Paddling The River Primeval

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, April 1998

Paddling The River Primeval

Access & Resources
By Stephanie Gregory

Unfrozen Caveman Camper The River That Time Ignored Paddling the River Primeval

There isn't a soul on earth who can claim to have paddled the entire length of the fastest-flowing navigable river in North America, largely because of the Stikine's 60-mile-long midsection, a vertiginous Class V and VI chasm that only 16 kayakers have successfully run. No matter: Most mortals are satisfied with the immense, uncrowded waters of the Lower Stikine, which flow through one of the most pristine and jaw-dropping landscapes on the continent. If the weather's good, you'll see more than 100 glaciers in the 160-mile stretch from Telegraph Creek to Wrangell, along with plenty of bald eagles, moose, and harbor seals. A word of caution: Though the Stikine isn't whitewater, you should be a proficient canoeist. "Otherwise," says Dick Person, "recovering your boat from a capsize is a Herculean task."

Finding a guided canoe trip on the Lower Stikine is nearly impossible — the river flows through two countries, creating occasional customs hassles. British Columbia-based Northern Sun Tours, however, offers a 14-day canoe trip that includes a Grand Canyon flyover ($2,050; 888-847-4349). Though he's a bit hard to track down, Person usually guides at least one Lower Stikine trip per summer. Contact him through his Web site at or by mail at Box 92, Teslin, Yukon, Canada Y0A 1B0.

The rangers at the U.S. Forest Service's Wrangell Ranger District office in Wrangell (907-874-2323) have pertinent information on how to clear customs, how to plan a suitable itinerary, and what to do if you meet up with a grizzly. They will also provide a list of transport companies that will fly or boat you upriver. For lodging, the Forest Service operates a dozen primitive cabins on the Lower Stikine that rent for $25 per night (reservations are required). Since no permits are needed to run the river, you're free to paddle anytime after March, when the ice goes out. The best month is August, when the water level has stabilized, the mosquito population has tapered, and the average daytime temperature is in the midseventies. The unofficial headquarters of Stikine paddlers is the RiverSong Lodge in Telegraph Creek, which has rooms ($49-$60 per night; 250-235-3196), a restaurant, and a general store straight out of a Jack London novel. Wrangell-based Alaska Waters rents canoes ($40-$50 per day) and will boat you and your gear to Telegraph Creek for $250 per person (907-874-2378).

If you're traveling the Alaska-Canada Highway, it's possible to drive to Telegraph Creek via British Columbia 37 and a no-name dirt road unofficially dubbed Telegraph Creek Road. The other option is to fly from Seattle to Wrangell on Alaska Airlines ($376-$486; 800-426-0333). From Wrangell, Alaska Waters will take you upriver to Telegraph Creek.

Travels in Alaska, by John Muir (Viking Penguin, $10.95) briefly describes the unparalleled beauty of the Stikine in the nineteenth century. The Stikine River (Alaska Geographic Society, $19.95) pictographically traces the history of the river from the time of native migrations to the present. A 1:50 or 1:250 scale map of the Stikine is available from McElhanney Consulting Sevices ($8.77; 250-847-4040).

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