Flowing south away from the Kuskokwim Mountains and out of the Nushagak Hills and into Nushagak Bay of the world famous Bristol Bay region, this river represents one of the most important fishery habitats in southwest Alaska. For 275 miles this river runs as a Class I river that is well suited for families that have good wilderness camping skills and enjoy interactions with local native peoples as it flows past several native villages. Scattered forest of spruce and poplar confine the river, with open tundra outside the river corridor. High river bluffs make short hikes with a view quite easy. Huge runs of King Salmon, Pink Salmon, Coho Salmon, Chum Salmon and Sockeye Salmon make their way upriver beginning in early June, soon after ice breakup is complete. Trout, Char, Dollies and Grayling fill the river, as well, making this is a sport fisherman’s paradise. As it progresses downriver it joins other important fish habitat rivers, such as the King Salmon, the Mulchatna and Nuyakuk Rivers. The upper river from the confluence with the Chichitnok River is especially scenic with hills to hike and small streams to fish. This river is suitable for all watercraft with rafts and inflatables being the most common boats to take. Trips can be anywhere from 5 days to 2 weeks depending on your take out location with logjams and sweepers the biggest threat to be aware of.
This trip is best started from Dillingham, which can be reached by regularly scheduled air service from Anchorage. From there, a chartered plane on wheels can take you to one of several gravel bar landing areas near the confluences with the Chichitnok River or the King Salmon River. Of course one could start lower downriver at one of the villages or by using a floatplane to get to the river where it is deep and straight but the wilderness and remoteness of the upper river make it very appealing.
There are several take outs for you to consider. The first likely spot is from the village of Koliganek, 148 miles from the upper starting point. Next would be New Stuyahok, another 32 miles further, or Ekwok 12 miles further. For the full-length river you can float 275 miles to Dillingham, just past the confluence with the Wood River at Nushagak Bay. It is easy to see how you could plan a trip of varying lengths depending on the starting point and take out.
Chichitnok River to Koliganek: 148 miles (allow 7 to 10 days)
From Dillingham you will fly upriver with views of the Tikchik lakes to the west. In less than an hour you can be placed on a gravel bar below the confluence with the Chichitnok River. This is a remote area with some good hiking opportunities that you will not have further downriver. The current is shallow at first and flowing at 2 to 5 mph with enough riverside trees to watch out for sweepers leaning out over the river. The river flows generally south in a meandering fashion. At one point, there is a mile-long due west stretch that leads to a large tributary that enters from river right after 5 miles and is a good camping area. Here the river makes a large bend to the south and for the next 6 miles makes several oxbow like bends while passing through an area of wetlands and old river channels turned into sloughs. At the point N 60.26 degrees by W 157.28 degrees and 11 miles from the start, the King Salmon River is found entering from river right. Jet boats might be seen along here. The river straightens out to a southerly course for 8 or 9 miles to where Vukpalik Creek enters from the left. Swinging westerly, after another 12 miles, Klutuspak Creek enters from river right.
Before this confluence the river begins to offer other channels that are alternate routes and care should be taken on staying with the main body of water. One channel to the right misses the Klutuspak Creek mouth entirely. Next comes Harris Creek on the left and below this are some old village ruins on river right. Still flowing southerly through a maze of wetlands the Nukakuk River is next met, joining the river at GPS N 59.81 degrees by W 157.45 degrees. There are so many sloughs and channels along here it is hard to know which water is which. In fact there are two confluences with the Nukakuk as it joins the river again after another mile and a half. Here the river width has become huge. This area is heavily forested and there are many trees and bank sweepers to watch out for. This area has lots of fishing lodges as well as boats and floatplanes bringing people to this popular fishing area. It is an area of wetlands and there are countless channels away from the main river and choosing a campsite is sometimes tricky. The river slowly becomes east flowing as it approaches the village of Koliganek. It is 10 to 12 miles from the Nukakuk River to where Koliganek village is found sitting on the right shore. There is a new airstrip here and some services available if you end your trip here. The GPS coordinates for Koliganek airstrip are N 59.51 degrees by W 157.51. It is 1 mile east of the village site.
Koliganek to New Stuyahok: 32 miles (allow 2 to 5 days)
From Koliganek it is 12 miles to where the confluence with the Mulchatna River is found and the first 2 miles flow due east in a single channel. Soon the river begins to channel again and swing to the southeast. This is another popular fishing destination and there are many lodges that fly in fishermen for the day to fish these waters. The river flows first east then south as it runs through this section of wooded, hilly country. Jet boats are commonly used to access the tributaries and the upper Nushagak River. After 12 miles the large Mulchatna River begins to confluence with the Nushagak entering from river left in an area of many channels and thick forest. The actual confluence is at GPS N 59.6 degrees by W 157.1 degrees. It is a huge river at this point, still clear and full of fish. Three and half miles further is the village of Nunachuak on river left at the confluence with Nunachuak Creek. There is a large wooded island here and a shortcut slough down the right side. From here the river begins flowing due south and then switches to southwest, heading for 5 miles to where it swings further in a westerly direction. The river is big and mostly a single channel as it runs past some old village ruins on the right side of the river and a few miles further is the village of New Stuyahok which sits on the right side of the river at GPS N 59.45 degrees by W 157.32 degrees. The airstrip is a half-mile from the river and just downstream of the town site.
New Stuyahok to Dillingham: 95 miles (allow 5 to 7 days)
Below New Stuyahok the river continues it’s southerly run for another 3 miles to a point where it turns due west and moves over against a small escarpment that forms the right side river bluff for 8 miles. There are some good vantage points that look across the river to the east if you climb up onto the bluff. The river hugs this bluff all the way to the next village of Ekwok, where there are flight operators and an airstrip that is close to the river at GPS N 59.35 degrees by W 157.47 degrees. From here, it is still at least 80 miles to Dillingham and there will be lots of motorboat traffic. Floatplanes can land at many spots along the way and you could arrange for a pickup at any number of places. After another 10 miles, and just below Koggiling Creek, the river splits into two main channels. The eastern one, at N 59.19 degrees by W 157.65 degrees, is called the Keefer Cutoff and runs for almost 15 miles to where the river turns west at GPS N 58.9 degrees by W 157.74 and enjoins the Nushagak. Flowing west then north then south, the river now enters a zone of mudflats and tidal influences for the remaining miles into Dillingham. The mouth of the Wood River is seen on the right then the town of Dillingham at GPS N 59.04 degrees by W 158.45 degrees. The airport is a ways from the river and some help usually can be found to move your gear. The airstrip is a mile below town near the mouth of Squaw Creek.
Outfitter & Guide
Aniak Air Guides has provided outfitting and guides for floats in Western Alaska since 1995. Their packages include all gear except your sleeping bag and food. Each trip begins with a flight over the river you plan to float to gain you bearings, and a mid-trip flyover to check in with your group as you float the river. A guide can be booked for an additional fee.
Dillingham D-4, D-5, D-6
Taylor Mountains A-4, B-2, B-3, B-4, C-20