North Platte River - Eagle Creek to Alcova Dam
This trip was planned around the limited hours of daylight & a forecast of 30 MPH wind for this last day of October where I would have to solo paddle a 17 foot tandem canoe. This 2-1/2 mile route is the most sheltered Class I stretch of central Wyoming's North Platte River, which, while crowded in summer, now offered solitude without the exposures of late-season back-country paddling.
The Eagle Creek Launch is located about 100 feet south of the Eagle Creek � North Platte River confluence 1-1/4 river miles below Alcova Dam at the northwest end of Alcova Lake/Grey Reef County Park. Launch access is via the northernmost of several dirt roads branching off east from the Kortes Road between Sloans General Store & the Kortes Road Bridge. All these roads connect to a N-S dirt road along the river, but the ruts & potholes are tough on most 2WD vehicles unless you drive slow. I originally had planned to return upstream via portage cart, but the rough roads & slow 500 CFS current convinced me to do a 2-1/2 mile round trip instead.
At least 4 vehicles can be parked on the small loop above the Launch, and the high (10') bank with a 500 square foot flat grassy landing just above the water and out of the wind was perfect for spreading out gear & relaxing before & after paddling. The water was weedy but crystal-clear & cold due the late season & its source from the base of Alcova Dam 1.25 miles upstream. The discharge from the Dam's generator turbines varies, so the surge-averaging Grey Reef Reservoir (purple on topo maps) was added later to maintain a constant flow downstream. At its fullest, Grey Reef backs up the River all the way to Alcova Dam.
About 80 minutes were needed to drive from Casper, WY & scout all the landings along both the River & Grey Reef Reservoir before abandoning the portage cart "shuttle" in favor of a 2.5 mile round-trip from the Eagle Creek Launch.
The river was wide, shallow, & clear with a firm gravel bed � perfect for launching. I initially poled upstream in the sitting position with my 66" Carlisle aluminum-polyethylene paddle until it was deep enough to bury the blade (I plan to buy a flat-bladed adjustable SUP paddle when somebody makes one long & tough enough for occasional poling).
Avoiding the current by sneaking into the weed beds probably cut 15 minutes off the 90 it would have otherwise taken to paddle the 1.25 miles to Alcova Dam, but even a thin layer of algae on top of some of the weeds made them nearly impassable. A detour into mid-channel/stronger wind as a courtesy to a fly fisherman in the lee of the west bank trees cost me an additional 10 minutes farther upstream.
After momentarily getting stuck in a denser-than-usual weed mat beneath the Kortes Road Bridge, I hauled-out for a photo at Alcova Hot Spring between the hydroelectric plant and the spillway. The ring of stones that bathers would normally use to adjust the temperature mix of spring and river water were nearly high & dry due to seasonally low river levels.
After re-launching I cruised along the edge of the spillway before paddling over to play in the Alcova Power Plant discharge. The discharge here didn't "boil" as violently as the Pathfinder Plant discharge in Fremont Canyon so I paddled up to the gates and did some pirouettes along the eddy lines. It's pretty tame stuff, & for that reason not posted, but novice paddlers should still be cautious.
As I returned downstream, three fishermen showed up on the southeast bank below the power plant in time to see a 20", hooked-jawed rainbow blast out of the water 15' off to starboard � an encouraging sight for all! The return trip downwind went fast, so 15 minutes & 1/2 mile later I was on the river-right braid past the only island suitable for canoe camping - grassy with a few Russian olives providing both windbreak & privacy from the Kortes Road traffic. A rocky shoal extends far upstream of this island so it's necessary to commit to either side of it well before arriving or you'll end up wading & towing your otherwise-grounded boat behind you!
The rest of the return trip was the opposite of heading up �this time staying in the main current and avoiding the weeds. The Eagle Creek Launch was so pleasant I spent nearly an hour enjoying a late lunch in the lee of the bank, serenaded by the splashing of feeding trout & the riffling of water over the Eagle Creek gravel bar a few feet away. That hard-driving wind up at the car was just a moderate breeze below the bank, & near-calm right on the water, but a slight increase in water release at the turbines upstream refloated the canoe & made it swing on its lead � a warning to always tie-off, even when pulled-up on shore!
The boundaries of public access on the bank are signed�access behind the blue side & no trespassing behind the red. My guess is that Alcova County Park would not actively discourage canoe camping on the river even though it's signed "Day Use Only" as long as you keep out of sight with no parked vehicles and apply the usual no-trace camping with firepans and disposal of human waste 200' or more from the water. However, for those wanting to "rough it" easy there's always the "Inn at Alcova" cabins & the "Alcova Dam RV & Trailer Park", both a quarter of a mile to the west, as well as the Riverview Inn on the north side of Highway 220. There are also county campgrounds on Alcova Lake and on the River below Grey Reef Reservoir immediately downstream.
I would classify this trip as moderate in difficulty due to the upstream leg of the journey in a slow aluminum canoe against the wind, but perhaps easier with a kayak. Higher flows in summer would negate the need to "pole" upstream but would also be harder to paddle against. This is not a wilderness trip by any means, but the terrific trout fishing, shelter from wind, water that's ice-free in winter & cool/clear in summer, nearby grocery/lodging/camping, access to public land, a hot spring at the water�s edge, & the unique opportunity to legally paddle into the discharge stream of a hydroelectric plant & along the edge of a large concrete spillway still make this a unique half-day float trip.
- Sudden changes in water level will float off an un-tied boat, leaving you stranded. A friend of mine "inherited" a drifting 14' canoe in this way years ago.
- Catalytic converters in tall dry grass are a fire hazard.
- The occasional scorpion & rattlesnake
Black Beach County Campground, Alcova Lake
Cottonwood Beach County Campground, Alcova Lake
Grey Reef County Campground, Grey Reef Reservoir & North Platte River
Cabins and motel rooms in Alcova and Casper, Wyoming
Possible $10 for dispersed camping from paddlecraft
$5 Non-invasive sticker for paddlecraft in Wyoming
No fee for day use
32.5 miles SW of Casper on Highway 220, turn left and drive 3/8 of a mile through the Town of Alcova & beyond, turn left onto a dirt road & drive 3/16 of a mile east on a rutted dirt road to the small dirt loop above the River. A red-colored sign showing the property line is set at water's edge in the Russian olive trees to the north.
United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), in Casper, WY (for stream flow information), (307) 261-5628
Natrona County Parks Department, Casper Wyoming (307) 235-9325
Wyoming Game & Fish Department, Casper (307) 473-3400
BLM SURFACE MANAGEMENT MAP "Casper" 1:100,000 Scale
USGS Topographic Map, 7.5 min series, "Alcova"