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Packrafting the Bull, Copeland, Ohio, and Chulitna Rivers: A 1 night, 4 river, Alaskan link-up.


The put-in for the Bull River framed by the Alaska Range.

Why this route?: Broad Pass is the height of land between the watersheds flowing south to the Gulf of Alaska and north and west to the Bering Sea. As a result, there are a number of excellent, easy access packrafting routes that depart from the Parks Highway not far from Cantwell, Alaska. This route is a great option for packrafters looking for an overnight trip with a high paddle to hiking ratio, fun whitewater, good trails and simple logistics. For an abbreviated version of this route, the Bull into the West Fork of the Chulitna makes for a great long day trip.

Fun ledges on the Bull River.

River Difficulty: This route is best suited for intermediate packrafters with comfort on class III+ whitewater. The hardest whitewater is the first part of the route on the Bull River, so the rest of the route should feel manageable if that is comfortable. There is no gauge for this section so a visual at the put-in for the Bull is your best bet. First time runs for intermediate boaters should look low at the put-in (much like in the first photo in this write up). Each section of river offers a different style of paddling:

Bull River: Creeky, low volume class III+ ledges and pools @ low-medium, continuous with class IV @ high.

West Fork Chulitna: Scenic class II canyon paddling, some class II+ boulder gardens near the take out.

Copeland Creek: Short but fast section. Continuous class II, watch for wood and a cross-river wire (2021).

Ohio Creek: Scenic, twisting canyon. II+/III- depending on level. Wall-shot style rapids on the outside turns.

The character of Ohio Creek.

Hiking: There are three sections of hiking on the route:

  1. Road head to the Bull River: Easy travel and navigation on an ATV trail. Some wet muskeg travel.

  2. West Fork Chultina to Copeland Creek: From the take-out under the suspension bridge, follow a rough trail that is flagged and blazed through low brush and boggy terrain. Initially, the trail is excellent with rope handlines ascending a hill. After passing some cabins, it becomes smaller and less obvious. Prepare to bushwhack if you lose the trail (so best not to lose it!). The trail ends at a cluster of cabins on the south side of a large lake east of Copeland Creek. Bushwack west from here and find a place to descend to the river. If you are not comfortable with the potential for off-trail travel, stick to the Bull and West fork and eliminate Copeland and Ohio from your itinerary.

  3. Take out at where Division and Granite Creeks enter the West Fork of the Chulitna. There is a small ridge just south of Division Creek with a faint game trail. At the top of the ridge, follow along the rim of the drainage back to the highway and the pull-out where you left your vehicle.

Great travel and scenery on the ATV route to the put-in for the Bull.
Marshy travel with interspersed "trail" is the character of the overland route to Copeland Creek.

Logistics:

Shuttle: Leave one vehicle at the DOT pull-out near Pass Creek (marked on map) and drive or hitch to the trailhead at the large pull-out just after crossing the Middle Fork of the Chulitna (marked on map).

Length/Camping: At 38 miles in length, we found a two day trip was sufficient time for us given the trip is paddling heavy on mostly fast moving water. Camping is possible in many places.

Beaurtiful canyon walls flank much of the West Fork of the Chulitna.

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