Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park: River-Rafting and Kayaking

Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park In the early 1970s a few adventurous people started to raft and kayak the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers. Their experiences were so moving and exhilarating that many volunteered long hours, working to ensure protection for the area. River use grew slowly at first, but widespread media attention in the late 1980s brought many new people to experience the Tatshenshini. By 1994 over 13,600 user nights were spent on the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers. This growing use required management.

Similar to other great scenic rivers such as the Colorado, the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers require that all river travellers obtain a permit. The permit system is being used to help maintain a high quality wilderness experience, to minimize human impact, and to protect natural and cultural values.

Although rafting on this river is not technically difficult, rafters must be aware that the remoteness of this park is an essential factor to consider in trip preparation and safety.

The exception to the level of difficulty is Turnback Canyon on the Alsek River. This section of the river is extremely hazardous at all water levels and travel is not recommended for even the most skilled rafter/kayaker. Portage is highly recommended/required for all trips.

Permits for through trips on the Alsek or the Tatshenshini Rivers, which end at Dry Bay Alaska, are issued through Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Dry Bay trips are scheduled and managed under a one-party-a-day take out rule.

An additional permit is required for all trips through Kluane National Park and Reserve, including trips that end at Dry Bay.

Information about the BC Parks River Fee and How to Pay It

All trips on the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers, which end at Dry Bay Alaska, require a permit issued through the U.S. National Park & Preserve. Please visit their website at: National Park & Preserve, Alaska.

You must have an approved non-commercial river permit before paying the BC Parks river rafting fee. The following fee is applicable for kayaking and rafting through Tatshenshini-Alsek Park:
  • $125.00 per person, per trip, for Dry Bay takeouts, between July 6 and August 30 (includes applicable taxes);
  • $100.00 per person, per trip, for Dry Bay takeouts, for all other dates (includes applicable taxes).
Trip leaders will be required to submit a single payment covering the total amount for the entire trip’s participants in Canadian Funds. If you cancel your trip more than 30 days ahead of your departure date, you will receive a full refund. No refunds will be issued if you cancel your trip with less than 30 days’ notice.

Payment – Tatshenshini River Rafting Fee:
Payment can be made at the FrontCounter BC Smithers Regional Office by debit, cheque, money order or credit card (VISA, MasterCard or American Express). For payments by credit card please contact the FrontCounter BC Smithers Regional office either in person or by phone at 250-847-7356. Please note, credit card payments will not be accepted by email or fax.

Fee payment must be made a minimum of 30 days prior to your departure date. A receipt will be issued. Our agency will also forward a copy as proof of payment to the Yakutat Ranger Station in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Payment of this fee is a condition of the permit issued to you by the US National Park Service (Condition 11. “Permittee must comply with all applicable Canadian permitting regulations and user fee payments for Kluane National Park in the Yukon and Tatshenshini-Alsek Park in British Columbia”). You must also carry a copy of this receipt with you while on your river trip.

The intention of this fee is to supplement the costs associated with the operation of Tatshenshini-Alsek Park. Please be aware that access through Tatshenshini-Alsek Park will be prohibited in the event that this fee is not paid in full.

Half of the permits are available to private parties and the other half are issued to commercial operators. Commercial trips may be booked through various travel agencies, but there is usually a waiting list for private trips. As well, there are shorter rafting trips on the Tatshenshini upstream of Shäwshe (Dalton Post), and on several other rivers in the area.

Campsites along the Tatshenshini River and Alsek River within Tatshenshini-Alsek Park were evaluated in 2000 for their potential for bear-human interaction, including displacement of bears from feeding areas and direct bear-human encounters. This project was a collaboration effort of the government agencies responsible for overseeing management of visitor use on the Tatshenshini River and Alsek River.
In addition to this report and its recommendations, there are 12 maps available to download. These maps display camping locations within Tatshenshini-Alsek Park that have been evaluated high / medium / low in terms of the likelihood of encountering bears.

Hiking and Mountain Biking:

From Three Guardsman Pass north there are open alpine meadows that can be hiked almost anywhere. They may be wet adjacent to the road but the ground becomes drier as elevation is gained. There are a few of old mining roads in the park located west from the highway. It should be noted that these are hiking and mountain biking routes rather than maintained trails and that difficult conditions may be encountered. Warning: If you are planning to hike or mountain bike, it is important to remember that weather conditions in the summer are highly variable. Although clear skies and sunshine are common, it can snow any day. High winds are frequent and there are often spells of cold, wet weather.

Brief descriptions of these routes are listed below:

Parton River: This trail is located roughly 112 kilometres south of Haines Junction on the Haines Highway, just past Stanley Creek. From here take the gravel road that turns off the highway toward the Tatshenshini River. It is recommended that visitors obtain the correct 1:50,000 scale maps for this trip (# 114 P/10 - Nadahini Creek, # 114 P/11 - Carmine Mountain and # 114 P/15 - Parton River). Park your vehicle at the Tatshenshini River to begin your journey.

The Parton River trail leading to Shinny Lakes and the northern reaches of the O’Conner River begins with crossing the Tatshenshini River and then the Parton River. The hiking is good until the first obstacle - a rock slide area. This begins at UTM coordinates 397020 E / 6639350 N to 396906 E / 6639287 N. This also continues up until 396822 E / 6639150 N. The rock slide area has two more obstacles at UTM coordinates 396635 E / 6638929 N and 396549 E / 6638102 N. The second obstacle is known for clogging up mountain bike tires. The third obstacle has two slides that completely cover the road.

After the third obstacle you cross a prominent gully, and then the hiking becomes better as it follows an old mining road. At the next creek encountered it is very easy to lose the trail and end up bushwhacking through a muskeg. Pay attention after passing the “old wagon” staying to the right fork away from the Parton River, this will keep you on track. The hiking is good up to the old cabin by the junction in the road. The junction is at UTM coordinates 393884 E / 6631715 N.

Going northwest will put you on the Shinny Lakes trail, which has spectacular scenery throughout. The trail has good hiking following the old mining road and horse trail. Mountain biking is not recommended past the first lake, as the trail is very narrow and soft. This lake is suitable for swimming because it has little vegetation and a gravely beach at the east end. At this point the trail becomes a narrow horse trail.

Back at the junction, going East across the creek will put you on the O’Conner Trail, roughly about 16 kilometres, to an old airstrip. There is a steep climb for about three kilometres (2 miles). Then it slopes off to the first and only obstacle - a serious rockslide. This begins at UTM coordinates 394849 E / 6630935 N to 394855 E / 6630880 N which covers the whole road completely. This slide has a treacherous detour below and above it. Use extreme caution when hiking around or over it. After the obstacle there is another steep climb and then the trail levels off. The trail follows along the valley below, which provides spectacular scenery. The trail leads down into the valley and through to the old airstrip.

Squaw Range: Access to the Squaw Range begins the same as the Parton River description listed above. When you reach the west side of the valley, take the right hand fork, following an old mining road up Goldrun Creek. This road climbs steeply, traversing the range and ending near Talbot Creek. To continue this traverse one must route find their way across the Talbot Creek watershed to meet up with the south end of old Squaw Creek mining road. This old road will take you in a northwesterly direction, following Squaw Creek down to the British Columbia / Yukon border and out of the park.

Along the way, visitors may notice signs of historic placer mining activities. It is recommended that visitors obtain the correct 1:50,000 scale map for this trip (# 114 P/10 - Nadahini Creek).

Chuck Creek: This trail is located roughly 141 kilometres south of Haines Junction on the Haines Highway. This trail is great for both hiking and mountain biking. It is recommended that visitors obtain the correct 1:50,000 scale map for this trip (# 114 P/10 - Nadahini Creek). Park your vehicle at the newly established pullout.
The Chuck Creek trail starts in a wide, open sub-alpine valley, with mountainous vistas in all directions. There are several large ditches where road culverts use to be. If you are enjoying this trail by mountain bike you should stick to the main trail at all times to avoid damaging the surrounding vegetation.
After roughly three kilometres, Mineral Lakes will come into view to your left. If you decide to continue further along this trail you will come across Chuck Creek. At this location a shallow water crossing is required, so you may wish to have additional footwear such as sandals with you. The rocks on the bottom of the creek are slippery and sometimes sharp, so be careful when crossing.

At approximately seven kilometre point into this trip, the trail drops down to Clear Creek where another shallow water crossing is required. At this location the Samuel Glacier will be greeting you with its spectacular scenery. The trail becomes very indistinct from here as it continues to a large gravel out wash. From here the trail becomes a route and continues on for several more kilometres heading down hill, so if you don’t with to enjoy an uphill return trip - it may be a good time to turn around.

This hike or mountain bike ride is best to do during fair weather, as trail conditions can be rather soggy during periods of rainy weather. As well the fine mud encountered during wet conditions can severely clog up your mountain bike wheels.

Copper Butte: This trail is located roughly 160 kilometres south of Haines Junction on the Haines Highway - approximately 4 kilometres past Three Guardsmen Lake. Park your vehicle at Seltat pull off where your hike begins by walking down the old Haines Road.

You walk roughly 2.5 kilometres down the old Haines Road until you come to Schulz Creek, which will be the second creek you encounter. From here you stay right and begin a moderately strenuous hike through the Alder for about 100m until it opens up to the old Copper Butte mining road.

From the Copper Butte mining road you can follow the road which leads you right to the old mines. It is a very scenic route that contains many visible remains left behind from past mining activities. Once you reach the first plateau the terrain opens up. You will be greeted with mountainous vistas and get a bird’s eye view of Inspector Creek.

The mine on the East facing slope is unstable and in rough shape and should not be entered for it could be hazardous. Because the weather is so unpredictable you should carry a jacket and rain gear with you. You should also bring water and something to eat. But most importantly enjoy the hike.

Caution: Do not attempt to enter any mineshaft. They can be very unstable and dangerous!

Haines Highway: The Haines Highway provides an opportunity to see much of the same unusual plant and animal diversity that river users experience. The highway passes through coastal, sub-alpine and alpine tundra environments. Over 82 species of birds have been recorded in the Chilkat Pass area. Unusual sightings include Smith’s longspur, snow buntings, three different species of ptarmigan, red-throated loons, gyrfalcons and the wandering tattler.

A number of small mammals found here are rare in British Columbia; these include the collared pika, the tundra vole, the arctic ground squirrel, and the meadow jumping mouse. Dall sheep are often seen on grassy, southwest-facing slopes and at a mineral lick in the Mt. Mansfield area. Mountain goats are also found at the same lick and also can be spotted near the Three Guardsmen. Moose can be seen in wet areas near the road. Grizzly and black bears, although not as common as on the lower Tatshenshini, can be seen on the Blanchard River when salmon are spawning from July to September.

Modern History of Tatshenshini-Alsek:

One of the earliest European travelers in the area was Edward James Glave from Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. He wanted “to be the first white man to erase from the map the hypothetical and fill up the blank area with the mountains, lakes and rivers which belong to it”. In 1890 a party set out that included Glave, an Alaskan scout named Jack Dalton, and a Tlingit man called Shank; the men traveled over the Chilkat Trail and then paddled the Tatshenshini in a 20-foot dugout canoe. At the end of the trip Glave said that the Tatshenshini had “such an incessant display of scenic wild grandeur that it became tiresome”.

At the turn of the century there was a brief gold rush on Porcupine Creek, near Rainy Hollow. The strike attracted over 1,000 miners and was very active until 1906. In 1927 another small gold discovery was made a Squaw Creek by Paddy Duncan, a Neskatahin native. In the early 1900s there were several scientific surveys, a boundary survey and a few mountaineering expeditions, one of which included the first climbing of Mt. Fairweather, in 1931.

The Haines Highway was built during the Second World War by the United States Army to provide tidewater access to the Alcan Highway. It closely followed the Dalton Trail, which had been established as a toll route to the Klondike gold fields in 1897 by Jack Dalton. This route, in turn, followed an early Tutchone/Tlingit trade route between the coast and interior tribes. In the late 1970s the highway was upgraded to its present standard through a joint Canadian/American project.

Shortly after, a major mineral exploration project began in the headwaters of Tats Creek on Windy Craggy Mountain. A huge, high-quality deposit of copper was found and environmental hearings were begun as part of the process of obtaining a mining permit. It quickly became apparent that the project would destroy the wilderness qualities of the Tatshenshini and pose some serious environmental hazards as well. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, river uses and environmentalists rallied in an unprecedented fashion. Tatshenshini Wild, an umbrella organization representing over 50 major environmental groups in the U.S. and Canada, spearheaded a high-profile international campaign aimed at securing protection for the area. The B.C. government officially declared this area a Class "A" provincial park in October 1993.

The Alsek River:

The Alsek River flows south out of the Yukon’s Kluane National Park and Reserve and the largest non-polar icecap in the world. In B.C. the Alsek Valley is very different from the Tatshenshini. It has been described as stepping back in time to the end of the last Ice Age. The broad, braided, silt-grey flows past dense groves of paper birch, willow and aspen. Higher slopes are covered with shrubby willows and slide alder. Moist meadows are common, often coloured with wide swathes of fireweed. The backdrop to every scene is filled with snowy peaks, blue glaciers and bare rock.

As the confluence of the Tatshenshini and Alsek nears, Mt. Fairweather dominates the view, at 4,633 metres the highest peak in B.C. The now mighty Alsek rolls past wide plains of river gravel backed by lush coastal vegetation. Nearby, hanging glaciers cover the flanks of the Noisy and Icefield Ranges.

Below the confluence, the river slices through the coastal ranges and enters Alaska. This section of the Alsek is spectacular. At Gateway Knob the Alsek glacier flows into the river, thus creating an iceberg-filled lake. One hundred and sixty miles from its source, the mighty Alsek finally reaches the Pacific Ocean at Dry Bay, Alaska.