The Copper River in Alaska - McCarthy River Tours
Alaska Adventure Blog
The Northern Lights on the Copper River in Alaska - McCarthy River Tours

Copper River Alaska – Why Its The Perfect Alaska Rafting Trip

Copper River Alaska Rafting Beach Days

When you think of Alaska, you think of giant glaciers, towering mountains and abundant wildlife.  Many people think about how vast the Alaskan wilderness seems, how large the distances are between small outposts of human habitation.  When considering travel options and itineraries, it is important to keep all of these considerations in your mind.  A scenic overnight rafting trip in Alaska is a great way to check off all of your nature needs  The 80-mile stretch of the Copper River from the Town of Chitina to the Copper River Delta, just outside the town of Cordova, Alaska, is one of the finest and easiest ways to check off much of your Alaska wish-list all in one trip!

Vast Alaskan Wilderness:  Woods Canyon outside of Chitina, Alaska

After leaving Chitina, we immediately float through Woods canyon, a beautiful gorge with countless waterfalls and fisherman perched on the steep cliff walls with Dip-Nets, hoping that a prized Copper River Sockeye Salmon will swim in to their net.  After leaving the canyon and probably the last of other humans we will see on this trip, we float in to some of the wildest country in the Copper River basin, this is the main stem of a watershed that is over 26,500 Square miles in size!

Towering Chugach Mountains: Float the Copper River through Famous Chugach Mountains of Alaska Extreme Skiing Movies!

The Chugach Mountains are a huge coastal mountain range that spans from Anchorage on the west side, to the St Elias mountain range to the east. That distance is over 250 miles east to west, and averages over 60 miles wide.  The Chugach Mountains range in height from a few thousand feet to over 13,000 feet at their tallest. They  average over 800 inches (1500 cm)  of snowfall per year, the most anywhere in the world! (That’s why they are perfect for extreme skiing movies!) What makes these mountains even more unique is the Copper River is the ONLY river drainage corridor through the 250 mile Chugach Mountain range. This Copper River Basin flows out in to the Gulf of Alaska. It is one of the only rivers you can raft where the mountains get taller, the further downstream you float.

Giant Glaciers: Copper River Rafting Trips Float through the Highest Concentration of Glaciers in North America

Remember that record setting snowfall we mentioned?  Well, that also leads to Glaciers that get bigger and closer the further downstream we float.  Because of the epic amounts of precipitation, the Chugach and Wrangell Mountains boast the highest concentration of glaciers in North America.   With hundreds of un-named hanging glaciers, plus many more with names like Heney, Swan and Allen Glaciers, the trip culminates with paddling through the icebergs of Miles Lake, (created by the calving of Miles Glacier) and you’ll paddle less than 1000 feet from the incredible calving face of the Childs Glacier. This stretch of river is a true glacial extravaganza – and it’s one of our guests’ favorite experiences on the trip.

Abundant Wildlife: Famous Copper River Sockeye Salmon Runs, Bald Eagles, Bear, and Seals

The Copper River is home to the famed Copper River Sockeye Salmon runs.  The average Copper River Sockeye Salmon travels over 200 miles from the ocean to its spawning grounds, packing on more of the great Omega 3 fats than other species of salmon for this arduous journey.  These salmon are the life blood this amazing watershed, providing food for eagles, bears, humans and even seals that will follow the salmon upstream to hunt in the rivers.  We once had a guest count over 300 Bald Eagles on her 7 day trip with us.  We almost always see at least one bear, usually from the safety of a boat on the water, with multiple sightings not being uncommon.  There is bear sign (footprints, scat, scratch holes where they have dug up tuberous veggies) everywhere we stop on the river. However, because of the remoteness of where we are floating, Copper River bears rarely associate humans with food and are much more likely to turn and run from us rather than be interested in what we are doing.  To top off the wildlife, the seals, (yes, salt water, ocean based seals) are all over the Copper River. This is because the numerous amounts of salmon are too irresistible for the seals to not follow them upstream where they will spend the summer playfully swimming the river currents and gorging on fish.  Hands down, if you are looking for a wildlife packed Alaska Raft Trip, the Copper River is your destination.

Copper River Rafting Alaska Multi Day Travel

Mosquitoes:  Yep, we got those too!  Mosquitoes are a fact of life in Alaska, for your planning purposes they tend to be at their worst in May & June, tapering off in July and almost nonexistent in August. (They are known by locals as the unofficial state bird of Alaska, it’s true! We do have a good sense of humor!) However, August also tends to be our wettest summer month, so there is always a trade-off.  The good news, the bugs are manageable, proper insect repellent & head-nets at camp can keep them at bay, as well as a gentle river breeze. We are pretty much pros at managing them, with years of experience and great gear. While we are on the river in our rafts, the bugs are virtually nonexistent.  One of our best secrets for keeping the bugs at bay is our drysuits which we supply for each of our guests as part of our gear for you.  While the main point of a drysuit is to protect from the cold water, one of their side benefits is the full body seal (minus hands and face) that the suit creates – this keeps any and all bugs at bay!

Cordova, Alaska – Spend A Day of One of the Coolest Small Towns in Alaska on Your Copper River Trip

Extra bonus!  Cordova, Alaska is secretly one of the coolest small towns in Alaska!  Accessible by boat or air, the residents of this town have rejected state proposals to connect them to the road system multiple times.  This has had the side effect of keeping this town small and authentically Alaskan.  Cordova is also home to the Copper River Salmon fishing fleet and great festivals such as the Copper River Shorebird FestivalSalmon Jam & Cordova Fungus Festival.  Stroll the harbor checking out boats & spotting Otters or take a day and enjoy the multiple hiking trails around town, it is worth spending an extra day here!

The Copper River is truly THE quintessential scenic Alaska rafting trip.

This is a great stretch of river for families, friends groups and folks that are wanting to immerse themselves in some true Alaska wilderness.  One of the best things about this trip as far as logistics?  The ease of access, you can fly in to Anchorage and out of Cordova on daily Alaska Airlines 737 service, if you are looking for a little more adventure, you can also hop on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry service from Cordova to Whittier and enjoy a slow cruise across Prince William Sound.  While the put in is a 5 hour drive from Anchorage, there are numerous shuttle options, and the distance helps to keep the crowds at bay!  We offer 3 scheduled trips during the summer months, varying in 6 & 7 days in length and also have custom, private launch dates available.