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Alaska waterways

Charley River (Copper Creek to confluence with Yukon River)

September 9-14, 1972

NOTE: These reports may not contain important information about: 1) safety, 2) land management and ownership, 3) fishing and other regulations and 4) possible errors > READ MORE

Jules V. Tileston Leader, ATF/BOR

Scott Grundy, Alaska Department of Fish & Game,
Fred Kaas, National Park Service, Colorado
Jules V. Tileston, Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, Anchorage

Invited but did not participate: Tanana Chiefs, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Alaska Power Administration


Overflight made on August 24. Water low, clear. Many rapids. Free of sweepers. Meandered stream course between Copper and Crescent Creeks looks very shallow.

Helicopter F-111 used to transport two canoes, three people and gear to high water channel just downstream from mouth of Copper Creek.

From a canoeing/kayaking standpoint this is one of the best clearwater, whitewater streams in this section of State.

The ratio of pools to riffles outstanding--few pools and they are short--until lower 1/4 segment where basically pools.

At low water levels would have to line or walk through rock gardens and bars above Crescent Creek. However, at water level examined, could have started much higher on Charley and probably Copper and Crescent Creeks runable. From the air the Charley is very misleading. Water exceptionally clear, therefore 4 feet of water over rocks looks like 4 inches or less. Can see bottom plainly in +/- 15 feet of water.

River bed is cobble/boulder. No sand and limited small gravel (pea size) until onto flats near Bonanza Creek.

Water classification using the International Difficulty Rating is Class II/III. Skill level Intermediate/Advanced.

Rapids are basically boulder fields (rock gardens). Rocks rounded, current very swift. Maneuvering is a constant requirement. Although maneuvering is mandatory, few places at water level we examined where precise eddy turns are required. Many rapids require scouting to determine correct channel. An upset presents good probability for damage and/or loss of equipment.

Scenery outstanding.

Interesting geology.

Wildlife abundant--especially sheep which are frequent observers of river traveler. Sheep can be seen at very close range (100-150 yds.). Substantial sign of caribou use and/or migration. Eagle nesting and perhaps falcons on some of cliffs along river.

Evidence of man scarce. Few cabins existing or remains. No apparent mining activity.

Care required in scouting this river as more water could create severe hydraulics for small craft; whereas less could require quite a bit of walking.

Equipment used: 17 foot standard Grumman, 19 foot square stern Grumman. Motorboat (jet) travel has been reported upstream as far as Copper Creek. This can be accomplished only at right water level and then only with. considerable abuse of equipment (if paint on rocks are any indication).

Water temperature definitely on cool side. In early spring or late fall, use of wet suits should be strongly considered as the chance of getting wet in a small craft is good.


Arrived at the Charley River about 4 p.m.

Set up camp on a sand bar. Concluded supper and it began to rain, a gentle rain but the kind that suggests it could go on again all night. The mountains to the south of us are all snowcapped with fresh snow from last night and
the day before. Also, we had a thin skim of ice on the water this morning when we got up on the Kandik. Mouth of the Charley somewhat difficult to find, as several islands in Yukon. Charley confluence similar to the mouth of the Kandik. The Kandik,(looking at it from the Yukon) is virtually unnoticeable in terms of its canyon. The Charley however does have a definite topographic suggestion of a major drainage. Water clear, looks like the level is low; however, it has been higher recently.

Several large wolf tracks seen in the sand and in silt along the banks.

Sep 10. Rain still continuing to come down. During the night we got up and moved the canoes just as a precaution, but was unnecessary as the water did not rise at all. At 11:OO the BLM Goose arrived and left two drums of fuel stating that the helicopter had taken off from Fairbanks at 7:00 and was due in at any time but the weather was bad.

Jerry Timmons left with the Goose to return to his duty station at 11:45. During that time intermittent rain and sun, ground fog beginning to lift, high visibility only for very short periods of time. At about 2:30 the helicopter came in, made a circle, landed at a bar on the Yukon, fuel and gear stashed, then took off again to return about an hour later.

Scott Grundy, Dept. of Fish & Game, Alaska, and the pilot had flown up the Kandik as they had not seen our camp just inside the mouth of the Charley. Upon return they saw Fred at the area where the fuel, food, and motor had been offloaded.

We continued breaking camp (again in intermittent short rain showers and brief sunshine).

Started the shuttle to Copper Creek and its confluence with the Charley River at about 3:30. The shuttle completed at approximately 5:30.

Scott, myself and Fred are the only ones on this portion of the trip. Alden sent a note saying that he wasn't coming in and that Jerry should stay as his meeting had been cancelled. However, Jerry already gone.

On the way in sighted a very nice bull moose in the tundra area and three sheep near the river. When Fred and Scott came they saw a very large cinnamon grizzly near the river in the lower tundra areas. Camp is approximately 100 yards below the confluence of the Copper Creek. The selection of the site was because of good landing site on the riverbank and there are trees on an old flood channel. Riverbed composed of large cobbles. Have a Class II, possibly Class III rapids to start off with tomorrow immediately downstream from our campsite. A similar rapid upstream also helped in the selection of this campsite.

The river is exceptionally clear and looks very interesting from the standpoint of combination whitewater canoe-camping trips. Time will tell.

Sep 11. Charley starting with a bang! A bear visited our camp last night on the beach where we had all our food stored, about 100 yards from where we were camping. Apparently had a small grizzly or a cinnamon black visit our premises. Fortunately the only thing that was taken was one can of beer and this got us out of a rather difficult bind as we had an extra can of beer anyway. The tooth punctured aluminum can will make a nice memento. We imagined that we saw the departing tracks show a little staggering afterwards and we can only conclude that our visitor did not like beer. But he did do-in my big waterproof rubber bag which we had been using to store the food in. Fortunately, it did not get into the food. Break, oranges, cheese, apples and lunch meat stored under the canoe and the bear didn't get at this. Other gear (cameras, notebooks, etc.) shambled around but no real damage. Some claw marks and tooth marks hither and yon but other than the one punctured can of beer and the rubberized bag, no serious damage.

The water very very interesting, a good Class II, possibly Class III, at a lower or higher water level. Many rock gardens where maneuvering is required. Maneuvering does not involve a great degree of difficulty as you can look ahead and decide whether you need to be on the left or the right hand of the stream and then move there.

The braided section below Copper Creek which we noted from the air and on the map is not too bad. Care must be taken in selecting the correct channel (stay to right as a general rule). At this time of year, at this water level, there was sufficient water to generally float the canoe. One bar where we literally had to drag the canoe across. With less water this section could become a real problem.

Current very swift; you can see in water up to 10-15 feet deep with no problems, crystal clear. We did not observe any fish nor did we fish.

Today we came upon an old cabin, the cache had fallen in. A very large number of files, woodworking tools, gold pans, nails, things of this nature, and many traps. There probably were $100 to $150 worth of traps in workable condition in the cache. One of the interesting things was the very large number of files that were there. These were basically for metal work of different types; short, long, round, skinny, etc. A complete tool cache appears to be there, including several handsaws, two or three planes, a wood block plane, augers for drilling, squares, etc. Nails were round. Relatively, age of the cache would indicate that probably used during 1930's. The cache itself was completely down, the cabin completely deteriorated. So it can't' be new. Bottles were all of modern extraction. "Finament" was the only identifiable bottle.

The second cabin was found later in the afternoon, in sec. 25, T. 2 N, R. 21 E, at about 3:30 in the afternoon. No indication as to what this cabin was used for, probably a trappers cabin. A trail up creek suggests dog-sled width. An aluminum canoe or the remains of one there. The canoe itself was a riveted canoe, strapped rather than ribs' and cane woven wood seats. The canoe sides may have been double-hauled. You couldn't tell for sure. The aluminum itself was extremely brittle, you could flake it out. The floatation chambers were still intact and looked pretty good except someone had "plinked" them. Canoe identification plate is marked "USA, Saginaw, Mich., Model 84, C.W. STIVER trademark, patent # 2083410. Unusual aspect of the cabin is the tepee type dog house rather than the square box type. These were built directly into the hillside. There were four or five of them behind the cabin. No cache; no other indication of date or function.

Spending the night on the bar about 2 miles above Essie Creek.

Weather very good today, sunny but cool. Water temperature very cool. Wore a wet suit all day and was not uncomfortable at all. The mountains, twin peaks particularly, indicate fresh snow in the last several days. These were the same mountains that we saw from the mouth of the Yukon.

Observed three different bands of the Charley River sheep, very curious and very interesting, easily and readily observed from the river with the naked eye. Glasses would help but are not necessary. This is an unusual factor and definitely a plus in terms of wildlife.

So far the rapids would be considered Class II. There are many rock gardens and several chutes with standing waves 2 to 3 feet high. These, if taken directly with a loaded open canoe could cause problems. In almost all cases there is an alternate route where the prudent canoeist could avoid main chute (where there is a good probability of swamping).

So far, is definitely a fun stream from the whitewater standpoint and from the standpoint of whitewater camping.

The country, the mountain side, the views, fantastic. Particularly today with the blue sky, new snow on the mountains, and aspen and cottonwood and the berry bushes clothing mountainside and riverbank in subtle shades of red, yellow and gold -- all contrasted with the blue of the sky and the very clear, crystal clear, character of the water. It is very very intriguing!

Camp for the night is in sec. 18, R.22 E, T. 2 N. Covered approximately 15 miles. Sep 12. Light rain falling, looks like we have had our good day for the week. Camped at approximately 9:30. A rather interesting day, to say the least. The last of our beer went under. We unfortunately recovered exactly two. At about the mouth of Essie Creek a small rounded boulder at the end of a long gravel bar leapt up into the middle of Prairie Dog III and grabbed hold with such vigor that Fred was unable to release the canoe, which then turned sideways in the fast current into a series of three boulders with disastrous results to some of the gear. Fortunately, the only thing lost (other than the beer)
were two cans of spare ham and a sponge. Everything else came through. My shoes, after tediously drying them for four days, are wet again. Rapid itself was a relatively minor one in terms of what we have been running. Extremely swift current foreclosed all options once the canoe turned sideways and began to broach. It took all three of us, (myself, Scott and Fred) lifting with considerable strength, to free the canoe from the main rock. A fairly good size dent is in the side near the center thwart and a minor one in the keel. The one in the keel was "jumped out” and one on the side can be fixed with no problem. No rivets popped and no holes punched. Continued on downstream after drying out on the adjacent gravel bar. The water is cold!

From the standpoint of geology, this afternoon about 2 to 2 1/2 miles of a very interesting conglomerate along left bank. It has large boulders but looks metamorphic. There are lenses of crystalline structure which may or may not be igneous but don't appear to be sedimentary. Definitely river worn cobbles, pieces of fractured igneous rock are included in the gray binding matrix. Extremely interesting from the standpoint of-just -general interest, whether you are a geologist or not.

Interesting characteristic of the river is the gravel-cobble bed. The cobbles are very large, generally in excess of 12 to 14 inches. The stream itself moves very fast. As a result there is very little sand, or even fine gravel. No shale as opposed to the Kandik. This evening, just above Bear Creek, is the first large and consistent sand that we have actually seen in a bar, although fine sand is found in the gravel bed and the cache that we found had two gold pans suggesting that at least some place in the headwater areas people have used pans.

The rain or light mist stopped about noon today, but the sun never completely burned through. It looks like a fall day, you could look directly at the sun and just barely see it as a misty round white glob. The mountain tops have generally been visible; however, in several cases, striking views of a clear ridgetop with a cloud hanging midway between the top ridge of the valley floor.

Since the cell controlling the light meter has gone out, generally shooting on the hazy, overcast F-11 @60 Have shot several though in the deep shade dropping it down to 3.5. In the sun, at F-11 @ 125.

Sagebrush fairly obvious in the open faces of the bluffs.

Though the water itself is extremely clear, we have seen no fish nor have we seen any rise. Whether this is an indication of the fish aren't here or we're just not seeing them, I don't know. No fishing attempts have been made. In general, the water to this point, has had few pools and does not look like overproductive fish habitat, as the water is moving extremely fast.

Riverboat navigation is supposed to go as far up as Cascade Creek and is reportedly gone up as far as Copper Creek. There is a new airstrip on Copper Creek which needs to be checked out. Several of the bars today showed where green boats had either been drug upstream or downstream, you couldn't tell which over the rocks (same rock that caught the Prairie Dog III, had green paint on it).

Our campground last night had been used this year by a riverboat and the one we are at now has been used by somebody on the river. There is some litter, whiskey bottle, several beer cans laying around, and some cardboard (all of recent origin). One of the beer cans suggests bear damage also as it has been chewed up.

Last two days have been wearing-a full wet suit and it worked out pretty well. The one thing needed is wet suit gloves. Hands get very cold and chapped, and at this point are chapped to where they are cracking and bleed very easily. When the canoe upset today, I had to swim across the stream, and without the wet suit would have been a difficult task as even with the wet suit the water had a poleaxing effect when it hit my chest. Several times yesterday was in up to my waist looking for ways around rocks, Also picked up an airplant part, which is probably a part of a 1947 crash in the headwater areas.

Sep 13. Left camp at about 9:45. Drizzling, rain started during the night at about 10:OO and continued during most of the day; Finally stopped at about 5:00 at a cabin located on opposite side of Bonanza Creek, owned by George Wyat of Fairbanks (Alaska Game and Fish Commission). George, accompanied by his three sons and daughter, all moose hunting. Provided fresh moose liver for supper. Very good, with onions. Moose have been scarce according to George. Also, as a result of his observations over the last eight years, the river itself is about 18 inches higher than it normally would be at this time of year.

River character has changed considerably since yesterday, now pools greatly extended. Current although moving, not definitely slower than previously. Riffles, now very minor in comparison to past several days, and no rapids at all.

A good trip, although some difficulty in locating ourselves several times because of the overcast. An excellent display of the aurora borealis this evening observed.

Sep 14. Light rain again. Left camp at approximately 9:45, canoed down to the cabin at the mouth of the Kandik and inspected that. The cabin in pretty good shape. Recent construction in that the logs are trimmed solid, rather than axed on the butt ends and on the notching. Cache, good shape, empty. The cabin itself does not show any indication of recent occupancy on a regular basis. Calendars from 1963 and a 1970 notation, photographs, negatives on the table of a man, wife and child in the winter, or early spring, showing wolves, etc. from a trapping operation. Reached our cache at the mouth of the Charley about 11:45, retrieved the motor gasoline and buffalo skull. Had to jerry-rig a mounting from some blazo boxes to make the motor fit. Only five gallons of gasoline to make Circle. Departed Charley at 12:30 p.m.

Log ends--------

FLOATING THE CHARLEY RIVER [Webmaster note: The following is from a 9/90 Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve leaflet attached by the Alaska Public Lands Information Center to the river log scan. While helpful, visitors should consult the Preserve website for up-to-date information.]

LOCATION AND DESCRIPTION: The Charley River originates in the Yukon-Tanana uplands and flows northward about 108 river miles to the Yukon River. The river flows through three distinct topographic regions - open upland valley, entrenched river, and open floodplain - offering varied, sometimes spectacular scenery as well as unspoiled wilderness. The upland valleys drain a rugged mountain area where peaks over 6000 feet are common. The river passes beneath high bluffs and cliffs where the majority of the rapids occur. When the river leaves the high bluff area it enters the flat plain of the Yukon Valley where it slowly meanders to the Yukon River.

WATER CLASS AND BOATING SEASON: The Charley River is a cold, clear, intermediate free-flowing stream. Maximum stream flow occurs in late May and early June. The boating season usually begins in June and there are generally sufficient flows to accommodate small boats through August. During periods of low water it is necessary to drag or portage a raft or kayak over shallow riffles and exposed rocks or gravel bars. The Charley River flows from its headwaters at approximately 4000 feet elevation to its confluence with the Yukon at about 700 feet.

With an average gradient of 31 feet per mile the upper two-thirds of the river provides a healthy white water experience. When water levels are lower maneuvering becomes a constant necessity and some rapids require scouting to determine the best channel. Most of the Charley is rated as class II (intermediate) water on the international scale of river difficulty, with limited areas rated as class III(more difficult). During periods of high water on the upper sections of the Charley boaters can encounter class IV rapids. Caution should be exercised during these less common conditions. Most floaters use rafts or inflatable or folding kayaks because of their ease of transport by air. Open canoes are not recommended for the Charley River.

ACCESS: There is no direct road access into the Charley River basin. The region surrounding the Charley River basin is accessible, however, by the Taylor and Steese highways which terminate at Eagle and Circle respectively. Access to the river is gained either by boat (running and lining up-river from the Yukon) or by aircraft. Fixed wing aircraft can land on a primitive, gravel airstrip located in the upper portion of the Charley just above Copper Creek. Helicopters are also permitted in the area by the Park Service due to the limited access. This is the only recreational use of helicopters allowed within the preserve. Helicopters can carry visitors to various starting points by landing on numerous gravel bars up and down the river. All helicopter use requires a permit from the preserve superintendent.

Although permits are not required for floating the Charley River a voluntary trip plan, notification of trip completion and your group input are all helpful to the preserve staff. Contact the rangers in Eagle for further information.

TRIP LENGTH: Most visitors to the Charley River charter a f1ight to the headwaters of the Charley, float down river to the Yukon and take out at Circle. Average float time from the headwaters of the Charley at Gelvin's airstrip to the Yukon River (approximately 75 miles) is six days. An additional two to three days are needed to float the Yukon to Circle (a distance of 70 miles). There are no rapids on this stretch of the Yukon.

The Charley River basin (designated as a National Wild and Scenic River) is managed primarily as a wilderness area. The 1.1 million acres encompassed by this region are representative of some of the little-disturbed ecosystems of interior Alaska. Local plants and wildlife are the full-time residents of this area and should be treated with respect. Peregrine Falcon eyries may be encountered along the narrower sections of the river and should be avoided.

Visitors to the area are encouraged to practice minimum-impact camping and traveling techniques. By following a few simple guidelines (a brochure is available at preserve headquarters) the next visitors to this area will have the opportunity to find it much as you will.

Visitors are urged to exercise caution when floating the rivers in the Preserve. Water temperatures are consistently low, even in the summer, posing a severe hazard of hypothermia. Even the best swimmers should wear a life jacket at all times while on the water as a minimum safety precaution. Ranger patrols on the Charley are infrequent at best. Visitors must be safety conscious, well prepared, and self-sufficient.

TOPOGRAPHIC MAPS: For the segment of the trip on the Charley River down to the Yukon River the 1:63360 (one inch to one mile) Eagle C5, C6, D5, D6, and Charley River A4, A5, D4, B4 maps may be used. From the confluence to Circle the Charley River B5, B6, C6, and Circle C1 maps may be used. Alaska topographic quadrangles are available at U.S. Geological Survey Offices in Fairbanks and Anchorage. The NPS headquarters in Eagle carries the 1:250000 series maps for this area.

Further information on the preserve can be obtained in Eagle or by writing to: Superintendent, Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, P.O. Box 167, Eagle, Alaska, 99738.

Complete river log

PDF icon Charley River [1319 kb]

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Alagnak River | Alatna River |  American Creek | Andreafsky River | Aniakchak River | Awuna River | Beaver Creek | Black River | Bremner River | Canning River | Charley River | Chilikadrotna River | Chitina River | Colville River | Copper River | Delta River | Fortymile River | Gulkana River | Huslia River | Ivishak River | John River | Kakhonak River | Kanektok River | Karluk River | Kasegaluk Lagoon | King Salmon River | Kobuk River | Koyukuk River North Fork | Little Susitna River | Mulchatna River | Nigu Etivluk rivers | Noatak River | Nowitna River | Nuyakuk River | Porcupine River | Saganirktok River | Salmon River (Kobuk) | Selawik River | Sheenjek River | Squirrel River | Talachulitna River | Tlikakila River | Togiak River | Unalakleet River | Utukok River

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