Refuge Notebook: Discover the allure of canoeing opportunities on the refuge

Imagine embarking on a journey through the untouched wilderness of Alaska, gliding along pristine waterways, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes and abundant wildlife.

Perhaps you’ll witness a moose crunching on aquatic plants, experience the electrifying call of sandhill cranes or delight in an eagle soaring above. If you’ve ever desired to paddle along the Swanson River Canoe Trail but didn’t know where to begin planning, look no further, as we’ll share a great resource for planning your journey.

The recently awarded book, “Canoeing Yaghanen: A Guide to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s Swan Lake and Swanson River Canoe Systems,” by David Atcheson, is a remarkable publication that invites adventure enthusiasts to explore the hidden treasures of the Kenai Peninsula.

Yaghanen is a Dena’ina word that translates to “good land,” and is it so aptly named. It is important to recognize the Dena’ina people are the original inhabitants of Southcentral Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula. Although the Dena’ina language only has about 100 speakers today, you’ll find their naming throughout the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the greater region.

Alaska Geographic and the refuge are thrilled to announce that “Canoeing Yaghanen” has been honored with the esteemed 2023 Publication of the Year award by the Public Lands Alliance, which specifically recognizes the partnership between agencies and nonprofits, as well as innovations in education and interpretation of public lands.

It goes without saying, then, that this book was made possible because of the exceptional collaboration efforts between Alaska Geographic and the USFWS/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The hope for this publication is to reach a wide audience and inspire many to use, enjoy and steward our public lands.

We would like to extend our heartfelt appreciation to the incredibly talented author, David Atcheson, without whom the book wouldn’t be so captivating. The adventurous experiences Mr. Atcheson has collected over the years have certainly made an invaluable contribution to all future readers of the book and visitors of the refuge.

The hours upon hours that Atcheson has spent paddling these waters has morphed into a beneficial resource to adventurers of all ages and abilities. Additionally, we acknowledge the outstanding skills of graphic designer Kathy Lepley, whose visually stunning and engaging design has brought the publication to life.

Nestled within the awe-inspiring refuge, the Swan Lake and Swanson River canoe systems stand as hidden gems, awaiting discovery. Despite their breathtaking beauty and recreational potential, most visitors to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge never lay their eyes on the tranquil waters.

In an effort to bolster visitation and enrich visitors’ experience, the refuge and Alaska Geographic had a vision of creating a guidebook that would inspire and encourage more visitors to explore these remarkable canoe systems.

“Canoeing Yaghanen” was born from this shared aspiration. It is a comprehensive guide that offers a wealth of information about the area, including important cultural history, route mapping, campsite and portage data, wildlife safety tips and angling advice.

Its pages are rugged, printed on waterproof paper and wire-bound, ensuring long-lasting durability during field use, even if you mistakenly drop it in the water. The inclusion of clear route data and vibrant photography ignites enthusiasm and an adventurous spirit among prospective visitors, drawing them into awe of these majestic wilderness areas.

But the offerings don’t stop there. Recognizing the prevalence of smartphones and similar devices carried by modern adventurers, the book incorporates enhanced maps with GPS/GIS data. Visitors can download these maps onto their devices, providing a seamless and user-friendly experience as they navigate the canoe systems.

The integration of technology and traditional outdoor exploration is a testament to the dedication of the Alaska Geographic Association and the refuge to adapting to the evolving needs of visitors while preserving the intrinsic beauty of the area.

“Canoeing Yaghanen: A Guide to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s Swan Lake and Swanson River Canoe Systems” embodies the spirit of collaboration, innovation and preservation. It is a testament to the profound impact that can be achieved through partnership and thoughtful collaboration.

By unlocking the secrets of the canoe systems and sharing them with a wide audience, this remarkable publication paves the way for an increased appreciation and visitation to these often-overlooked wilderness areas.

As paddlers embark on their journeys, guided by the knowledge within the book’s pages, they will not only experience the unparalleled beauty of the refuge but also become advocates for the preservation and conservation of our natural world and the creatures that inhabit it.

Erin Burns is a volunteer intern with the biology team at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge who enjoys adventures of all sorts in her free time. Sam Lilly is the manager of marketing and communication for Alaska Geographic.

You can find more information on the Maps for Canoeing the Yaghanen at ArcGIS – Swan Lake and Swanson River Canoe Systems and learn more about the Kenai Refuge at or Look for Refuge Notebook Articles on the first and third Saturdays of each month or Find past Refuge Notebook articles (1999–present) at