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
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.
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 – Drifter’s 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)