Trip dates: May 18-23, 2020

We’re back from our float of the Yukon and I am happy to report we had a terrific time! We were the first ones down the river this season. And — as is often the case when I spend time in the Interior — the last one through per cabin records was our friend Ned Rozell by ski.

Conditions were almost perfect, with reasonable water volume moving at 6 to 7 mph, clear skis and temperatures ranging from the high 30s to low 70s F. We did have some challenging cross winds about 10 miles below Eagle, resulting in a mixed wind chop with 2 foot waves.

The winds lasted only about 30 minutes, but were fierce enough that Dad later confessed he was ready to hit the shore and start hiking back to Eagle — not an easy prospect because the section of the Yukon that we floated is guarded by 1,500-2,000 feet cliffs for most of its length.

We stayed in first-come-first-serve historic public use cabins, and only camped in the tent in Eagle and Circle. We did see amazing wild animals — although not in the safari-worthy density of the upper Tanana last week — including many peregrine falcons, ducks and geese, various song birds, a caribou, a moose and the highlight, a large dark wolf who sat and watched us at 100 yards as we floated quietly past.

And quiet was the theme of the week. Most noteworthy to me was the total emptiness of the country. We saw no one in the Preserve, only one boat near Eagle, and likewise near Circle. Additionally we saw no planes overhead, no communication towers, no trash on the banks.

What a difference from 20 years ago when many folk still lived on the Yukon — an observation I didn’t have the opportunity to make then, but an out-migration nonetheless well-documented in Fairbanks author Dan O’Neill’s A Land Gone Lonesome.

And what a difference from 120 years ago when Eagle had a population of 1,700 — it’s now 70 — and was the first incorporated city in Alaska. Circle had a population of 2,000 — also now 70 — and an opera house whose entrance fee was a poke of gold.

More personally, I am so fortunate to have had this time with my 67-year-old father who, like our climb of Mt. Drum 15 years ago, only gets tougher as the trip goes on! On our last day from Smith/Forty Mile Cabin to Circle, I had trouble keeping up.

Outdoors Editor’s note: Trip Report is an ongoing series about trail/river conditions around Interior Alaska.

Forest Wagner submitted this trip report about his trip floating through Yukon-Charley National Preserve. Wagner is the program director of Outdoor Studies at the University of Alaska Southeast. Born and raised in Fairbanks, he is currently commercial salmon fishing in Bristol Bay.

If you’d like to submit a Trip Report, contact Outdoors Editor Alistair Gardiner at 907-654-4440 or