Lions Head

Lions Head River

Half-Day Whitewater

River Trip

(7pm Midnight Sun trips or Private Trips – Contact us for availability)

Adventure Level
Moderate – Challenging
River Category
Class III (Moderate)

Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class III-” or “Class III+” respectively. Suitable for those who don’t mind getting a little wet from splash, minimum age 10.


Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. Rapids may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class IV-” or “Class IV+” respectively. Suitable for those 12 years old and older, in good physical condition and comfortable with the prospect of swimming for self-rescue. This level is recommended for firsttimers, and those with prior experience.

Reservation Minimum
2 People
Trip Minimum
4 People

*(Groups less than 4 may join others with consent to build tour)

Hicks Creek Facility

38100 W Glenn Highway, Glacier View, AK 99674 Mile 96

June 1 – July 25 (Midnight-Sun run)
age Limit
Ages 12 – 65
Min. Size/Weight/Height
100 Lbs, and 5 Ft. 2 Inches
Max. Size/Weight/Height
250 Lbs, and 6 Ft. 6 Inches, Girth 50 Inches.

*Must be physically fit

Check-in Times
9:30AM & 2:00PM all season.
7:00PM only June 1 – July 25

Contact us for Midnight Sun availability.


Approximately 2 hours on the water and 3 hours total average time.


Groups of 10 to 30 people receive (10+) Discount of 10% off. Local Alaskans with proof of State issued ID at tour check-in receive a 10% single discount off the individual tour price.

Make it a COMBO: Add a Matanuska Glacier adventure and save 10% on both of your tours! This rafting tour is located in the same area of Alaska as our Glacier tours, great for sameday combos.

**Discounts applied at trip check-in with the balance due

Our most popular half-day whitewater river trip

The Lions Head section of the Matanuska River is NOVA’s original river trip and where it all began for us! Our first trips as a new business were on the Matanuska river back in 1975 and is still the most popular whitewater rafting adventure NOVA offers! This powerhouse glacial river is full of thrills, crashing waves and Class IV boulder gardens that create nonstop consistent fun. Filled with plenty of rapids and waves to crush, this amazing trip has been ideal for everyone from first-timers to experienced river runners alike. Its larger volume character really makes you feel the strength and might of Alaska. Slicing between two different mountain ranges, the Jagged Chugach and the ancient Talkeetnas. This scenic alpine area has outdoor vistas and snow capped peaks in all directions including the massive Matanuska Glacier which is visible during tour transit. This raft trip actually launches on a separate lush low volume tributary called Caribou Creek, a great training ground before hitting the big river and rapids downstream. The creek contributes its water volume merging with the glacial currents of the South Fork on the much larger Matanuska river. Consisting of predominantly back to back Class III and Class IV rapids, the South Fork travels along parallel to the Matanuska Glacier moraine. The ‘Lions Head’ is a massive volcanic plug that the river goes around as it then charges into whitewater. This enormous chunk of volcanic rock stands out in the middle of this grand valley and has the distinctive shape and appearance of a lions head staring out over the Matanuska Glacier. NOVA is the pioneer rafting company on the Matanuska and has offered a variety of tours and sections throughout the years covering the entirety of the river’s length. The northern Glenn Highway used to access this river area is a recognized National Scenic Byway and is a truly magnificent scenic drive on the way out from town. Located only two hours north of Anchorage. With unparalleled mountain scenery and several miles of consistent nonstop Class IV rapids, this iconic half-day river trip is a local treasure of the Mat-Su valley.

NOVA offers several different options for running this river trip depending on levels and requests: Center oar rafts, paddle-assist rafts and full paddle rafting. View paddler information, for more details on raft setups or give the office a call. NOVA can also modify the trip experience by using larger or smaller size boats depending on water levels and guest wishes or comforts (easy with lower risk or challenging with higher risk). Please inquire at the office before the trip or inform your guide at your tour check-in.

7:00PM Midnight sun Lions Head: During mid June and mid-July, Alaska experiences the “midnight sun,” long hours of daylight prompting for evening raft trips. This has been a local favorite for celebrating the summer solstice and enjoying the hues of the evening twilight. This 7:00PM check-in time allows rafting in the twilight and gets off the water late. Easy to privatise and customise for your group. For private trips, there is an optional pull over bonfire spot after the rapids for groups bringing dinner for their tour.  The evening midnight sun Lion Head raft trip is available to private parties of 6 or more. You can bring your own food and beverage for after the whitewater segment. This trip must end before midnight. There’s free camping after the trip where you’re parked and other recommended accommodations nearby. Please call the NOVA office for more information and availability. This is a great private rafting option for team building and companies. Contact the office to inquire about our 7:00PM midnight sun run in June and mid-July.


38100 W Glenn Highway, Glacier View, AK 99674

Located 96.5 miles north of Anchorage, this is the staging area for all Matanuska glacier and river trips.


Day trip cancellations made at least 5 days in advance will receive a full deposit refund. Groups of 10+ need to provide a 14-day notice for full deposit refund. Multi-Day trips require a 30-day notice for full deposit refund. In the event NOVA cancels, you will receive a full refund of your payments. Any absence of a booked tour that is operating or If cancellations are not made within the timeframes given Nova retains the deposit made. All Nova trips require a 50% deposit except SIX MILE CREEK which due to high demand requires a 100% deposit.

Tour Highlights
  • No experience necessary.
  • Whitewater fun for all ages (12 yrs +)
  • Roll-a-coaster style waves and holes
  • A chance downstream to try the oars or “ride the bull”
  • Great trip for team-building.
  • Must be able to swim
  • Full paddle-rafting or paddle-assist options available
  • Add a glacier adventure and save $10 (same or different day).
  • NOVA tours operate regardless of most weather conditions, we go rain or shine in Alaska!
  • Waterways and weather can sometimes be cold in Alaska. Please, dress appropriately or bring along some warm synthetic layers and socks for your tour comfort. Cotton layers are not preferred in cold environments or when wet.
  • All standard river gear required for this tour is provided by NOVA including a pfd (personal floatation device), pair of water shoes, river helmet, and full dry-suit. The dry-suit is only a waterproof shell with no warm insulation, please bring your own warm comfortable layers for underneath the dry-suit.
  • Once you are in the dry-suit restroom breaks are difficult to accommodate, please consider facilities pre-trip.

HThe river is the result of glacier melt, snow melt and rain water that runs down the mountains to the valley floor. Like all rivers the forces of erosion and gravity are pulling the water back to the ocean during the process of the water cycle. This river carves its way to the coast from the Matanuska Glacier down to the Matanuska-Susitna valley town of Palmer where it meets the Kink river. The LionsHead whitewater rafting section of rapids is created by boulders pushed around underwater, all the result of active erosion between the glacial lateral moraine and the ‘LionsHead,’ a massive volcanic plug of basalt rock. This rock stands out in the middle of this grand valley and has the distinctive shape and appearance of a lions head, staring out over the Matanuska Glacier. The Lions head section is at the very start of the river near the glacier’s location. The lower sections of this river are tame and mellow float trips towards the Mat-Su town of Palmer, that usually include multiple days on the water and riverside camping. If interested, checkout our Matanuska Overnight 2 Day Rafting trip in the Multi-day trips tab.

Water levels

Water levels can dramatically change or alter the characteristics and nature of rivers and creeks in Alaska. Natural free flowing waterways are unpredictable and have ever evolving variables compared to dam release controlled waterways. Higher water levels usually result in an increase in difficulty, intensity and risk. Nova has implemented cut-off levels for operating tours as a safety standard for this highly respected section of water. Levels also force tour adjustments like boat sizes, equipment changes, group/load sizes in each boat, and even canceling. Proper weight and power distribution in the rafts is a major key to successful navigation. Guides are authorized to make these decisions based on monitoring usgs water level gauges prior to trip launch and may even deny participants from engaging in the activity for safety reasons. Water levels, weather and other variables can also affect the duration of a tour, like changing the volume and speed of the current. Our office staff will inform all reservations in advance about any forecasted water level changes that may jeopardize or result in cancelling the tour. Full refunds are issued if cancellations occur and/or rescheduling for runnable levels on another upcoming date.

Inherent Risks

There are inherent risks associated with river travel and outdoor activities that everyone must accept and understand. Variable uneven terrain, sharp rocks, slippery rocks, and changing weather are common. Some safety hazards will always exist and are beyond human control such as water levels and erosion. Rivers and all moving waterways can be dangerous and deadly. Rescue in these environments and features is not only technical and difficult but in some cases not possible at all. Safety standards are in place for these reasons and must be followed. Guides manage risk by interpreting and recognizing hazards that average boaters and guests are unaware of. Many traveling on the mellow sections have a false sense of security because of the friendly inviting nature of the easy river. Whitewater with rapids on the Class system of III, IV or V sections deserve respect. Individuals traveling on rivers, creeks or streams without professional guides should possess the proper knowledge, experience, and equipment.

**All participants on all our tours must follow our guidelines, procedures and sign a waiver. Only parents or legal guardians may sign for youth minors. We do not allow infants on our tours. We do not allow pets on our tours.

COvid-19 Update

Parties less than 4 must agree to share a raft with other parties where distancing cannot be maintained feasibly at 6 foot under all possible circumstances during a whitewater raft trip by giving consent to mix non-household members. We recommend creating your own group of friends, family or household members who have had sufficient exposure time together to rule out infection to fill your own boat. 4-5 people is ideal per boat for this tour. Fill your own boat!

Please bring your personal face mask for the tour office check-in process and during vehicle transport. We do require social distancing to the best of your groups ability, whenever possible. Try to build reservations and bookings as one household to minimize exposure. Consent may be gained or required to mix with other non-household members during tours. For more Covid-19 questions or concerns, please contact our office.

You are not required to wear a face mask during the tour on the boat.

Lions Head

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Rave Reviews


I, and several relatives, went on this rafting trip early August 2019 and we all had a blast. The trip was down a beautiful waterway that allowed enough relaxed rafting to enjoy the natural beauty, while being punctuated by exciting rapids. The dry suits made for a comfortable trip and our guide (Scotty) provided quick-witted humor and entertainment during the calmer stretches.
If you are considering this rafting trip, but have not fully committed, I encourage you to “pull the trigger” and sign up – you will not be disappointed! These folks are 100% safety oriented and will ensure a safe yet exciting trip. Take along a waterproof action cam to record the adventure.

Sam L  | Trip date: August 2019

We rafted the 6 mile with nova and did the glacier trek. Both were phenomenal. We had Scotty for our rafting trip and he, as well as all of the guides, were very safety conscious. They prepared you for every situation that could happen and we absolutely loved our experience. For our glacier trek, our guide was Coffee. Again, an amazing experience. We did more than we thought we would, including repelling down a 70 foot ice wall! It was so much fun and Coffee made us feel super safe. Nova is an amazing company with only the best guides. I wouldn’t use anyone else in Alaska!

Lauren M.  | Trip date: July 2020

This was our 2nd time rafting in Alaska. Both times dry suits were provided and worked well. Three boats went on the trip with 5 patrons and one guide in each. Two of the boats utilized big oars in the back for the guide and the guests paddled occasionally as instructed. The 3rd boat had a group of young men and they did a “paddle trip” without the oars and using just regular paddles. The trip was fun. Not too rough. No one fell out of the boat. It wasn’t as scenic as the Nenana River outside Denali, but a good trip.

Berry TN  | Trip date: August 2019