Copper River Delta - Alaska Scenic Byway
Chugach National forest
Imagine hundreds of thousands of acres of marshland, rushing rivers, braided streams, and quiet ponds backed by towering snowcapped mountains and blue glaciers. This is the Copper River Delta, an incredible wetland formed by six glacial river systems stretching across a 60-mile arc from Point Whitshed on the west to Cape Suckling on the east. Managed by the USDA-Forest Service, the Delta is a true national treasure. Known for its tremendous wildlife and fisheries value, it is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.
The Delta is characterized by a myriad of shallow ponds, intertidal sloughs, braided glacial streams, sedge marshes, willow thickets, and stands of spruce and cottonwood. The flat Delta lands are backed by the majestic Chugach Mountains. Glaciers creep down many valleys. The Scott, Sheridan, and Sherman Glaciers are visible from the road system along the western edge of the Delta. Hanging glaciers cling to many of the mountaintops.
Lying just north of the Gulf of Alaska, the Delta has a maritime climate; storms with high winds are frequent. About 160 inches of precipitation fall annually--rain during spring, summer, and fall: rain and snow during winter.
Most of the Delta rests within the Chugach National Forest. Management responsibility for the Delta lays with the USDA-Forest Service; although a portion of the land was transferred to the Eyak Corporation as part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 197 1. The Delta has long been recognized for its importance as wildlife, waterfowl, and fish habitat. Consequently, management emphasis is on protection and enhancement of the habitat, as well as the wise use and enjoyment of other resources.
In 1962, with mutual concern for the Delta's wellbeing, the Forest Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Alaska Department of Natural Resources agreed to manage nearly 330,000 acres of the area as wildlife and fish habitat. This agreement was updated to include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, and now encompasses 2.3 million acres. Since 1972 the Delta on the east side of the Copper River Highway has been closed to off-road vehicles to protect valuable habitats. Cooperative efforts with state and federal agencies, private non-profit organizations, and local Native corporations will result in projects that benefit you and our wildlife resources.
Wildlife viewing, glacier watching. fishing. and hunting are primary reasons to visit the Delta. Millions of waterfowl and shorebirds stop to rest and feed during their annual migrations north and south. April. May. and September are the best months to observe the migrating birds. Thousands of birds summer in the Delta to raise their young. Many of the interesting inhabitants of the Delta can be viewed from the road system or by short hikes into the marshes. Please respect the wild animals' need for privacy.
The Forest Service maintains a series of trails for hiking through the varied habitats. Trails lead to the Sheridan Glacier, one of the few glaciers that you can actually walk on; to McKinley Lake for fall berry picking and salmon fishing; or to Crater Lake for a mountaintop view of Prince William Sound to the west and Copper River Delta to the east. Twenty-one miles of trail are available for your enjoyment and more are planned.
Picnic sites, recreation cabins, and remote camping sites are available on both National Forest and Eyak Corp-oration lands. Some sites are suitable for self-contained vehicles to pull off the highway and spend the night. but there are no facilities. Please check with Eyak Corporation for permission and regulations concerning use of Native-owned lands.
The Delta area offers unique glacier-viewing opportunities. The Sheridan Glacier and its moraine can be closely approached for study. Childs Glacier, near the Million Dollar Bridge at Mile 48 of the Copper River Highway, flows out of the Chugach Mountains and calves into the Copper River right before your eyes! The beach access from the glacier is hakardous because of the large waves created by falling ice.
You can take a quiet canoe trip up a slow-moving stream or an exciting raft float on a glacial river. Watercraft from airboats and river skiffs to canoes, kayaks, and inflatables are used on the Delta. Daily and extended tours are offered by local guide services.
Fishing opportunities abound. Sockeye salmon fishing begins in mid-June and peaks around July 4th; coho salmon run August through September. Cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden char are waiting to be caught. Candlefish can be dipped from the rivers in springtime.
Waterfowl hunting can be superb in September. Moose, brown and black bear, and goat hunting seasons vary; check with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for current regulations. Licensed guides offer guided hunts and air charter services provide drop-offs.
Waterfowl abound on the Delta; ducks and geese may be seen in nearly every pond. Common ducks are mallards, pintails, widgeon. and teal. The Delta is the only known breeding area for dusky Canada geese. The Delta also supports more than ten percent of the world population of trumpeter swans. During the summer months, many ponds host a stately pair of trumpeter swans raising their young. In the fall the Delta is a staging area for waterfowl preparing for their flight south; geese and cranes pass overhead in V formation.
Bald eagles are common; other birds of prey include owls and hawks. Assorted seabirds including gulls. terns, and jaegers frequent the intertidal areas. Shorebirds such as snipe, yellow-legs, dowitchers. sandpipers, and phalaropes nest in the rich wetlands.
Four-legged wildlife range from trophy moose browsing on willows; to mighty brown bear and smaller black bear chasing salmon in the spawning streams or feasting on wild berries. Mountain goats can be observed feeding on mountainsides and ridges. Beavers busily work on their dams and distinctive houses and cut tree limbs for their winter food. Mink, otter, and other small furbearers inhabit the Delta and can be seen along the road if you watch closely. Scientific studies are being conducted to better understand and manage these animals.
Streams, ponds, and sloughs provide spawning and rearing habitat for large numbers of sockeye and coho salmon. Adult sockeye and coho can be seen spawning during the late summer and fall months. Dolly Varden char and cutthroat trout are found in most streams. Candlefish (eulachon) spawn in several of the rivers in spring and provide an important food source to hungry eagles and other predators.
Bring your binoculars, a camera and plenty of film. To locate the following key viewing spots and points of interest along the Copper River Highway, use the highway mileposts as reference points. Drive slowly and keep an eye out for waterfowl and wildlife.
Mile-0.5Alaska Marine Highway ferry terminal.
Mile0Old cannery buildings.
Mile2.2Eyak Lake; Eyak Peak across the lake
Mile4.1Historical marker, Heney Memorial.
Mile5.7 Turnout at Eyak Lake; wintering swan view point and camera spot.
Mile5.8 Eyek River trailhead.
Mile5.9 Eyak River boat ramp.
Mile7.3 Lydick Slough trailhead.
Mile 8 Scott River; entering Delta wetlands,
Mile10.7 Game Management Area marker; nesting swans, beaver houses.
Mile11.9 Coast Guard air station.
Mile12 Road to Lake Elsinor trailhead.
Mile12 Road to Cabin Lake.
Mile 13.7 Sheridan Glacier Road.
Mile14.8 Sheridan River, China Bridge.
Mile16.3 Dike Road (not recommended for large vehicles).
Mile16.8 Alaganik Slough Recreation Area.
Mile18 Coho salmon spawning area.
Mile18.5 Mt. McKinley Peak view area.
Mile18.5 Fishing for char, coho salmon, and trout can be good in these streams.
Mile19.5 Goose Pastures; waterfowl spring staging area, good moose viewing area.
Mile21 Eagle winter area; view feeding eagles.
Mile21.3 Pipeline Lakes trailhead.
Mile21.5 McKinley Lake trailhead and public use cabin.
Mile22.2 Alaganik Slough; canoe route to McKinley Lake; boat ramp. Delta overlook, dispersed camping site.
Mile22.9 Wrong Way Creek; moose pasture.
Mile25 Salmon enhancement project south of road.
Mile26 Dispersed camping in this area.
Mile27 Flag Point, first bridge across the Copper River; 8 miles wide at this point. Commercial boat and river raft take-out point.
Mile27.4 Sand dunes up to 150 ft. high were created by high winds blowing down the Copper River.
Mile28-30 look for eagle nests in cottonwoods.
Mile37.3 Dispersed camping in this area.
Mile41 Goat Mountain; mountain goat viewing.
Mile41.1 Good fishing for Dolly Varden; salmon closed.
Mile42 Pond, dispersed camping area; Eyak Corporation lands.
Mile48 Million Dollar Bridge. completed in 1910. Maintained road ends here. Miles Glacier on right and Childs Glacier on left. Side road leads to Childs Glacier viewing area.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication