Susitna River (Gold Creek → Talkeetna)
For the 4th of July we packed up the kids, rafts and dogs and headed north to Talkeetna to float the Susitna River from Gold Creek to Talkeetna. This stretch of river is 40 miles of mellow class I with nice gravel bars and islands for camping and an easy take out that’s within 1 mile of where you leave your vehicle. The best part? You approach by train. And not just any train – but the last true flag-stop train in America.
Want to pump up a 3 year old? Take them on a train ride with rafts and dogs. Ruby checking out the Susitna from the baggage car. The Alaska Railroad!
Passengers load their packs, rafts and dogs into the baggage car and then stand around next to open train doors while the train clatters north away from the Parks highway while paralleling the Susitna River. There are as many dogs as passengers and in true Alaskan-style the dogs roam the passenger cars or stick their heads out the baggage doors while the conductor roams the train cars chatting up the passengers. Because it’s a flag-stop the train makes a dozen stops along the way and passengers jump off the train with piles of gear and amble up overgrown trails to reach their remote cabins.
Kids & dogs in the baggage car. Hands & feet must remain in vehicle at all times.
We rode the train for 40 miles, which due to the numerous stops equated to about 3 hours of sitting around in the baggage car. Not that the transit time is lengthy. After all you do this trip for the train ride and the dogs and kids spend the entire journey in a state of perpetual excitement as we clattered north.

Ella-dog checking out the view.

At mile 40 we crossed the Susitna River and the train pulled to a stop. Dogs, kids and parents clambered off and gear was tossed off the train car into a pile and the train pushed off leaving us 40 miles from town.
Uploading passengers & gear at Chase. Rules. Crossing the Susitna at Gold Creek.
And then it was 40 miles of class I, which we floated over the course of 3 days with 2 nice campsites along the way. We had sun and rain and wind and the current pushed us along at 6mph with minimal rowing until we beached the rafts in Talkeetna and walked back to the car through a sea of tourist.
A pile of kids, dogs & boats at the put-in. Photo by Lauren Kelsey. Gold Creek put-in. Koven enjoying the sun.

Susitna family portrait.

Chmielowski-clan boat.

Sunset at camp 1.

Kelsey-clan boat.

Isabelle with her hands in both snack bags. Dogs & kids enjoying the mud & rain. Kids in an old train car in Curry.
Isabelle with her bug net full of salmon flies. Approaching the Susitna / Chulitna / Talkeetna confluence.

Talkeetna landing.

Susitna River – Gold Creek to Talkeetna

This is a great mellow section of river that makes for a fun 2 or 3 day kid float. Here are some tips:
  • The biggest crux has to do with flows… the river is swift and cold so if you have kids try and time the run when the Susitna is flowing around 10′ at Gold Creek and the Talkeetna is flowing below 10′ (since you have to ferry across the Talkeetna to make the landing). Susitna / Gold Creek flows can be found here; Talkeetna / Below RR Bridge flows can be found here.
  • As you approach Talkeetna three rivers merge and the water volume triples. Make sure you take the far river left channel. This will set you up for a moderate pull across the Talkeetna for the landing. If you miss the channel I’ve been told the pull is hard. GPS data points are here. You can scope the landing in downtown Talkeetna after filling up at the Roadhouse before you depart on the train.
  • At 10′ the current is around 6mph so time your camps accordingly. We spent 2 nights on the river and our first camp was around mile 6 and our second camp around mile 26.
  • Buy a 1-way Hurricane Summer / Talkeetna > Gold Creek ticket here.
  • You have to carry everything around 100 yards to the river so consider trimming down your normal rafting weight.