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Kelly River in Alaska

by  guest-paddler

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

If anyone is looking for a remote Arctic river, this is it. We floated the Kelly River in Aug 2004. It is located in the Noatak Preserve in NW Alaska and is located about 70 miles N of Kotzebue. The Kelly is a tributary of the lower Noatak River. It is intimate in size at about 30-40 yards wide, gin clear, and free of any hazards/rapids.

This was our first float trip in Alaska and it did not disappoint us. We caught dolly vardon and grayling primarily. Some chum salmon were seen also. We saw many brown bears and one wolf. Moose tracks were seen also. The first day or two we saw dall sheep.

The river is an easy float for anyone wanting to experience the "real Alaska". The land is beautiful up that way. Many mountain views in the first 2/3 of trip. The river widens and slows in the last 10 miles or so. The trip was about 40 miles long. Shallow sections in the first 5 miles or so. Dragging required but we never had to unload the canoes.

We own Ally pack canoes and they are awesome. If you are flying in to a remote destination, you must check them out. We bought them for this trip but have used them on three Alaska float trips to this point.

If you decide to float this river, contact me at and I will tell you more and send some pictures via email. It is a lovely float and the solitude is wonderful. We did not see another person in the 7 nights we spent on the Kelly. If you fly fish, be sure to contact me for more info. We fly fish for dolly vardon each Fall on float trips up in NW Alaska and I could offer some good insights and suggestions.

Take high quality gear and be prepared for sudden change in weather. Read up on brown bears. We saw 21 in 7 days. One walked into camp. A "good bear" you might say, but still 600 lbs! Good stove and water filter (MSR) and take a gun or ear plugs. You will need one or the other to sleep well. Great fishing in late August and early/mid Sept for dolly vardon and grayling. Dollies over 10 pounds. Grayling 16-20". Every hole had fish.

Explore Wrench Creek (middle of trip) and Avan Creek (near Noatak confluence). Great fishing in these two spots. Orange and pink are best colors along with silver (of course)

Photos of this August 2004 trip are available on Flickr:


Hageland Aviation: Pilot is Eric Sieh -- Great job and super nice guy.


Fly commercial to Kotzebue with Alaska Air. From Kotz use Eric Sieh (pilot for Hageland Aviation in Kotz). He takes you in bush plane to the river and picks you up at the confluence of the Kelly and the Noatak.


USGS maps of area from University of Alaska in Fairbanks

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: Extended Trip
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location