Alagnak Wild River
An Illustrated Guide to the Cultural History of the Alagnak Wild River
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The Alagnak Wild River meanders through a unique landscape of open tundra, spruce forests, and dramatic canyon walls. Established as a Wild River in 1980, the Alagnak is rich in cultural history, physical beauty, and natural resources. Here, evidence of past and present people intermingles along the banks of rolling tundra and among diverse populations of fish and wildlife. Today, the Alagnak is used by visitors and residents for recreational and subsistence activities—primarily fishing and angling, camping, gathering, rafting, paddling, and hunting. Whichever activity you choose, the Alagnak River provides a rare opportunity to connect with history and the surrounding landscape. So fasten your life-vest and get ready to enjoy the Alagnak Wild River!

Elbert E. Sargent prospecting along the Alagnak in 1947. Photo courtesy of Joanne E. Sargent-Wolverton.

The River

The Alagnak is a clear free-flowing river that drains an area of 3,600 square kilometers (2,237 square miles) and empties into the Kvichak River near Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska. The river and its major tributary, the Nonvianuk River, flow westward from lakes located within Katmai National Park and Preserve. Headwaters of the 127 kilometer (km or 79 miles [mi]) long river and its tributary are Kukaklek and Nonvianuk Lakes, respectively. The Alagnak is managed free of impoundments and diversions. It is inaccessible by road, its shorelines are primitive, and its water unpolluted.

Region Map
(click on image for a PDF version)

In the local language the word alagnak means, "making mistakes." According to a life-long area resident, "the channel is always changing, causing mistakes and getting lost." Every year the river changes and branches which is why it is known locally as "the Branch River." The Yup'ik people pronounced Alagnak as "Ah-lock-anok." Euroamericans anglicized its pronunciation as Lockanok. The Alagnak River was first documented by the Russian Captain Tebenkov in 1852.

Midriver braided channel.

River Designation

The upper 108 km (67 mi) of the Alagnak, including the two upper branches, were designated a Wild River in 1980 by Title VI, Section 601 (25 and 44) of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) and is managed by the National Park Service (NPS) according to the provisions of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. All but the lower 29 km (18 mi) of the river have been designated Wild River status.

The NPS manages the River to:

  • Protect and enhance the River as a dynamic ecosystem by maintaining its free flowing nature and preserving water quality,

  • Preserve the outstanding natural values on the River that include its natural channels and flow, naturally occurring fish and wildlife populations, cultural resources, and its peaceful and scenic character for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations, and

  • Preserve the outstanding values on the River of subsistence and recreation that are compatible with the other values for which the River was designated.

Marsh marigold

Land Ownership

Land ownership along the river is a checkerboard of public and private property; therefore, river users should not assume that every "pull-out" is open to public use. There are currently no established campgrounds. It is recommended that river users consult a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land status map to ensure property rights are observed.

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Last Updated: 22-Jun-2009