Seven miles north of Wrangell  is the Stikine River, one of the top 10 wild rivers of Canada and the fastest navigable river in North America. The river begins its 330-mile journey to the sea high inside British Columbia ’s Spatsizi Wilderness Park. The 55-mile-long Grand Canyon of the Stikine, just above Telegraph Creek, British Columbia , has thousand-foot walls enclosing fierce white water.
River travel is easier below Telegraph Creek all the way to Wrangell between the high peaks of the coast range and past glaciers and forested hills. At one spot on the river, 21 different glaciers are visible! These glaciers dump tons of silt into the river, coloring it a milky gray; at the mouth of the Stikine the sea takes on this color for miles in all directions. So much for the advertisements about “glacially pure” water.
Each spring, upward of 1,500 bald eagles flock to the river mouth to eat “hooligan” (eulachon), an oily fish that spawns here late March–early May. The fish also attract hundreds of thousands of gulls and kittiwakes, plus harbor seals, Steller sea lions, and even killer whales.
Several Wrangell  charter boat operators provide fun jet-boat trips up the Stikine River with a lunch break at Shakes Glacier and fast runs up the back sloughs. Three of the larger operators are Breakaway Adventures (907/874-3455 or 888/385-2488, www.breakawayadventures.com ), Alaska Waters (907/874-2378 or 800/347-4462, www.alaskawaters.com ), and Alaska Vistas (907/874-3006 or 866/874-3006, www.alaskavistas.com ).
All of these do a great job of showing the sights, but the Breakaway and Alaska Vistas trips are cheaper ($175 versus $200 for a 5–6-hour trip) and sometimes include a soak at Chief Shakes Hot Springs. Alaska Waters uses a larger 22-person boat with an onboard restroom. For the quick version, Breakaway offers a four-hour trip to the glacier for $125 per person.
Late-season trips are more likely to get closer to Chief Shakes Glacier, but increased calving in recent years (global warming?) has made it more difficult for boats to approach the face of the glacier. Despite this, you will certainly get up-close views of the icebergs.
The Stikine River is a popular destination for kayakers, canoeists, and river rafters. (It’s even more popular with local jet-boaters, so don’t expect peace and quiet in the lower reaches.) Most folks choose to float down the river after being transported up from Wrangell  by boat or plane.
You will need to go through Customs (907/874-3415) at the Wrangell airport if you cross the border. In addition, a Canadian agent is frequently stationed along the river just across the border. The Forest Service publishes a helpful guide to canoeing or kayaking the Stikine River; it’s available from the Wrangell Ranger District (907/874-2323, www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass ).
Stikine Riversong Lodge (250/235-3196, www.stikineriversong.com ) in Telegraph Creek, 160 miles upriver from Wrangell, has lodging, supplies, and a pleasant café. The owners also offer river tours, canoe and kayak rentals, and will help you set up trips down the Stikine.
In Wrangell, rent kayaks and canoes from Rain Walker Expeditions (907/874-2549, www.rainwalkerexpeditions.com ), Breakaway Adventures (907/874-3455 or 888/385-2488, www.breakawayadventures.com ), or Alaska Waters (907/874-2378 or 800/347-4462, www.alaskawaters.com ); they can also provide jet-boat transportation to Telegraph Creek. The latter company offers fun four-day safaris to the wild upper reaches of the river, with meals and lodging included for $1,700 per person; fall is the prettiest time to visit.
Alaska Vistas (907/874-3006 or 866/874-3006, www.alaskavistas.com ) leads 11-day raft trips down the Stikine River.
The lower Stikine is a multichanneled silt-laden river nearly a mile wide in places. The route is spectacular, wildlife crowds the banks, campsites are numerous, and 13 Forest Service cabins (518/885-3639 or 877/444-6777, www.recreation.gov , $45) are available. One of the finest is the Mount Rynda Cabin along crystal-clear Andrew Creek, a spawning area for king salmon. You may also want to stay in one of the two extremely popular cabins near Chief Shakes Hot Springs.
At the springs you’ll discover beautifully maintained wooden hot tubs (one enclosed to protect you from the mosquitoes); these are great places to soak those aching muscles. The area gets mighty busy on summer weekends, so you probably won’t have it to yourself, and things can get rowdy after the locals pop a few beers. Escape the crowds at the main hot springs by finding your own undeveloped springs nearby.
The upper portion of the Stikine is a vastly different river, with less noise and development than on the U.S. side of the border and a drier, colder climate. The vegetation reflects this. The historic settlement of Telegraph Creek is accessible by road from the rest of British Columbia , or you can charter a small plane or jet-boat from Wrangell . The upper river above Telegraph Creek is some of the wildest white water anywhere; canoeists and kayakers intent on running the river would do best to begin at Telegraph Creek.