The standard put-in for the Lions Head run on the Matanuska River is on a tributary stream from the north, Caribou Creek (which has a fine runnable 30 footer a few miles upstream). This is reached by driving east from Palmer along the Glenn Highway to the Caribou Creek bridge at mile 107. In the past, the river access was just past the bridge on the left (north) where a dirt road led down to a small parking area and beach. The Caribou Creek bridge has just undergone a major rehaul, and the access is questionable.
You can also access Lions Head by running the East Fork of the Matanuska and hooking up with Lions Head. Plan on a long day.
The standard take-out for Lions Head is reached by turning east off the Glenn Highway at milepost 102 and heading down the steep dirt switchback. As the road reaches the river valley, continue straight into the dirt parking area just above the Glacier Park Resort bridge. There is a one-truck width path through the river side brush, complete with a couch to enjoy your post-run beer. Note that this is private property, owned by the Glacier Park Resort. Alternately, you can continue down the Matanuska River for several different trip options.
The Lions Head run on the Matanuska River offers the South Central boater a good, short stretch of Class III-IV whitewater in a beautiful setting. This section of river is formed where the Matanuska Glacier pinches the Matanuska River against a rock formation known as Lions Head, which stands as a sentry to the upper Mat Valley. The rapids are big-water style drop-drop at medium to high flows, and become more technical pool-drop at low flows. At high flows, the water is glacial-gray and makes the rapids difficult to read. At low flows, the water clears up, and begins to take on an azure color. At any flow, this is one cold river, so pogies are a must.
The Lions Head section begins on Caribou Creek, which braids below the bridge just enough to get rafts stuck and keep kayakers ducking the trees hanging off the sides. After 15 minutes, the East Fork of the Matanuska is reached, and the river begins to form a single channel. The first major rapid is reached as the river makes a right hand turn toward the wall that is Lions Head. There is a fast landing beach on the right above the drop (better for kayaks), or land on the left just above the turn (better for rafts) if you want to warm your toes and take a look at the first rapid. The rapids continue in similar fashion for the next four miles. At high water, there is little respite for the relentless gray wave trains with holes studded here and there. At low water, rock dodging will keep the boater busy.
Lions Head at medium to high flows features some excellent play waves. Bring a neoprene skull cap, this water is cold.
The Matanuska River is gauged more than 50 miles downstream at the bridge in Palmer, but what do you expect, this is Alaska. Although the gauge comes in after several major tributaries (all fun runs, including the Chickaloon River, Kings River, Granite Creek, and Moose Creek, with a little local knowledge the gauge is useful. Lions Head follows a few basic rules. Lions Head usually becomes ice free sometime in mid-May. It usually runs low through about mid-June, and then begins to rise with the warmer weather and longer days. It usually peaks in late-July with glacial flows. It then drops into late-September to mid-October. Fall rains can cause flashes on Caribou Creek and bring Lions Head up (and warm it up slightly too!) if only briefly. Call Nova River Runners for current information.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!