The Susitna has been widely recognized as one of the greatest whitewater challenges in North America. The river joins the ranks of the Grand Canyon of the Stikine and Turnback Canyon on the Alsek as one of the continent's legendary class V+ bigwater runs. Only a handful of people have ever run all three.
From Susitna Lodge it's a 64 mile float down to Watana Canyon, which serves up a mile of class IV rapids. From the end of the canyon it's another 62 miles down to Devil Creek and the start of Devil's Canyon. The canyon is 11 miles of challenging class V+. Check out the comprehensive description and hand-drawn maps in Embick's guide. The description even includes a summary of all the early runs along with various lines through rapids that have been tried. Walt Blackadar's first descent can be seen on YouTube. It's another 56 miles from the bottom of the canyon to a take-out in Talkeetna which requires one to negotiate braided channels.
This run has faced past hydropower threats. A massive 1620 MW two-dam hydroelectric project was studied and a formal application was made to FERC by the Alaska Power Authority (P-7114). The project was formally withdrawn on May 15, 1986 and for now the river remains free-flowing.
If you're coming to run Devil's Canyon, it takes some effort to actually get to the 11-mile canyon that is in the middle of an isolated wilderness. The cheapest option is to drive to a put-in where the Denali Highway crosses the river at Susitna Lodge. To reach this access, drive north out of Anchorage on the George Parks Highway (Hwy. 3) 210 miles to Cantwell. From here you'll turn east onto Denali Highway (Hwy. 8) and continue until you reach the bridge across the Sustina River at Susitna Lodge. From this point it's 127 miles downstream to Devil's Canyon (plan for 3-4 days).
There are some options for flying in to a lake near Stephan Lake and about 10 miles upstream of Devil's Canyon. This involves overland hiking to the river but can serve as either a take-out for those who don't want to run the canyon or a put-in for those who don't want to paddle in. Embick even describes an option where you could portage and paddle your way across Moose Lake, Stephan Lake, and Murder Lake before continuing down Prairie Creek to the Talkeetna.
The run through Devil's Canyon is 11 miles of demanding class V+. From the bottom of the canyon it's 15 miles to the Gold Creek Train Station, or 56 miles to the town of Talkeetna. Alternatively you can arrange for jet boat pick-up at the bottom of the canyon.
I just read the article in the Men's
Journal on this run. Though it is a nice
entertaining article, I'd reccomend Andy
Embeck's "Fast and Cold" as a more
accurate story. The "Men's Journal"
indicated they ran a full day of wild
whitewater before reaching Devil's
Creek Rapid to start the second day.
This clearly must be a misprint as
Devil's Creek is the first rapid in Devil's
Canyon. With at most 7 rapids in all,it
is not possible for several rapids each
day on a two day trip.
Flows are based on Embick. If contemplating a
run on Devil's Canyon read his detailed notes on
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.
Hike down to river
Devil Creek Scout
Scouting Devil Creek
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.
In an effort to better understand the recreational impacts of the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project that would dam the Susitna River upstream of Devil's Canyon, a recreational survey is underway for those who have experienced this stretch of river. We encourage our members who know this river to take the survey.
American Whitewater has formally weighed in to oppose the Susitna Dam in Alaska. The Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project would significantly degrade the recreational experience and unique ecological values of one of North America’s most iconic wilderness rivers. The Susitna is one of only a handful of large river systems around the world that remains in its free-flowing condition from the headwaters to the ocean.
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