Scenic Floats on the Kenai River
Looking for a fun and relaxing way to experience the spectacular Upper Kenai River? Drifter’s Scenic Floats are the perfect way to get you off the road and onto the water! Our entertaining and knowledgeable rafting guides will navigate you down breathtaking stretches of river so you can spot wildlife and soak in the towering mountain views and famous baby blue waters of the Kenai.
There are three trips available and several start times throughout the day, making it easy to fit a float into your Alaska vacation. We offer 7-Mile, 12-Mile and 20-Mile floats.
The 7 and 12 Mile floats are available at 10am, 2pm and 6 pm, with an additional option of a 9pm start between June 1 and July 20. The 20-Mile Canyon float starts at 8am, and is weather dependent.
7-Mile float (appx. 2 hours)
Sit back and relax as you meander through the glaciated valley of the Kenai River headwaters. We start this 7-mile voyage at Drifters Lodge, just after the massive Kenai Lake empties into this historic icy blue river. From the start, it is sensory overload, as Cecil Rhodes mountain and Slaughter Ridge tower above you, Bald Eagles screech and the serene glacial water gains speed.
This trip includes floating past the old Cooper Landing Township, a couple minor, Class I and II “whooptidoo” rapids, and miles of majestic scenery before concluding where the famous Russian River empties into the Kenai. Your guide will point out wildlife along the way, and can teach you about the biology and geology of the area. Be sure to quiz them on any questions you think of! Keep your eyes peeled as you could spot anything from Bald Eagles at their huge nests to river otters, beavers, and even a special moose or bear sighting.
12-Mile float (appx. 3 hours)
For the 12-mile trip, we start by covering the same route as the 7-mile float, but instead of pulling into the boat ramp at the Kenai/Russian River confluence, we continue to float another 5 miles of truly special and pristine wilderness inside the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The Kenai Refuge is a unique expanse of protected land encompassing many biomes on the Kenai Peninsula.
Inside the Kenai Refuge, the river valley broadens, providing more expansive views of mountain, river and sky. The widened river offers secluded small water backchannels where you can feel isolated from the “real world.”
Once the Sockeye salmon start running, the wildlife of the area are drawn to this area offering a much better chance of seeing brown bears, black bears, and burly fishermen that resemble bears. You’ll drift right by the combat fishermen as they strive to hook sockeye salmon returning to the Russian River to spawn. You may even be able to see the salmon below you as they swim upstream.
The 12-mile float concludes at Jim’s Landing, just before the river descends into the Kenai Canyon.
20-Mile Canyon float (6 hours), plus 2-Mile hike
The 20-Mile Canyon float is an amazing Alaskan experience. Your friendly, skilled guide will show you all the Upper Kenai has to offer, from serene, scenic stretches of water, expansive river and mountain landscapes, to plunging canyon walls and churning rapids. You will also see the immense Skilak Lake and take a memorable hike through diverse and remote landscapes. All the while, your guide will point out wildlife and unique area features. Remember to ask questions too! This trip is a full-day adventure you don’t want to miss.
You will begin on the first 12 miles of the Kenai River (for details, see the 7 and 12-Mile floats). Then, you will descend into the Kenai Canyon. The Canyon offers the most exciting whitewater on the Upper Kenai, with Class II and III rapids. There is a lot less boat traffic through the Canyon, so you will likely have the rushing water and vaulting cliff walls to yourself. Below the Canyon, the river slows before emptying into the enormous, glacier fed Skilak Lake. A short row away is a beach, where you will leave the raft behind and begin the hike back to the road and shuttle vehicle.
Hidden Creek Trail is two miles long with some gradual elevation gain. It’s a unique trail, where you see many distinct Alaskan biomes. You’ll traverse through a swampy section bordering Hidden Creek – keep an eye out for moose! Next you continue through a section of forest that was impacted by a fire in 1984, which still has charred remains of trees. Finally, the trail rises through a section of old growth forest before reaching Skilak Lake Road.
Here are a few of the things you can hope to see on any of our Kenai River floats:
Towering mountains on all sides of the glacially carved river valley
Baby blue/turquoise river (the sunnier it is, the bluer the water gets!)
Picturesque landscapes of the river, boreal forest, and Kenai Mountain range to frame it all
Folks fishing for Rainbow trout
If it’s the right time of year, salmon swimming up river to spawn
Combat fisherman at the confluence of the Kenai and Russian rivers
Bald Eagles cruising the river or perched near their nests
Ducks! Adorable families of Common Mergansers, striking Goldeneye and Harlequin ducks, Loons and more are in the area
Arctic Terns – aerial acrobats that have migrated 12,000 miles from Antarctica to breed
The occasional otter or beaver can be spotted skimming through the water
Dahl sheep or mountain goats on the surrounding mountains
If you are lucky… we sometimes spot moose and/or bears along the banks of the Kenai River
Things to know for your scenic float trip:
Raft capacity – We use inflatable rafts for the float trips. These rafts fit up to ten people, and we do our best to fill the seats. (If you would like it to be just your party, private rafts are available)
Accessibility – We launch our float trips right from the Drifters property. There is a steep set of steps to get down to the rafts. If someone in your party has limited mobility, please give us advanced notice. We may be able to schedule a start from the boat ramp, which offers greater accessibility.
Age range – Drifters floats are a safe activity for all ages.
Weather – The 20-Mile Canyon float is a weather-dependent trip. Wind and wave conditions on Skilak Lake can quickly become dangerous, so we reserve the right to shorten a Canyon float to a 12-Mile trip (with an appropriate refund). If weather becomes an issue and you have a flexible schedule, we are also happy to simply reschedule your float for a different date.
Parking – If you are driving a car or pickup truck, please park at the lodge. The office staff will direct you to the best places.
RVs – If you are driving an RV or have any kind of trailer, we ask that you park 1/4 mile up the road at the boat launch by the Cooper Landing bridge. There is a daily parking fee. We will be happy to pick you up or else feel free to walk the pedestrian path to Drifters. It is about a 10 minute walk.
Life jackets. We have kids sizes and infant life jackets
Splash gear. Lightweight Frogg Togg jackets and pants to be worn over your warm clothing
Knee high rubber boots
Dry bag for extra layers, cameras, phones, etc.
All safety gear
Warm layered clothing. It’s 10-15 degrees cooler on the water
Comfortable hiking shoes (20 mile float only)
Hiking on the Kenai Peninsula
Depending on which hike you choose, you will enjoy spectacular perspectives on Kenai Lake, the Cooper Landing Valley, Russian River, Russian Lakes, Skilak Lake, Chugach Mountains, Crescent Lake, Cooper Lake, etc. We think that in order to fully enjoy Alaska, at least one back country hike should be part of your Alaskan vacation.
Our guides are great company on a hike and can give you a safer, enhanced experience, so you come away not only awed by spectacular views, but also a little more knowledgeable about the area you hiked in. Plus:
- The guide will help pick a trail that matches your activity level.
- You don’t have to worry about navigating.
- The guide carries safety and survival equipment.
- The guide will teach you about the area’s plants, wildlife and geology.
The hikes in Alaska are bigger, better and wilder, which means you have to be prepared. Especially if you are planning to hike without a guide, you need to do your research. Preparation can mean the difference between a rewarding day in the wilderness and dangerous situations.
If you are concerned about bears, we are happy to talk to you about our safety precautions. There are many steps we take to minimize risk.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources provides excellent safety information for hikers, including bear safety.
Choose A Trail
We offer a variety of guided hiking opportunities ranging from easy half day trips, to more rigorous trips that are a little longer in length and have tougher terrain for those who want a challenge.
Ptarmigan Creek— If you enjoy forest hikes, you will love traveling through cottonwoods, spruce, and hemlock alongside silty Ptarmigan Creek. Catch a glimpse of a red salmon fighting its way upstream before gradually climbing high above to the shores of Ptarmigan Lake. This slender lake, surrounded by jagged mountain peaks, makes this a picturesque and peaceful destination. If you’re lucky, you may hear the call of a common loon.
Hidden Creek—This trail has diverse scenery, weaving through the scars of the 1996 Hidden Creek Fire, past the wetlands of Hidden Creek and finally to the beautiful blue waters of Skilak Lake. This hike is ideal for birders and is a great place to see a Bald Eagle perched in a tree or a Double-crested Cormorant skimming over the water’s surface. In spring and summer beautiful flower displays give way to watermelon berries, blueberries and mushrooms as the seasons progress.
Russian River Falls—Watch as the salmon continue their struggle to their spawning grounds, fighting to make it up the rushing waters of the Russian River Falls. This hike offers opportunities to see wildlife, birds and a taste of the tangy Red Currant.
Confluence Trail – This is another trail that is easily accessible. A set of stairs at the start of the trail leads down to a flat boardwalk raised to protect the riparian habitat. The trail is about a half mile long and brings you to the sanctuary where the Kenai River and the Russian river meet. The two rivers have unique appearances which can best be seen from this trail or on one of our scenic rafting trips. The Russian is a clear, snow pack fed river and the Kenai is a vibrant blue glacial fed river. Bears can also be seen fishing and wandering around on this hike, along with salmon in the clear waters of the Russian after the June run of Red salmon.
Rainbow Lakes—This is a short, easy hike to a high mountain lake. Separated by only a foot bridge, and surrounded by hemlocks, the Rainbow Lakes have a magical feel. This trail offers beautiful views, great opportunities for photography, berries, mushrooms and the occasional Trumpeter Swan when the season is right.
Johnson Pass North– This is an ideal trail for splendid mountain views and birding as it traverses through forest and grasslands as it winds deeper into the mountains. From the tiny camouflaged Brown Creeper to the contentious Merlin, this trail offers glimpses at many of the birds of southcentral Alaska.
Palmer Creek—Watch for moose, caribou and hawks as you travel through forest and grassy mountain slopes above Palmer Creek. This hike begins in the tundra and leads to the abandoned Hirshey Mine. Pass blueberries, wildflowers and waterfalls as you climb towards the end of the valley and two alpine lakes.
Gull Rock– Watch the beauty and power of the ocean as the tides rush in and out of Turnagain Arm. This trail leads to a great spot to watch for Beluga Whales and soak in the view of mountains rising thousands of feet out of the ocean.
Skilak Lookout– Hike through the heart of the forest regenerated after the 1996 Hidden Creek Fire. From the alpine zone at the end of the trail, look down to Skilak Lake for a view of gull and cormorant rookeries on the lake’s rocky islands.
Crescent Lake—Follow Crescent Creek through birch and hemlock forest and grassy mountain meadows to Crescent Lake. This trail offers birding, blueberries, wildlife and spectacular fireweed displays.
Skyline– This is a rigorous hike, climbing quickly out of the trees, but the reward is great. If you need a break along the way, there are a couple of spots that are worth stopping at to grab a snack or a drink and explore a little. One such spot consists of a mysterious looking dwarfed forest near the tree line. The top of the mountain is spectacularly windy with one heck of a view and a geo-cache. You can see the volcanoes across Cook Inlet climbing out of the ocean, and on a very clear day you can see the highest mountain peak in North America, Denali, hundreds of miles to the north.
Fuller Lakes-Round Mountain— This is a hike is fairly strenuous the first half, and then gradually flattens out for the second half. The trail head is right off the Sterling Highway and spruce trees populate the entrance. The Fuller Lakes are nestled between steep mountain slopes, creating a picturesque scene. Sure-footed Dahl sheep can sometimes be spotted on the surrounding mountains.
Hope Point–This is a challenging but magnificent hike offering views of the Kenai Mountains, Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm. Travel from birch forest, to alpine tundra, to the rocky summit for a well-earned rest and one of the best views on the Kenai Peninsula.
Slaughter Gulch– Quickly climb out of the forest to spectacular bird’s eye views of Kenai Lake and surrounding mountains. Although steep, every step is worth the effort on this hike as each one carries you higher. This hike awakens all the senses as it is lined with a beautiful assortment of wildflowers and a taste of blueberries, crowberries, high-bush cranberries, and service berries. Once the ridgeline is reached, one can continue to follow the ridge up to the Peak of Juneau Mountain.
Berries and Foraging
While most people do not come to Alaska to forage, it is a nice perk of visiting our Great State! Often on hikes in the late summer/early fall, we do not need to pack snacks due to the great abundance of berries on our trails! What better trail snack is there than fresh blueberries as you go?
Salmonberries, Watermelon Berries, Blueberries, Raspberries, Low Bush Cranberries- These are just some of the delicious berries you might encounter on any outing in our area. We often harvest them to make jams, pies and crumbles. Mid August through Late September, berries can be found in abundance on the Kenai Peninsula. As with fishing holes, every Alaskan has a “honey hole” where they go to get their berries; if you’re lucky, your guide or one of our staff might share the whereabouts of theirs with you! Be sure you check with a guidebook or a knowledgeable person before consuming berries you have found because there are some that look edible but are very dangerous if consumed.
We have so many different types of Mushrooms in Alaska. The link below is extremely informative and interesting. Our favorites to harvest are the highly sought after Morel Mushrooms and the beautiful Chanterelles. These can be found in our areas and the “honey holes” for these foraged items may be even more top secret than berry picking spots!
Morels are found all over the Kenai Peninsula and seem to flourish in places where there have been recent (within the last 2-3 years) burns. You have to have a good eye when picking morels as there are many False Morels which grow in similar areas and they can be deadly poisonous.
Chanterelles are one of the most common mushrooms found in our area and can be found in mossy forested areas.
*We advise cooking all mushrooms very well before consuming them.
This is a great link for mushroom information Mushrooms of the National Forests in Alaska
Drifter’s Lodge sits in an amazing valley setting on the Kenai River; the temperate weather paired with the protection of our valley attracts many different species of wildlife and birds year round. Birds and waterfowl are quite abundant, so a variety of species are available for viewing throughout the year. Different seasons bring different species. The following lists are only small portion of the species that you could see right from the lodge deck and campfire.
From the deck of the lodge, see these magnificent birds arrive in early April, have their goslings and raise them until they can fly. Then, in May, watch them take off for Northern Alaska, returning again in September with their young, feeding heavily before flying south in November for the fall migration. We have had a couple years that they stay with us in Cooper Landing all winter long.
CANADIAN SNOW GEESE
These awesome birds stop by briefly in Cooper Landing in Late August through Early September as part of their migration south. They spend the summers nesting in the arctic tundra of Northern Alaska.
These birds are the longest migratory bird in the world. Each year, they travel about 12,000 miles, from Northern Alaska all the way to the Antarctic. These birds mainly travel over the ocean while they are migrating. They are usually only seen during their breeding season in the arctic. We are very lucky in Cooper Landing to see these incredible birds quite often during the summer.
These beautiful birds migrate to Alaska each year to breed. They meet in Nebraska, near the Platte River Valley and then all migrate together to Alaska. Its not uncommon to see a flock of 1000+ birds fly over Cooper Landing in the early Summer and then again in the beginning of September.
These local birds cruise every day on the river in front of the lodge. Local nests are visible along the river in the immediate area of the lodge. We have resident Bald Eagles in Cooper Landing and they can be seen all year long.
And more…such as:
Willow ptarmigan, Black Billed Magpie, Arctic Tern, Red Faced Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Dark Eyed Junco, Harlequin Ducks, Mallard Ducks, Spectacled Eider Ducks, Wood Ducks, Merganser Ducks, Scoter Ducks, Kingfisher (belted), Robin, Black Billed Magpie, Red Faced Cormorant, Sellers’ Jay, Grey Jay, Ravens, Crows, Black Capped Chickadee, Red Breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Varied Throughsh, Red Grosbeak, Pine Grosbeak, Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin, Spruce Grouse Black Backed Woodpecker, Violet-Blue swallow, Green Swallow, Brown Swallow, Great Horned owls , Short Eared Owls and finally, Grey (immature) gulls, and Mew Gulls. Needless to say, Cooper Landing is a birder’s paradise!!
Rafting / Hiking Guides:
Tommy, our Head Rafting Guide
Tommy has been guiding on the Kenai Peninsula for 5 years and has been proclaimed one of the “nicest raft guides” by the Mountain Men of Alaskacalendar. Ever since his first trip up to Alaska, he was hooked. He saw things that he had grown up seeing in National Geographic. Growing up in Buffalo, NY he would venture north up to the Adirondacks and stay in a lake cabin, more or less in the middle of nowhere. It always felt good for him to be on the water, whether fishing, swimming, or just taking in the nature. Here in Alaska, all he has to do is step out the back door. The swimming? Not for everyone – a little chilly – but it’s invigorating and clears the mind.
As Tommy would say, coming to Alaska “kick-started a little something in me…I have the bug.” He’s been seeking all kinds of adventures ever since, but the Kenai Peninsula remains a special place to him and it keeps him coming back. This job started off as a summer gig between semesters, but he’s still fired up about Alaska 5 years in! Hope you come floating, hiking, or special request Tommy for a fishing trip… He is a bachelor ladies.
Julia hails from the snowy land of New Hampshire. She discovered her love of guiding after college, while leading camping trips for G Adventures though the spectacular national parks of the lower 48 states. She later worked in operations and sustainability with G Adventures in their San Francisco office, in alignment with her passion for environmentalism. She is an avid camper, hiker and nature enthusiast. Her strong sense of adventure has always kept her wanting to spend a season in Alaska, so she is thrilled to be a part of the Drifters Lodge staff in 2018.
Born and raised in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Hunter grew up crabbing and fishing on the Chesapeake Bay with his 4 brothers and 2 sisters. Whenever there is fresh snow on the mountains he loves to ride the powder. He learned on the ‘mountains’ on the east coast. Hunter spends his downtime just relaxing with a good bourbon and better friends! USMC Veteran. Currently studying in the off season, but during the summer, the Kenai Peninsula is where Hunter wants to share his experiences and enthusiasm about the Alaskan outdoors with others. He loves to take people from all over the country down this pristine river for the breath-taking views of the mountains, wildlife, and the refreshing cool air coming from the glacial water of the river. Hunter will also guide you on beautiful day hikes. Whether you want to just take it easy, or challenge yourself, there are hikes for everyone. Whatever adventure you have in mind you will be in good hands.