Swanson River Canoe Route


 With longer portages, extra time and physical effort are required for exploring this system. Generally, these challenges mean fewer people visit here creating better wildlife viewing, excellent rainbow trout fishing, and a more compelling wilderness experience. This route covers 80 miles including 40 lakes and 46 miles of the Swanson River.

For a map of this route visit our Maps site.


Traveling from the Paddle Lake Entrance (located at mile 12 on Swan Lake Road), trips can stretch from a long weekend to over a week. The Gene Lake Loop portages are generally longer than those found on the Swan Lake System.

The portage connecting Gene Lake to the Upper Swanson River requires a difficult 1.5 mile hike hauling your canoe over beaver dams and log jams. Once on the Upper Swanson River, the meandering river route passes through thick lily pads. This river section is more enjoyable in spring and fall when water levels are higher. In summer, canoeing through gigantic, densely packed lily pads requires stamina. From Gene Lake to the first takeout point at Swanson River Landing, plan at least one overnight. Those canoeists with more time can continue from Swanson River Landing to Captain Cook State Park (24 miles).

In remote lake areas of the Swanson River Route east of Pepper Lake, travel is difficult and the routes and portages are often indistinct. This is true wilderness and can be challenging. Bring a compass, an accurate map, a pair of hip waders, and a lot of patience.

From the Swanson River Landing Entrance (located at mile 17.5 on Swanson River Road), a relaxed two day trip downriver to Captain Cook State Park offers a great opportunity to see moose and bald eagles. The water level of the Swanson River changes with the seasonal variation in snow melt and rainfall. Shallow waters, rocks, and oxbows present modest navigational challenges requiring teamwork to prevent putting unexpected scrapes and dents in your canoe.

Campsites on the Swanson River are difficult to locate due to extensive marshy areas along the river shoreline. Look for sites on nearby hills or rises.

Routes with approximate travel times:

Paddle Lake to Gene Lake1-2 days

Gene Lake to Swanson River Landing

1-1 1/2 days

Swanson River Landing to Cook Inlet

1-2 days

Gene Lake via loop from Eider to Pepper Lake

2-3 days

Rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, and red and silver salmon live in lakes in the Swanson River System with the exception of Berry, Redpoll, Twig, Eider, and Olsjold Lakes.