By Robert Schrader | Published on March 17, 2022

It's difficult to choose the best travel experience in America's Last Frontier, but Alaskan white water river rafting is certainly the most exhilarating. You take in a stunning view of mountains, glaciers and evergreen forests, all while speeding atop a crystalline river as your heart pounds in your chest.

If you're looking for on-shore activities to enjoy during your next cruise to Alaska, you'll definitely want to learn more about the state's top rafting destinations. Even if an Alaska adventure cruise is more of a bucket-list dream than a concrete plan at this point, it's never too early to get inspired.

Kayaking Kenai Fjord National Park Wilderness Outdoor Activities, Seward, Alaska
Kayaking Kenai Fjord National Park Wilderness Outdoor Activities, Seward, Alaska

Get Up Close To The Gorgeous Gorge At Denali National Park

Most people set foot in Denali Park when they visit Alaska, but few get to experience it from the vantage point of a whitewater raft. When you book a rafting tour on the park's Nenana River, the result is a gorgeous (literally — it's a gorge!) sojourn through some of America's most dramatic scenery. Some of the boulders that line the shores of the river are almost as tall as the spruces, aspens and birches that rise above it.

Alaska Denali Water Rafting
Alaska Denali Water Rafting
The serene beauty proves the perfect foil to your thrilling day, which will release adrenaline even if it isn't your first time on the rapids. If the sky is clear, you might catch a glimpse of Mt. Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) itself. However, even on a cloudy day, you'll be overwhelmed by the array of colors you experience during your excursion.

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Experience the wilderness of white water rafting on a cruise to Alaska.

White Water Rafting In The Talkeetna River

Alaskan Cruise for Whitewater Rafting, Talkeetna, Alaska.
Alaskan Cruise for Whitewater Rafting, Talkeetna, Alaska.

Like the Nenana River, the Talkeetna River is an Alaska rafting experience that's near Denali National Park, although most trips take place pretty far south of the park entrance. Rafting the Talkeetna River is about far more than simply coasting along the rapids themselves. Due to the remoteness of the river, trips here often require you to fly in and stay for a few days, and also include opportunities for fishing and hiking local trailheads.

When it comes to the rafting itself, plan on getting wet. The most popular rapids flow through Talkeetna Canyon, whose high walls cause the water's surface to be even rougher-rollicking. Not surprisingly, this also leads to a visually stunning experience — pack a camera with a wide-angle lens if you have one!

Gear Up For Six Mile Creek: Alaska Day Trips

Adventure Traveling the Six Mile Creek in Anchorage, Alaska
Adventure Traveling the Six Mile Creek in Anchorage, Alaska

Speaking of canyons, there are three along Six Mile Creek, which flows just south of Anchorage (for about 12 miles — its name is kind of a misnomer) on the way to Whittier. Because of the steepness with which the creek descends, you'll be required to wear protective gear, including a well-fitted life jacket and helmet. Your guide will also provide you with a heavy-duty paddle built for the rapids.

In spite of being one of the most exhilarating white water rafting Alaska experiences, Six Mile Creek usually takes no more than half a day. Assuming you stay nearby (or have transportation to get you to and/or from Anchorage), you can be riding along the river by morning and dining by candlelight at night.

It's difficult to choose the best travel experience in America's Last Frontier, but Alaskan white water river rafting is certainly the most exhilarating.

Find Zen As You Hike Mendenhall Glacier Ice Caves

Juneau, Alaska Trees by Lake
Scenic Views of Mendenhall Glacier with Trees by the Lake

Located in southern Alaska near the capital of Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier sits surrounded by gentler scenery than you find farther north. Likewise, the experience of rafting here isn't quite as wild as in some other places in Alaska, although you should still prepare to get wet. Pack a waterproof camera to take the best pictures and water-resistant, quick-drying clothes and shoes.

If there's one word to describe this trip, which is a half-day adventure that travels about 6 miles, it's balance. Sometimes, you're coursing through low-grade rapids; other times, your guide is rowing you over glassy glacial lake water, allowing you to take in the view. This is a great option for families and groups that include older adults and kids with an appetite for adventure but aren't yet ready to go full throttle. Though it is still a good idea to check with the National Park Service for details on ice status as well as any other alerts related to hiking trails and water rafting conditions.

Cruise Under The Canyon Walls Of Kenai River

Icy Mountains Glacier Kenai Peninsula, Seward, Alaska
Icy Mountains Glacier Kenai Peninsula, Seward, Alaska

Even if you've been to the state, you might not know that the Kenai River (which is one of the most popular floating destinations in the Anchorage area) is also an Alaska rafting destination. That's because most people just come here for a couple of hours and marvel at the milky blue waters and craggy canyon walls of the 19-mile Upper Kenai while gently floating along it.

However, if you embark on a tour that includes a trip along the rapids (which adds a few hours, since they're farther away from the drop-off point), you'll see this stunning river in a new light. Better yet, these rafting trips also include float portions, so you can relax after all the excitement.

Water Rafting Fun For Everyone At Copper River Basin

What Water Rafting through the Copper River Basin in Alaska
What Water Rafting through the Copper River Basin in Alaska

The Copper River is a bit farther away from civilization than some of the other rafting trips listed here, but the extra time it takes to get there more than pays off. This river, which is about five hours from Anchorage, is slightly calmer than some other Alaskan rivers, and the immediate scenery is also composed of flatter forest and grasslands than what you find in, say, Denali National Park.

This is not to say it isn't among the best white water rafting Alaska has to offer — you'll definitely hit some rapids! However, the more tranquil surroundings and calmer on-water experience might be better if nature is slightly more of a priority for you than heart-pounding adventure traveling or if you are with younger kids. Not unlike Mendenhall Glacier, it's more of a balanced day out in nature.

What To Pack For Your Alaska Water Rafting Trip

Experience White Water Rafting in Alaska
Experience White Water Rafting in Alaska

It should go without saying, but most everything on your Alaska rafting packing list should be waterproof, starting with your pack itself. This also includes your camera or phone, for which you should purchase a waterproof case (and a strap you can securely attach to your body) if the device itself is not waterproof. Likewise, while most tour operators will provide a raincoat or poncho, it's a good idea to wear clothes and footwear that are either waterproof or fast-drying and to bring a change of dry clothes (especially socks!).

Perhaps counterintuitively, one of the day-of preparations you should consider making is to unpack your bag and remove certain things from it. You'll want to carry as little with you in the raft itself as possible; certain tours might not allow you to bring much of anything at all. Finally, make sure to bring money or credit cards even if your tour includes lunch, snacks, or drinks, as you never know when you'll need to buy something.

Other Considerations For Adventure Traveling In Alaska

Alaska rafting trips only take place between late May and August or early September, so you won't have to worry about frigid weather. However, summer in Alaska can seem cold by the standards of the lower 48, and rain is always possible. Because you're almost certain to get wet during your trip, your tour won't be canceled unless storm conditions are severe. The rain-or-shine nature of these trips further increases the importance of packing a change of clothes. As obvious as it sounds, you should also ensure you book a tour departing from where you are. For example, while some tours of Kenai Fjords depart from Anchorage, Alaska, others only offer pick-up from hotels and lodges within the park.

Whether or not you go white water rafting, Alaska is one of the most exciting winter travel destinations in the world. However, when it comes to taking an Alaska adventure cruise while heading a bit further from port, there are few other ways to for more adventure traveling on land too. Hit the rapids of Denali National Park's Nenana River, or enjoy a calmer ride through the waters that lap at the base of the Mendenhall Glacier. Lay the foundation for an even more perfect rafting trip by packing smart and making other adequate preparations, above and beyond the checklist your tour organizer is sure to provide. Above all, breathe deeply, open your eyes and live squarely in the present moment.

Alaska's timeless scenery has endured for eons, but your time there can fly by in seconds, particularly as you speed atop a turbid river on a raft!

Written By

Robert Schrader is a writer, photographer and one of the web's original travel bloggers. In 2009 he launched his blog Leave Your Daily Hell, which has taken him to nearly 100 countries, and has since spun off niche sites focused on Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Italy. Robert seeks to inform, inspire, entertain and empower travelers through his work, which has been featured in in-flight magazines and digital media outlets around the world. He's excited about travel's post-pandemic rebirth, and in particular the cruise industry's comeback!

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