The Tatshenshini is a river beyond your wildest dreams. Flowing from the dry interior of the Yukon through Canada’s tallest peaks to the Pacific Ocean, everything on the trip is outsized and spectacular. From the dramatic canyons of the upper river to the ice-berg filled Alsek lake near trip’s end, each day brings a new awe-inspiring vista. This is truly one of the best rafting trips in North America.
Known as “The Grand Canyon of the North”, the “Center of the Universe”, and “Best Rafting Trip on Earth”, the Tatshenshini River clearly inspires superlatives. Our 10 day river trip traverses the largest terrestrial wilderness on earth from Canada’s Kluane National Park to Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park. The entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and biosphere reserve. The “Tat” and Alsek Rivers form a green ribbon of life in a rugged land of ice and rock. Where else can you paddle amongst 70 ft icebergs while watching eagles catching salmon?
Our trip starts on the upper Tatshenshini near the town of Haines Junction, YT. The river passes near Canada’s tallest peaks, the St. Elias Range, and plummets to the Gulf of Alaska. With each tributary the river gains size. Where we start it is clear and you could nearly wade across. A week later the river is more than a 1/2-mile wide and we can hear boulders clanking along the bottom pushed my unimaginable force. On the way it carves the memorable Tat canyon, winds through rich river bottoms, skirts the face of active glaciers, joins the enormous Alsek River and merges with the iceberg studded Alsek Lake before swirling into the storm lashed North Pacific.
We will paddle 140 miles from the mountains to the coast in 16 and 18 ft oar-rafts. Most of the rafting is flat-water, though the current is always fast and the water cold. The canyon on Day 1 is mostly Class III rapids but can be harder depending on water-levels. It is always exciting. Below the canyon there are some big waves and strong currents but no other technical whitewater. People don’t go for the whitewater, but rather the scenery, which cannot be beat.
Several layover days punctuate the trip, allowing us to savor the country and explore the deep forests, rocky ridges, or tributary creeks. Hiking is not easy in the coast ranges but there are a couple places where we can climb out of the valley for views. Wildlife such as black and brown bears, mountain goats, beaver and moose are all frequent sights. One of the many joys of this trip is observing the transition from the forests shaped by continental climate in the Yukon to the coastal habitats shaped by the Gulf of Alaska. This trip is sure to delight not just naturalists but adventurous travelers of many stripes.
Our Tatshenshini rafting trip has great variety. A little whitewater, occasional wildlife sightings, varied hiking, glaciers, sublime campsites, and truly the finest scenery imaginable. As a true wilderness expedition it has challenges and the weather is not always very friendly, but with the help of our seasoned guides the trip is suitable for those with a thirst for adventure and reasonable fitness. Join us for the trip of a lifetime.
This trip is offered through Haines Rafting Company, an authorized concessioner for Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve.
Last updated: September 2, 2020
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Arrive in Haines, AK in time for our 5 pm pre-trip meeting. You will be staying at the Hotel Halsingland (included) where we will rendezvous for the meeting. Meals on your own.
8 am van departure up the Chilkat Valley and across the Canadian Border (You have your passport, right?) then to our put-in at Dalton Post. It is a 3 hour drive and a ½-hour walk to where we rig the rafts and push out into the current. Once on the water we paddle through the canyon before making our first spectacular camp of the trip.
This is the best place to hike on the trip. We spend the day walking up Sediment Creek into the alpine zone. Wildflowers are everywhere and views back up towards the canyon and down the river are sublime. Keep your eyes peeled for Dall Sheep above, bears grazing in the avalanche chutes and wolves along the river below.
We paddle the Tatshenshini. The rapids are behind us but the fun has just started! Four or five hours on the river should get us to where we need to be and each camp offers a nice hike to end the day. It will be light until 11 pm, so we enjoy an abundance of time unique to high-latitudes in summer. On the night of the 13th we arrive at the confluence with the Alsek River, perhaps the most spectacular campsite on earth!
The Alsek is huge, one of the largest rivers in the largest State. Thick with glacial silt and split into a multitude of braids, it is a maze of water often merging with a grey sky. As we approach the coast, glaciers begin to dominate our views and we will plan for a layover day to hike to or on the ice.
Alsek Lake is world unto itself. At the terminous of the Alsek, and Grand Plateau glaciers the miles-long lake is filled with freshly calved icebergs, startlingly blue against the grey waters. We will paddle amongst the icebergs and listen to the active glaciers calve mountain-sized bergs into the lake before paddling across the lake and re-entering the current.
Dry Bay. From the fishing outpost of Dry Bay we catch a chartered plane to Yakutat, AK. Weather permitting you arrive in Yakutat in time for the daily Alaska Airlines jet to take you to Juneau. This flight from Yakutat to Juneau (or Anchorage) has not been included in the trip price, as many prefer to book it along with other flight legs homeward.
The guides were uncommonly knowledgeable, competent, hardworking, and they consistently took care of the group before taking care of their own stuff. They kept our safety in mind while staying open to suggestions, and allowing folks a lot of freedom for personal wanderings.
Transportation from Haines to river’s start and from the river to Yakutat, AK at trip’s end.
Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils
Boats, paddles, oars, life jackets, safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
One night lodging at Hotel Hasingland in Haines the night prior to your trip (double occupancy)
Select Rental Gear is available and included
Lodging other than one night in Haines
Any non-camping meals
Personal clothing and gear per our Equipment List
Gratuity for guides
Transportation to Haines prior to the trip
Transportation from Yakutat following the trip
Rain is likely; snow and frost almost impossible; sunshine intermittent. Temperatures are usually in the 50’s and 60’s. Overcast and damp conditions are common but we can also get some gloriously clear and sunny days. July has the nicest weather of the whole year, but being Southeast Alaska, “nice” might not be all that warm. Bugs should be very few. But bring a little DEET just in case.
Love Finds You in Glacier Bay, Tricia Goyer and Ocieanna Fleiss
The Land of Ocean Mists, Francis Caldwell
The Complete Guide to the Tatshenshini River: Including the Upper Alsek River, Lyman, Ordonez, Speaks
Jimmy Bluefeather, Kim Heacox