River Guide for Chena River State Recreation Area
Floating the clear-running Chena River is a popular activity in Chena River State Recreation Area. The river flows from the Yukon-Tanana Uplands to its confluence with the Tanana River in Fairbanks. Crafts typically used are canoes, kayaks, rafts, and riverboats. Fishing, hunting, camping, wildlife viewing, sunbathing or swimming can be enjoyed along the river. Chena Hot Springs Road provides easy access to the river at several locations within the recreation area. Numerous river access roads and four bridges that cross the river allow many choices for float trips.
Class II River:
The Chena River is rated as Class II on the international scale of river difficulty. The upper portions of the river are more difficult being narrower with more obstacles, such as log jams, low hanging trees called sweepers, shallow water and sharp turns. Lower portions of the river are wider, allowing more space for maneuvering around obstacles. River gradient (water elevation drop) is typically steeper upstream.
Because of the meandering nature of the river, the course has changed over time. The resulting riverbank erosion causes a large amount of brush--sometimes entire trees--and other debris to fall into the water, creating obstacles that make a typically "easy" river difficult to navigate. The most common mishaps on the river arise when crafts are carried into sweepers or log jams, causing the boats to capsize. Make evasive maneuvers well in advance of these hazards to minimize unplanned swims!
In many locations along the river, the river splits into two or more smaller channels. Floaters are encouraged to stop and scout these smaller channels before floating them. Many are impassable due to logjams, particularly on upper, narrow sections of the river. Periods of rain may create high water that will increase the river's flow velocity. High water also increases the river's difficulty rating. Murky water indicates higher than normal water conditions, as the river normally runs clear. Early season floaters should be aware of the potential dangers of ice jams that may form anywhere along the river.
Warning: All floaters should wear some type of U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device at all times while on the river, regardless of skill level.
4th Bridge (MP 48.9) to 3rd Bridge (MP 44.0) Gradient: 11 feet/mile
The put-in location of the 4th Bridge is also the Angel Rocks Trailhead. The North Fork of the Chena River is much narrower than the Main Fork down river. Floaters may expect many obstacles and hazards along this section. Lining or portaging your craft around logjams, shallows, sweepers, or other obstacles will likely be necessary. Mid- to late-summer floating is not recommended due to low water. Experience with technical river skills is advised.
3rd Bridge (MP 44.0) to 2nd Bridge (MP 39.5) Gradient: 8 feet/mile
A popular float starts on the narrower North Fork for a short way before joining the East Fork. Exercise caution shortly below the bridge as a log jam may require portaging. Hazardous water currents are frequently encountered at the confluence of the East Fork. Here the river widens with a brisk current and occasional riffles.
2nd Bridge (MP 39.5)
Two options are available for takeout at this bridge. A road accesses a large gravel bar just above the bridge (across the highway from the campground), offering easy water access by vehicle. The bridge is visible from this gravel bar. Floaters may also take-out at the Granite Tors Trailhead at the bridge.
1st Bridge (MP 37.8) to Rosehip (MP 27.0) Gradient: 5 feet/mile
The river remains fairly easy going with many broad sections and narrower riffles. Expect many sweepers and floating hazards. Several river access points are available. Consult the map for locations.
Rosehip (MP 27.0) to Fairbanks Gradient: 3.5 feet/mile
The gradient lessens closer to Fairbanks. Access at Grange Hall Road is not obvious. No developed facilities are present on the north of the public access. Nordale Road is the next easy access point, with vehicle access to the river just above the bridge. Several access points exist below Nordale Road into Fairbanks.
Your Guide to the Chena River
Floaters may camp along the Chena River within the recreation area. Please respect private land. Gravel bars make excellent camp locations, with breezes to help ward off insects. Note that gravel bars may flood during high water, often after rains. Camp above high water marks, and watch water levels. There are established campgrounds at the 2nd Bridge and at Rosehip access points. Please practice minimum impact camping. Pack out all garbage. Human waste should be buried at least 100 feet from water sources. This is bear country, so keep all food away from your camp. Confine fires to mineral soil, such as gravel bars, and extinguish them when leaving.
Watch for king and chum salmon spawning in early August, and the grizzly and black bears that come to feed on them. Beavers are also abundant, and moose may be found foraging in backwater channels. Fishing is restricted to catch and release grayling fishing only.
Further river information is available on some bulletin boards. Also, feel free to contact the Fairbanks office of Alaska State Parks.