Floating the Yukon River: Eagle to Circle
Deep in Interior Alaska, the great Yukon River strikes through bluffs and mountains of an ancient landscape to unmask rocks whose histories reach back a billion years to life's beginnings on Earth.
The Yukon River originates in the coastal mountains of Canada and flows 1,979 miles in a wide arc to the Bering Sea. The river flows northwest through Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve for 128 miles. The river is silt laden in summer due to glacial runoff, and it is completely clear in winter when glaciers are frozen. As the river enters the preserve near Eagle, it flows across a narrow floodplain flanked by high bluffs and heavily forested hills. The bluffs become less prominent as the river leaves the preserve near Circle.
Visitors access Eagle by driving via the Taylor Highway or flying in on small aircraft. After arriving in Circle, visitors may drive out on the Steese Highway or fly to Eagle or Fairbanks. Motorized and non-motorized boats of all sizes and types are the principal means of travel on this section of the Yukon River. Common non-motorized vessels used are canoes, kayaks, homemade wooden rafts, and inflatable rafts. Motorized jet boats are often preferred since props can be easily damaged on unseen gravel bars. Visitors may bring their own vessels or rent canoes or rafts locally. Jet skis and other personal watercraft are prohibited in the preserve.
NPS Photo by Josh Spice
The journey from Eagle to Circle is 158 miles long with most visitors traveling from late May through September. The Yukon River flows at an average speed of 5 to 8 miles per hour. Trip length varies depending on weather conditions, type of boat, and whether visitors continually float during long daylight hours or if they stop to camp and explore. Visitors who float approximately 30 miles a day and camp each night usually take around 5 days to reach Circle. Extra supplies should always be taken in case trip time is extended due to weather or other unplanned events. For the safety of visitors, it is recommended to file a Voluntary Float Plan with the preserve and a friend. To file a float plan, contact the Eagle visitor center (907) 547-2233.
What to Bring
In Eagle, visitor facilities are very limited because most were severely damaged or destroyed by break-up in May 2009. There is no motel and a Bed & Breakfast is being repaired. The cafe and the public shower were destroyed. Gas, propane and diesel are available, as well as a small grocery store. Circle also has limited facilities. Therefore, it is recommended that visitors bring all necessary camping gear and supplies. Visitors must be self-sufficient since there are no developed areas between Eagle and Circle and assistance may be days away. Visitors should be prepared for all weather conditions because conditions can change rapidly and may be extreme, even in July. All visitors should wear personal floatation devices (life preservers) and keep emergency gear with them, such as a first aid kit, whistle, signal mirror, knife, magnesium fire starter, waterproof matches, and tightly sealed emergency rations. Other items to bring may include waterproof topographic maps, compass, GPS, two-way radio, and/or personal ELT.
Gravel bars are recommended for camping since they are often breezy and deter the infamous Alaska mosquitoes. Gravel bars also allow visitors to be out in the open where they are less likely to surprise or be surprised by wildlife. Minimum impact camping techniques are encouraged. For example, making a campfire on a gravel bar instead of in the trees is not only less likely to start a wildfire, but all evidence will be washed away with the next high water event.
Please replace the firewood, but keep the memories.
Topographic Map Information
The National Park Service Visitor Center in Eagle carries a limited number of 1:250000 series maps for this area. USGS 1:63,360 (one inch to one mile) maps may be purchased at your local USGS office, the Anchorage USGS office at (907) 786-7011, on-line at http://store.usgs.gov, or at sporting goods stores in Fairbanks. Maps needed to cover the trip from Eagle to Circle are Eagle D-1; Charley A-1, A-2, B-2, B-3, B-4, B-5, B-6, C-6, and D-6; and Circle C-1 and D-1.
NPS Photo by Josh Spice