The Swanson River Canoe route is a gem of an adventure on the Kenai Peninsula. There is a lake route with portages (we didn't do this portion) and a river only route that starts near Sterling and ends in Nikiski's Captain Cook State Park. There is roughly 30 miles of river to paddle and some paddling skills are needed when canoeing with kids. With huge rocks to navigate and area's of small rapids, it can be a little stressful with little ones leaning over the edge while keeping the boat upright. After giving the boys turns in the kayak, and trying out paddling with a toddler on my lap, we plan to only bring the kayaks next year. They are much easier to maneuver through rocks and rapids!
We chose to spend three days on the Swanson and for our family, it was the perfect amount of time to paddle, fish and relax at camp each night. We encountered schools of salmon jumping and heading upstream, eagles, a paragon falcon, porcupine and a moose.
On our first day paddling, we got a late start around 3pm and passed the first spotted campsite to get some miles behind us. As the evening crept on and kids were grumbling, no usable campsite presented itself and we worried that we would paddle into the night. The banks of the river are endless grass so higher ground is needed to camp. Around 8pm we finally found a spot and everyone was so happy to stretch legs and set up tents. Grandma came along with us and provided dinner the first night. Pre-cooked pesto chicken that only needed to be heated up. It was the best meal in the world after feeling tired and ready to rest, and it was amazingly delicious.
The next morning, frost coated the entire campsite and our toddler showed her displeasure at being cold with whining and falling out of her camp chair over and over. Luckily, Russ was up at first light bringing in logs and lighting the fire for coffee. Once the sun came over the trees it quickly heated up to tank top weather and all was well. There were even cranberries around our tents to add to the pancakes for breakfast and everyone cheered up with these treats.
The boys caught some fish, and then Roland accidentally knocked his kayak loose and it floated down river. Neither he nor I could bring ourselves to jump in and grab it when it was only a few feet from shore. Luckily, Greg( Grandma's Friend) dragged his kayak back into the river and retrieved it for us. YAY!
We spent the day paddling in sunshine and watching schools of salmon rush past. There were a number of established pullouts to stop and stretch at. It was just a pleasant day of casual paddling and around 5 pm we found a great campsite overlooking the river from a bluff and set up for the evening. My boys spent hours playing on a swing that took them out over the water. I kept expecting one of them to 'accidentally' let go and submerge into the chilly water, but they never did. As an evening mist rose, we watched a big bull moose feeding on greens in the twilight. I love Alaska.
After an easy breakfast of corned beef hash and eggs, we loaded back up and began the last leg of the trip. The pace of the river picked up and there were more little rapids. It was about a three hour paddle from the tree swing campsite to the pullout.
The hardest part of this trip was logistics concerning the drop off and pick up. If you don't have someone to pick you up, you have to spend an afternoon driving a vehicle to Nikiski to drop it off, and then another afternoon to go pick up the vehicle left at the start of the Swanson. Alaska Canoe Rentals offers rentals and drop offs for a reasonable price and I would recommend using them to help alleviate the time drain of vehicle shuttling.