of Cordova. From Cordova you can fly back to Anchorage or take the state ferry for a spectacular one and a half day trip through Prince William Sound to Whittier. A quick trip on the Alaska railroad through the Chugach Mountains and Portage Glacier and you are back in Anchorage. Walking on Miles Glacier with views of Miles Lake.

This float trip can be done more economically than most Alaska rivers because no flying is involved. It is the only river we run where we can actually drive to the put-in. Hiking is not easy on this float due to the thick brush along the river. Once you reach Miles Lake however, you can spend several days hiking and exploring the lower glacier (actually walking on the ice) or the sand dunes and moraine fields below the glacier.

RIVER DATA: Total floating distance from Klutina to Flag Point: 136 miles.  McCarthy to Flag Point: 160 miles.

ROUTE:  Fly in to Anchorage then drive the Glenn Highway to Glennallen and the Edgerton Highway to Chitina. From here we drive the McCarthy Road 60 bumpy miles to McCarthy on the banks of the Kennicott River. We will float the Kennicott River to the Nizina River to the Chitina River finally arriving at the village of Chitina on the Copper River. !00 miles down the Copper River we will arrive at Flag Point in the Copper River Delta. For a shorter variation of this trip we can start our float where the Klutina River flows into the Copper River then float 36 miles to Chitina and on to the Copper River Delta. From Flag Point we will be picked up by van and driven 20 miles to Cordova where we will board the state ferry at midnight and arrive in Whittier the next afternoon. Van pickup or train 45 miles to Anchorage.

WEATHER: Summer weather in South Central Alaska is generally good with warm days and cool evenings. Rain can be expected at anytime especially later in the summer. When it comes the rain usually sets in for a few days and will produce a constant, soaking drizzle with wind and cool temperatures. On the river, temperatures may range from as high as 80 degrees on calm, sunny days to the low 50s or high 40s F on cloudy days. Beginning in mid to late August you can expect freezing temperatures on clear, calm nights warming to the 70s the following day. By mid September, daytime temperatures can dip to near freezing and snow can be expected anytime. Wind is a major factor on the Copper. Due to the weather extremes between the warm interior of the upper river and the cooler coast at the lower end of the river, pressure systems build by mid day (when the temperature extremes are at their max) generating strong winds that blow up the river valley. On many days, the boats can not float downstream against these winds so we must make an early camp. The strong winds create huge dust clouds that cover everything with wind-borne grit.