Fraser River – Alexandra Bridge to Yale

Contributed by Claudia Schwab
What It's Like
Huge volume, pool drop, big crashing waves and swirly eddies, lots of floating. The road is high above the river and accessible only in a few spots.
II-III, one IV-
Scouting / Portaging
Scout Saddle Rock rapid. It takes some exploring to see it from the road. Portage is possible over big boulders (but not very pleasant).
Long (its 20km)
When to Go
When everything else is too low. Winter and before the snow melt in spring (January to March) and occasionally in fall after a long drought.
1250.0cms↓ (Dec 5 05:00)
Information may be outdated

Class: Two III-IV drops (difficult to portage) and lots of flatwater.

Gauge and Levels: Environment Canada, Fraser River at Hope. We have paddled between 700-1,300 cms. 

Scenery: Come to descend into the guts of the Fraser Canyon and relive the gold rush times or come to celebrate the largest free running river on North America’s Pacific coast. In early fall you can watch the salmon migrate and later see brilliantly yellow Maple trees along the exposed low water shoreline. Average June/July levels are 7,000 cms (peaking at 14,000 cms). Even with low fall levels, this will likely be one of the largest rivers you ever paddle.

Length of Run: 20 km.

Length of Shuttle (one way): 20.2 km.

Special Considerations: Note that this run is only paddled when the Fraser is at a very low level. Be ready for big powerful water. If you go in winter not much sunshine reaches the bottom of the canyon, so dress warmly. Watch for trains when you cross the tracks – both lines are pretty busy. The road is high above the river and accessible only in a few spots.

Directions: From Vancouver take Hwy 1 East to Hope and continue on Hwy 1 along the Fraser for another 24 km to the city of Yale. In Yale take the second street on the right (Albert Street). Drive to a T intersection where you will find a pull-out (N49 33.690 W121 25.849). A trail leads to the river behind the ‘Barnard’s Express’ sign. To the put-in continue north on Hwy 1 for 20.2 km. After crossing the Fraser River look for the gravel road on the left about 50 meters past the entrance to Alexandra Bridge Provincial Park. Follow this road for 400 meters to a rock barrier and park (N49 42.524 W121 24.726). After crossing the railroad tracks look for a minor trail on the outside of the first switchback to the right. This will get you down to the river. If you continue on the main trail you will reach Alexandra Bridge in about 100 meters. 

An intermediate access point is about 12 km past Yale. Look for a pull-out on the river side 650 meters north of the end of Sailor Bar Tunnel (N49 38.578 W121 24.567). At the south end of the pull-out is a gravel road which heads down to the railroad tracks. Walk north along the tracks to a steep gravel slope (about 300 m from the Hwy). Cross the tracks (N49 38.726 W121 24.492) and locate a trail that leads in a southward descending traverse to the river (N49 38.694 W121 24.454).

Description: Please note that this description applies to low flows around 700-1300 cms. The average volume in summer is 10 times higher when river features will be considerably different. At low fall volumes 98% of this run is a fast and flat float. Only a couple of times the Fraser flexes its muscles. About 5 km from the put-in Spuzzum Creek joins from the right. 2.5 km below this confluence is the intermediate access point (N49 38.694 W121 24.454). If you want to take out here, make sure you first walk down from the road – the trail is overgrown and difficult to spot from the river. After a couple of bends you will see a house rock. We paddled the wave train in the left channel, a good class III wake-up after the initial float. Below this, the river winds its way through a narrow canyon with some swirls and boils but no rapids. At the end of the next big pool (more of a lake) is an island with characteristic shape: “Saddle Rock”. Again, we took the left channel which is flat until just above the end of the island. There the water drops significantly and forms impressive exploding waves, whirlpools and some holes. Scout from the left shore and pick your line. As long as you stay on line this drop is not technical (unless you find rolling in huge crashing waves and whirlpools technical), but pour-overs and holes near the shores warrant a class IV- rating. After this powerful drop there isn’t much else except flat water all the way to Yale.

Camping and Food: There are official campgrounds and restaurants in Yale and Hope. For the really hungry paddler – try the Home Restaurant in Hope (it’s on Old Hope-Princeton Way parallel to Hwy 3/5).

Non-paddling Activities: Yale has a rich gold rush history. You can check out the museum and even try gold panning. Yale was founded as a Hudson's Bay fort in 1848 and soon developed into an important stopping point for travelers on the Fraser River. In 1858 gold was found just 2 miles south of Yale on the Fraser River. This discovery caused an invasion of prospectors and miners from all over the world, making Yale, with over 20,000 residents, temporarily the largest town on the West coast. The put-in is at the historic Alexandra Bridge. The first suspension bridge was built here for the prospectors and miners of the Cariboo Gold Rush in 1862. The Alexandra Bridge you see is a replacement of the second bridge which was washed out in a flood in 1887.