Northern Exposure

Fresh bear poop … and BIG grizz tracks,” Cree, my wife, announces as I bite into a juicy smoked salmon fillet.


“I bet this is ‘the bear.’ ” Suddenly I’ve lost my appetite for salmon, a grizzly’s favorite snack. We’re canoeing the Eagle River, a scenic float mere minutes from Anchorage. Last week in this same spot, canoeists abandoned their boat after a grizzly made an abrupt social call. Later a pilot flew overhead and saw the bear jumping up and down on the canoe, enjoying his new toy.


“Let’s keep paddling,” I say, as I glance over my shoulder looking for the source of snapping spruce branches.


Nestled below the heavily glaciated Chugach Mountains, Anchorage serves up an incredible buffet of paddling options. The worst part about boating here is choosing which scenic river, lake, or coastline you want to paddle. The best part is the “last frontier factor”–20 hours of glorious sunlight, grizzly and wolf encounters, and millions of untouched acres of wilderness paddling. Below is a list of some favorite paddles, all two hours or less from Anchorage. So forget about your headlamp (replace it with bear mace), and head up north!


Go North: North of Anchorage on the Glenn Highway, 10 miles from town, is the Eagle River. This glacial river begins high in the Chugach Mountains, winding its way through spruce and birch forests, eventually draining into silty Cook Inlet. Two sections are of interest to boaters–the upper Eagle River and the Knik River.


The upper Eagle River is accessible from Eagle River Road, offers a scenic seven-mile float during which bear, moose, and eagle encounters are the norm. Mosquitoes can get thick, so take your repellent.


This section is Class I, with a few sweepers thrown in, but a float through the bottom of this glacial valley offers a spectacular scene that includes Dall sheep roaming on nearby peaks.


If you need an adrenaline fix, continue past the Eagle River Briggs Bridge. The next three miles offer back-to-back Class II-III rapids, with Campground Rapid flipping many an unwary boater. Sweepers, frigid water, and high flows can make the Eagle River more serious than your normal class III, so play it conservatively, and scout when in doubt. The take out after Campground Rapid is right before the Glenn Highway bridge at the campground. There are more rapids below this bridge, but the river flows onto Fort Richardson Military Reservation, where special permits are required.


If your tastes lean more toward wilderness floats, the Knik River will please you. Only another 30 minutes from the Eagle River, also on the Glenn Highway, the Knik is a massive silt-moving machine. Put in at the Old Glenn Highway bridge and continue to the new Glenn Highway for an excellent Class I wilderness float; keep your eyes peeled for grizzly, moose, wolf, and fox.


After a day of paddling up north, make the mandatory pilgrimage to the Moose’s Tooth Pub in Anchorage. Enjoy one of its fine microbrews, feast on gourmet pizza, and swap stories with other boaters.

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