South Fork Matanuska Loop

This has got to be a candidate for the best true packraft loop around, especially during the autumn. The loop is best done in two nights: 18 mile hike, 16 mile float, about two hours drive from Anchorage, Alaska.

This route starts and ends at the Caribou Creek Recreational Mining Campground just east of the Lions Head pullout. There is an easy ATV trail down to the river. You will notice a road on the north side of Caribou creek … but that road (and property) is private.

The first day is spent hiking along the Matanuska Glacier. You have the option of hiking on some glacier ice for part of the first day, but you can also stay on the lateral moraine and moat behind the moraine. There is serious rockfall hazard … definitely wear a helmet!

We got stuck at an amazing camp early on day one, which meant we’d have to put in a long day two.

After a climb and descent on game trails to navigate around the cliffs recently exposed by the receding Matanuska Glacier, we hiked up Spoon Valley. Walking up the valley, wading across channels and up a few tight passages, made me think that I wouldn’t want to do this trip earlier in the summer when there is more water.

We hiked ten hours and then set up camp on a scenic perch overlooking the South Fork of the Matanuska River.

During the morning’s descent, Sarah spotted goats and a black bear on a cliff across a gorge from our route. The bear was scrambling on rocks while the goats were in grass. What the heck?

The South Fork of the Matanuska at low water is Class II in difficulty. The river starts with a fairly fast and continuous gradient. The water is very cold! The river carves through a few canyons, but does not feature any technical challenges. Wood is a likely river hazard.

This is an Alaskan classic! Park at Lion’s Head.


  1. what a beautiful journey. While most animals try to blend in, the goats advertise themselves !

  2. I did this for the first time this fall. To me it was a pretty much the ideal packrafting trip. Incredible scenery, great hiking, and an enjoyable float that makes a full loop (nearly) right back to the car. The bushwack to great hiking ratio was just about perfect, just enough to make it feel legit, but not enough to get into type 2 fun. A classic!

  3. Some notable private property to avoid here, probably worth writing that up. Give me a yell if you’d like a description.

  4. Hi Luc,

    Thanks for your info, it is super valuable and we have found it quite helpful! My husband and I are on a nine day trip in Anchorage and on the Kenai Peninsula. Today, we hiked 10 miles up the Eagle River and floated about 7 miles of mellow, beautiful, braided channel above the Echobend Rapids. We took out at echo because we didn’t know quite what to expect, It was cold and rainy, and it’s our first day of the trip! We are looking for similar difficulty to the beautiful, mellow section we did, or perhaps a little more difficult. Any info on the south part of the eagle?. Any other recommendations?

    1. Hi Kristina- Check out Jule Harle’s Alaska Packraft Guide (available in the ourdoor shops in Anc, and elsewhere) … that will be the best resource for you.

Leave a Reply to csleistikowCancel reply