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Anchorage's Watersheds

Within the Municipality's 2,000 mi. sq. boundaries, there are 28 individual watersheds which are named for the most prominent creek or river within them.   AWC is primarily concerned with the 10 watersheds in its urban area: Eagle River, Ship Creek, Chester Creek, Fish Creek, Campbell Creek, Little Campbell Creek (a sub-watershed), Furrow Creek, Rabbit Creek, Little Rabbit Creek (a sub-watershed of Rabbit Creek), and Little Survival Creek.

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Ship Creek

Ship Creek, one of Anchorage's three major urban creeks, and its tributaries extend approximately 181.1 mi. (291.5 km.) from the Chugach Range to Knik Arm of Cook Inlet.  The Ship Creek Watershed is 127.1 sq. mi. (329.2 sq. km.).  Ship Creek  was a local name recorded by the USGS in 1906 (Orth 1971), however, the much older Dena’ina name is Dgheyaytnu or Dgheyay Leht  or “Stickleback Creek” or “Where Stickleback Run”  (Kari et al. 2003).  The mouth of Ship Creek is called Dgheyay Kaq  or “Stickleback Mouth”.

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Ship Creek in Arctic Valley

Chester Creek

Chester Creek is the second of Anchorage’s three major creeks, running about 30.7 mi (49.4 km) from the Chugach Mountains to Knik Arm of Cook Inlet at Westchester Lagoon.  About 10 mi of the Chester Creek runs through the Municipality of Anchorage, and its canyon cuts Anchorage into two major parts—Downtown and Midtown. The Chester Creek Watershed is approximately 30.4 sq.mi. (78.7 sq. km.).  Chester Creek derives its name from Anglicization of the Dena’ina name Chanshtnu “Grass Creek.”  Orth (1971) reports the name Chester Creek was in local use in 1906.  Several Dena’ina cabins as well as a village were found along the lower sections of the creek.  In addition to Dall sheep and moose taken in the Chugach, the Dena’ina fed on salmon and beaver from the creek.


Chester Creek at Lake Otis Parkway

Campbell Creek

Campbell Creek (not including Little Campbell Creek) is the third of Anchorage’s three major urban creeks. It is approximately 88.0 mi.  (141.6 km.) in length and the area of the watershed is about 116.4 sq. mi. (301.5 sq. km.).  Campbell Creek is formed by the junction of three major tributaries with origins in the Chugach Range—the North Fork, Middle Fork,  the South Fork--Lower Campbell and Little Campbell Creek. Little Campbell Creek will be considered its own creek and watershed.  The main channel of the creeks runs from the Chugach Mountains  to Campbell Lake and the Turnagain Arm.  The Dena’ina name for the mouth of Campbell Creek is Qin Cheghi Kaw or “Crying Ridge Mouth.”  Campbell Lake, being artificial, has a new Dena’ina name Qin Cheghi Kaq’Bena or “Crying Ridge Mouth Lake.”


The North Fork of Campbell Creek [Qin Cheghitnu or “Crying Ridge Creek”] arises in the Chugach Range in waters from Mt. Tikishla [Ghedishla or “Black Bear”] [1], Tanaina Peak [Qin Cheghi or “Crying Ridge”], Koktoya Peak [K’uhda’i or Moose]. Knoya Peak [K’nuy’a or “Beaver”], Kanchee Peak [Qanchi or “Porcupine”], Long Lake [Qin Cheghi Bena or “Crying Ridge Lake”], and Williwa Lake.


The Middle Fork arises from Williwa Lake and O’Malley Peak.


The South Fork of Campbell Lake arises from Green Lake, Ptarmigan Peak, Hidden Lake, The Wedge, Wolverine Peak, Avalanche Mountain, Powerline Pass, and Ramp, and Flattop Mountain.  The Middle Fork joins the South Fork as one of its major tributaries.  The Dena’ina name for the South Fork may have been Nungge or “Upland Area,” but this name could also apply to the South Fork of Chester Creek or to the whole general area of the South Forks of Campbell and Chester Creek.


[1] Some of the Dena’ina names are the traditional names, while several names such as moose, beaver, porcupine, and black bear were suggested by the Mountaineering Club of Alaska using the Dena’ina to ensure the correct vocabulary.  Crying Ridge Mouth Lake was named by Kari et al (2003) following traditional naming traditions.


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Campbell Creek at Shelikof and Rakof

Little Campbell Creek

Little Campbell Creek system is the largest tributary of Campbell Creek with a length of 25.8 mi. (41.5 km.).  The head of the  South Fork is near Glen Alps, while the North Fork originates a little south of Campbell Airstrip.  The two forks join near where Little Campbell crosses under the Old Seward Hwy and empty into Campbell Creek near Nathan Dr.  The watershed encompasses 15.1 sq. mi.  (39.1 sq. km.).


Little Campbell Creek at Nathan

Fish Creek

Fish Creek watershed is 11.3 sq. mi. (29.3 sq. km.) , and  Fish Creek has a length of 8.1 mi. (13.0 km.).  The mouth of Fish Creek is just south of the mouth of Chester Creek.  The lower end of Fish Creek was called Łiq’aka Bentu (King Salmon Creek) by the Dena’ina that inhabited its banks, and the upper reaches of the creek were called Ch’atanaltsegh (Yellow Water Comes Out).  Fish Creek was the local name recorded by the Army Map Service in 1941.


Fish Creek at Fish Creek Park

Furrow Creek

The  7.7 sq. mi. (19.9 sw. km.) Furrow Creek watershed contains Furrow Creek whose length is 4.5 mi. (7.2 km.).  It begins on the lower hillside between Nancy Park and Huffman Road and goes to Turnagain Arm.  Furrow Creek was a local name recorded by the Army Map Service in 1942 (Orth 1971), but, although used by the indigenous residents, a Dena’ina name could not be located.  Furrow Creek is one of the lesser-known creeks in the MOA.   Undoubtedly, Furrow Creek was once considerably larger than its current dimensions but has suffered terribly from the impacts of the building of subdivisions and commercial development as well as by the Alaska Railroad, roads, and highways. 

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Furrow Creek at Johns Park

Rabbit Creek

Rabbit Creek not including Little Rabbit Creek,  is approximately 26.3 mi. creek (42.3 km.), and its headwaters are from Rabbit Lake.  The lake is fed by waters from the Chugach Range and particularly McHugh, North and South Suicide, and Ptarmigan Peaks.  As Rabbit Creek flows towards Turnagain Arm, it is joined by two major tributaries, Elmore Creek and Little Rabbit Creek . The Rabbit Creek Watershed is 14.3 sq. mi.  (37.0 sq. km.).  The major threat to Rabbit Creek is development on the lower and upper Hillside.  Rabbit Creek was a local name recorded by the USGS in 1906 (Orth 1971), however, the Dena’ina name is Ggeh Betnu or “Rabbit Creek.”  The Dena’ina called Rabbit Lake Ggeh Bena [Rabbit Lake].  Interestingly, McHugh Peak was called Q’isqa Dghelaya  or “Banjo Snowshoe Mountain,” and the Suicide Peaks may have been called Ulchena Tich’qiluqt or “Where We Killed Alutiiq People” as a battle was fought in the area.   The English names for McHugh, North and South Suicide, and Ptarmigan Peaks were local names recorded by the Army Map Service in 1912.


Rabbit Creek near mouth at Potter Marsh Boardwalk

Little Rabbit Creek

Little Rabbit Creek is the largest tributary of Rabbit Creek and is approximately 25.7 mi. (41.4  km.) long. Its headwaters are from McHugh Peak. The Little Rabbit Creek watershed has an area of 6.1 sq. mi. (15.8 sq. mi.).   Little Rabbit Creek was a local name recorded by the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey (USC&G) in 1912 (Orth 1971), probably derived from it being a tributary of Rabbit Creek.  No Dena’ina name was listed in Kari, et al. (2006).  It is another one of Anchorage’s jewel streams, even though there is considerable development along some of its banks.

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Little Rabbit Creek east of Potter Marsh

Little Survival Creek

Little Survival Creek starts in the hillside east of Potter Marsh, which is now primarily an up-scale housing development.  The creek is 11.2 mi. (18.0 km.), and the creek’s watershed is 2.9 sq. mi. (7.5 sq. km.).  It is said that Little Survival Creek’s name comes from the importance of the creek to the survival of Potter Marsh.   

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Little Survival Creek

Eagle River

The headwater of Eagle River is the Eagle Glacier in Chugach State Park. It flows northwest for forty miles (64 km) down the previously glaciated Eagle River Valley into Eagle Bay on the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet. The mouth of Eagle River is about nine miles (14 km) northeast of downtown Anchorage and is on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, a military installation. On its course from headwaters to Knik Arm, Eagle River insects the Iditarod National Historic Trail. The river is composed of three forks: Main Stem, North Fork, and South Fork. The Upper Cook Inlet Dena’ina inhabited the Eagle River Valley where they hunted moose, Dall sheep, and small game, as well as fished for salmon and other fish. The Dena’ina had a plethora of places named around area.  Some of them include Eagle River, which is Nuk’elehitnu (“Fish run again Creek” and Scout Luther Kelly collected the name in 1898), Nuk’elehitnu Kaq is the mouth of the river; and Nuk’elehitnu Łia (Glacier of Fish Run Again River) is Eagle Glacier. 


N. Fork Eagle River



Kari, J., J.A. Fall and S. Pete.  2003.  Shem Peter’s Alaska: The Territory of the Upper Cook Inlet Dena’ina.  Fairbanks, AK: Univ. of Alaska Press.


Kelly, L.S.  1900.  Subreport of Luther S. Kelly.  In Compilation of Narratives of the Exploration of Alaska, pp. 684-686.  Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office`


Mendenhall, W.C.  1900.  Reconnaissance from Resurrection Bay to the Tanana River, Alaska, in 1898.  U.S. Geological Survey Annual Report 20(7):265-340.


Orth, D.J. 1971.  Dictionary of Alaska Place Names.  Geological Survey Professional Paper 567.  Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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