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Gulkana River, Alaska

The upper portion of the Gulkana River was designated one of our nations “Wild & Scenic” rivers. The river provides many recreational opportunities. It also and supports a healthy population of resident fish.

The Gulkana River offers world-class fishing. 

The Gulkana River is the most beautiful river in the Copper River Basin. It is a major tributary to the Copper River in Gakona, Alaska. Still primitive, the clear waters are flooded with a variety of sport fish. Most of the shoreline remains untouched. It’s common to see river otters, moose, beavers, eagles, caribou, and bears roaming the shores. 

The Athabaskan word “Gulkana” translates to slow and meandering. The Gulkana River is indeed meandering, winding its way for many miles. The Gulkana River is slow and easy to navigate with one technical rapid. The river flows about 2 mph, and the water is warm.  The water is clear on the Gulkana River. Its blue quality makes it unique in the land of glacial silt and muddy rivers. The clarity of the river can make it vulnerable to the rain’s ability to wash mud into the water, impacting water clarity and how well it fishes. 

Salmon Fishing Season

The Gulkana River river offers ideal spawning grounds for king salmon and red salmon. Every year the river comes to life as the salmon migration floods its warm waters. Depending on the time of your visit, it may be possible to fish the Gulkana for red salmon, king salmon, arctic grayling, and rainbow trout. The Gulkana River is home to the largest native rainbow trout population in Alaska. The largest rainbow trout in the river patiently wait above and below Gulkana River canyon rapids to feast on salmon eggs, flesh, and other organic matter that gets washed downstream.  Due to its blue water, the Gulkana is unlike any other Copper River tributary. The Gulkana River should be on your to-do list of Alaska fishing trips.

Red Salmon Season 

The Gulkana River red salmon run peaks in mid-July and ends in mid-September. The run’s peak varies from year to year but will usually happen in the month of August. The red salmon will stay strong into mid-September most years. 

King Salmon Season

The Gulkana River king salmon fishery is managed by the Alaska department of fish and game. The king salmon season on the Gulkana River is open to sport fishing from June 1 to July 19. The king salmon run on the Gulkana River can remain strong until closing day.


NOAA Gulkana River Hydrologic Data: Check the current water level  

Stephanie Alaska Fishing Guide

Float the nationally recognized “Wild & Scenic”  Gulkana River- Paxson Lake to Sourdough Campground on our river fully guided river expedition

The Wild & Scenic Gulkana River is best done in 5 days and 4 nights. To roughly follow the itinerary below and complete the trip in 3 nights (our base rate) you will be rafting 8 hours a day. You are welcome to fish during the rafting portion of the day and will catch something on every decent cast. We offer the option to add additional nights to enjoy more stationary fishing time or to slow the pace of your trip. A fee of $100 per person is applied for each additional night you would like to add to your float trip. Feel free to give us call to arrange your custom itinerary.

Day 1: Paxson Lake & The Outlet

The first day you will meet your guide at our office and get outfitted in your Simms chest waders, wading boots and PFD. Our shuttle will transport us to the Paxson Lake boat launch, where we will pack the boats, provide you with a comprehensive safety briefing and start our expedition into the wild and scenic stretch of the majestic Gulkana River. The first day we will row across Paxson Lake and camp around the outlet or just downstream. The outlet area is worth some time because of the variety of fish you can catch in clear shallow water. It truly is a fly-fisherman’s paradise. Lake trout have been known to strike out of nowhere while fly-fishing for the most northern stock of native rainbow trout. Greyling and whitefish are abundant and can be caught on dry flies and nymphs. Casting a spinning rod with almost any variety of lures across the outlet and watching the salmon swim by can be a very entertaining and productive pass-time on the first evening.

Day 2: Rainbow Alley & River Otter Slough

The second day of the trip will start with a healthy breakfast  followed by 7 miles of swift, shallow and rocky waters. Arctic greyling seem to be sitting behind every single rock here.  We will make our way quickly through the shallows and soon reach the confluence of the main-stem and North Fork. The confluence area is another hot spot for fly-fishing. Whitefish, rainbow trout and red salmon can be seen lying in a long run above a shallow tail out. The shore of this fantastic run provides great places to stand and cast for the variety of fish that swarm the waters below. After fishing the confluence, we will drift down into the slow, deep, calm waters that wind bend after bend deep into the thick spruce forest far away civilization. On the second day after a long push will reach canyon rapids or get close to it. The canyon Rapids of the Gulkana River is rated Class 4 and can be tricky if the water is low. There is developed foot path that is used to portage the canyon by less experienced boaters. After scouting the “rapids” you can choose to run the whitewater with your guide or walk the portage with your fly rod. The water in the canyon is the fastest waters you will see on the entire river, the wide slow waters above the canyon funnel through a narrow rock canyon and gains speed through the contraction. Our specialty happens to be fishing fast water for large fish and the canyon seems to be home to the biggest native rainbow trout in the entire Gulkana system.

Day 3: Canyon Rapids & The Big Rainbows

On the third day of the trip will be rafting down-stream from the canyon rapids for a few miles of swift and shallow water, that is perfect fly-fishing grounds for rainbow trout, followed by more miles of deep slow water and then widening and as we approach the West fork.  You will start seeing more and more large king salmon that have made it past the counting tower. We will camp near the confluence of the main-stem and the west fork for our 3rd night and spend the final evening targeting large Chinook salmon. It is important to note the actual wild and scenic portion of the Gulkana River ends as we drift by the west fork. Downstream of the west fork the river is the Gulkana Rivers motorized section and you can expect to see motorized boats the final day of your trip. Above the West Fork the Gulkana River is open to non-motorized use only.

Day 4: The Wild Chinook Grounds- Copper River King Salmon

The final morning of the trip we will pack up camp and head to Sourdough Campground where we will end our rafting trip. On the way we will troll for king salmon and stop at a few hot spots to cast from shore. We can only target king salmon on the way to the take-out if you are joining us during king salmon season. At the take out your guide will quickly load all the equipment and shuttle you back to camp. It is possible for you to have your own vehicle at the take out if arrangements are made prior to our departure.

What’s Included?

Enjoy the scenery and epic sport-fishing, while your professional river guide, with all the rafting gear, kitchen gear, and camping equipment provides you with the comforts necessary to enjoy the Alaskan backcountry wilderness in style. You will be outfitted with Simms chest waders, wading boots, rain gear, PFD, multiple fishing rods that include; your fly fishing rod, ultralight spin fishing rods and king rods (if you are joining us during king salmon season). This trip is all-inclusive and includes your fishing guide, shuttle service, meals, camping equipment and the all fishing tackle you will need to target a variety of fish. The best part about river rafting in Alaska is that you can bring all the supplies to cook gourmet meals and to set up a comfortable camp!

What’s Not Included?

You are responsible for the purchase of your Alaska sport-fishing license. In addition, you must provide personal hygiene products (toothbrush, personal medications, etc.), clothing appropriate for the weather (layers), sunglasses and a hat. We recommended polarized sunglasses.

Purchase your Alaska Fishing License Online

Alaska Dept of Fish and Game
  • Purchase your Alaska Fishing License Online from the state’s secure website
  • Find the current fishing regulations