Fortymile & Yukon Rivers
by Jim Strutz
June 21-27, 2003 -- Fortymile bridge on the Taylor Hwy to Eagle -- About 100 river miles.
Planned for six days but extended to seven due to low water & other factors.
How to Get There
Drive out the Glenn Highway, past Glennallen, to Tok. Turn right on the Alaska Highway & drive about 20 miles south. Turn left on the Taylor Highway and drive to mile 112. You will have to turn left when you get to the Top of the World Highway or you'll end up at the Canadian border. The put-in is on the east (right) at the south (near) bank of the river. You can drive to near the edge of the river, but if you don't have four-wheel drive, be careful. Parking is available across the highway in a decent parking lot that also has an outhouse.
The take out is in the town of Eagle. Look for the signs directing you a little upriver from downtown Eagle. You can drive down a steep access to the river's edge when loading up at the end of your trip. Most services are available in Eagle but may not be at all hours. You may want to schedule your trip so that you don't end up doing your shuttle on a Sunday. It's about 450 miles from Anchorage to the put in. The take out at Eagle is about 50 miles further.
The lower Fortymile River is mostly flat water with a couple of small rapids and one moderate, class 3 canyon a few miles above Clinton Creek. However if the water is high this rapid was determined to be unrunnable in rafts & canoes. It may have changed again in the years I last ran it, so you should ask for more recent advice. Portaging or lining your boat through these rapids is an option unless the water is very high. Like most rapids they change depending on water level. The Yukon River is a large fast-flowing flatwater river in this section.
Take breaks every few hours to stretch and explore early Alaska/Yukon mining historical stuff. There is also good fishing for Grayling and Rainbow Trout. Also some King Salmon, Red salmon, Lamprey, Steelhead, and Dolly Varden.
We found the water at near-record low levels for June. The rapids were no more than class II at this level. The Canoers didn't even scout them first, but probably should have since they nearly swam twice.
At very high water, campsites might be difficult to find, but they are there. We had 15 people in six boats, and all campsites we used would have been fine for 30+ people.
There are a number of options for put-in and take-outs in the Fortymile River system. Some require a fly-in drop off but most can be accessed from the road in a few places. But the river level goes up and down fast depending on snowmelt and the last rainfall. At low water the channels get narrow and the water slower, but they are usually still floatable. I think the Fortymile is my favorite Alaskan river to float.
Schedule & Trip Notes:
Drove from Anchorage to put-in at mile 112 of the Taylor Hwy.
This is about a 10-hour drive if you don't stop. The road slows down and deteriorates the farther you go.
We camped about 1/4 mile past the bridge in a field on the right.
We later found a better, unofficial camping area 50 yards downstream from the put in.
One couple in our group went to the Canadian border customs to check in. They didn't have a clue what to do.
The rest of us didn't bother but found out later that we were supposed to call the customs office in Whitehorse first.
Shuttle cars to Eagle - float to the first river campsite.
Figure on two hours each way for the shuttle.
Some in the group can assemble boats & rig gear while the others do the shuttle.
My car was the shuttle return rig. We left the rest of the cars in Eagle for a quick departure.
I got a flat going to Eagle and got it fixed there, but I completely destroyed a tire on the way back to the put in.
Turns out I had no jack handle. -- Oops -- All this caused about a four-hour delay.
There are parking areas for your vehicle both at Eagle and across the road from the put in.
You could shorten the trip by doing the shuttle on day one, but it would be a very long day from Anchorage.
At higher water, some of the ripples we encountered would be gone, but other larger rapids would appear.
Several active mining operations were visible. Some more active than others.
After we crossed the border we saw no more active mining.
We camped on a high sand bar at the end of an island.
The old Campways boat had hard gear piled directly on the floor & they had to stop and patch holes three times.
At our first camp we rigged a pole frame for that raft & moved some of their gear to my boat.
They were using only paddles and couldn't keep up in the slow sections, so we pulled them through some pools.
Floated to the next campsite.
Ran Dead Man's Rime w/o trouble but my wife got wet.
From then on she kept handy a garbage bag to quickly wrap around her legs.
We suspected this rapid was coming because the topography seemed to start dropping around the corner ahead.
Topography & geology were very interesting. We repeatedly saw oddly recognizable shapes in hills & mountains.
Some high clouds started moving in, but it was mostly sunny & warm.
We hadn't had much trouble with mosquitoes but did once when I chose to step into the woods for a minute.
We camped on a wide gravel bank that would have been flooded at normal flows.
However, there was a good campsite high up in the woods here as well.
My wife, who does not camp or float rivers, went this time only because she wanted the Yukon River experience.
She had a great time, partly because I brought a port-a-potty and a thick inflatable bed, with a large tent.
We also had the usual assortment of tables, coolers & miscellaneous stuff. Camping was comfortable.
The canoers didn't bring a stove & cooked everything on a campfire, in a cast-iron skillet. They had the best food.
Float to the campsite at Clinton Creek
Ran Canyon Rapids, class III at high water. Easy to see it coming. Scout it on the left.
Continued rock dodging for about 1/2 mile. At high water this could be rough.
After this the river started to slow as the valley started to widen.
The wind started to blow in our faces, and we had to row/paddle through several slow sections
Sunshine was on & off but was still warm. The weather was great for most of the trip.
We saw several bears. A sow with two cubs, and another with one. Several other animals as well.
Before Clinton Creek you can see a road cut into the hill on river left.
Coming into Clinton Creek the canoers pulled off to play on the river crossing tram.
As they were heading back to their canoe, they heard a thrashing in the woods & out came a cow & calf followed by a bear.
The bear chased them across the river to a spot about a quarter-mile from our next camp.
We camped at the mouth of Clinton Creek which sometimes flash floods during rainstorms
Clinton Creek is a mining area abandoned in 1979. There is a bridge and a road leading up to the Top of the World Highway.
From the road there is a 1/4 mile trail leading to the old townsite of Fortymile.
There were several cars parked at Clinton Creek, and some Parks Canada and US Park Service trucks.
Explored the old town of Fortymile and beyond.
Short 2-3 mile float from Clinton Creek to the end of Fortymile River, at the old townsite. Most of this had to be rowed.
It was named in 1886 for being about forty miles down the Yukon River from the former Hudson's Bay post of Fort Reliance.
By the 1890s there were about 1000 people living there.
The 1898 Klondike gold rush in Dawson, about 35 miles upriver, emptied most of the town of Fortymile.
Many old buildings and relics still survive, and the area is now being restored by Parks Canada.
There was a guy from a college conducting archaeology digs with the help of high school students from Whitehorse.
They had found a spear point from the pre-bow and arrow era – circa 800 a.d.
The area has been occasionally inhabited for well over 1000 years. Mostly it was a fishing & hunting area.
We also encountered a Boston gent doing a solo canoe trip to the Haul Road bridge.
He mentioned that the day before a large group of Boy Scouts had invaded the area on their way downriver.
We floated onto the Yukon & downstream about 20 miles to our last river camp on an island.
Floated to Eagle
The weather was deteriorating, but still partly sunny with no/low wind.
The river is wide & fast with numerous islands creating channels. Some of which are slow & shallow
The Yukon was running at about average flows, maybe a little low, but not much.
We encountered the Yukon Queen II, a fast catamaran traveling upriver with about 100 people on board.
This excursion/tour boat travels from Dawson to Eagle & back every day.
They slow to a no-wake speed while passing other boats and cabins.
We rafted up for about an hour at a time, to keep together, swap stories & play games.
Late afternoon weather turned foul with wind & rain. We had to stop & gear up to keep from getting too cold.
We arrived in Eagle in the middle of a heavy downpour.
We packed up and headed to the café for dinner.
The sun came out, and we drove back to our original put in to camp for the night.
Traveled back to Anchorage.
We stopped in Chicken to buy a tire. I think this might be a common occurrence.
Checked out the Jake Wade Dredge, and drove back to Anchorage. (No longer there, unfortunately.)
Jim Strutz is an experienced whitewater rafter and local Alaskan who has floated dozens of rivers in Alaska. In addition to his river skills, he is a fine riverbank chef who has prepared many meals for groups large and small.