Canoes are the traditional mode of river travel in Alaska. The quiet and simplicity of Alaska river canoeing allows us to take in our surroundings slowly. Canoe trips offer the right speed, freedom and grace for navigating rivers like the Kokolik, and the legendary Yukon River. From Katmai National Park to the Gates of the Arctic and the Western Brooks Range, canoes are a great way to enjoy the wilderness.
What to Expect on an Alaska Canoe Trip
We have a fleet of 16 foot Norwegian made folding canoes and some inflatable canoes. Depending on the size of the group, there will be one or two Arctic Wild guides on each trip, though not in each boat.
On “travel days”, everyone works as a team to make and break camp and maneuver the canoes safely down the river. We plan all of our trips to maximize wildlife viewing and to provide ample time for leisurely picnic lunches, fishing and hiking. Our Alaska river canoe trips frequently include one, two, or three layover days, spent exploring, fishing, bird watching or just enjoying the solitude and silence.
Preparing for your Canoe Adventure
Our guides will provide canoeing instruction throughout the trip, so you do not need to be an expert paddler. Most of the paddling on our wilderness canoe trips is at a relaxed pace and no specific physical training is necessary, but being in decent shape physically will increase your overall enjoyment of the canoe trip. If you are interested in becoming a skilled canoeist prior to the trip, we are happy to arrange a course for you. Please contact us for details.
In the far northwest corner of Alaska near the Chukchi Sea is a seldom traveled river called the Kokolik. We consider it the best canoeing river in Alaska. For 9 out of 10 years our Kokolik river trips have seen tens of thousands of caribou swimming the river. We regularly see bears, wolves and even wolverines on this fantastically remote canoe trip. If your interest is wildlife, this is the trip for you.
Starting from its mountain headwaters, we will paddle north and west toward the ocean through range after range of sweeping ridges and steeply folded valleys. This is rich country and home to Alaska’s largest herd of caribou. At last count, the Western Arctic Herd numbered more than 235,000 animals.
We have timed this trip in hopes of witnessing this magnificent herd move through the area after calving. Not only does this area support enormous numbers of caribou, but it also hosts a great diversity of other wildlife. Caribou herds are attended by an assortment of predators and scavengers, namely brown bears, wolves, and the fabled wolverine. Musk oxen can be seen feeding in the willows of the river terraces. The Utukok Uplands region through which the river flows has the highest density of wolverines in the state.
Bird watching in the area can be spectacular. Asian bird species such as Bluethroats and Northern Wheatears can be seen. Jaegers are ubiquitous and Bristle-thighed Curlews can be found on the rocky ridge lines. On our last foray to the Kokolik River, we saw Golden Eagles, Gyrfalcons, and Rough-legged Hawks nesting along the river.
Hiking along the Kokolik River is wonderful. There are seemingly endless ridges running perpendicular to the river where the footing is good and the views are unbelievable. While not a land of dramatic peak ascents and white water, this is a place of wildlife, beauty, and long vistas. This is the best wildlife trip in arctic Alaska.
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Pre-trip meeting with your guides in Kotzebue at 6:45 pm.
Our trip begins with a flight over the Noatak River and into the Brooks Range. We fly on and on, watching the world’s largest terrestrial wilderness pass below us. We will land on a gravel island along the Kokolik River. After unloading the plane and pitching camp we will have nothing but time to explore this pristine area.
Assemble the boats and head downriver. The upper Kokolik valley hosts not only an abundance of wildlife, but an abundance of fossil life. Coal beds can be reached from the river and marine and terrestrial fossils abound. The river carves its way through the mountains, hugging first the east bank, and then the west. Gravel and sand bars fill the broad floodplain valley. We will only paddle around 10 miles of this clear river on our first day. Our priority will be to make sure everyone feels safe and confident in the boats.
We will mix paddling days with hiking days. We have some miles we must cover but the schedule allows ample time for exploration on foot and leisure time in camp. The river traverses first one mountain range and then another. We will have the opportunity to ascend some of these broad colorful ridges. As we travel north, the river grows from a large creek to a meandering river. There are obstacles to avoid but for the most part we can devote our attention to scenery and wildlife. The river cuts through many small sub-ranges of the Brooks Range. In between each of these ranges are broad valleys where you feel as if you could be swallowed by the sky.
At the appointed gravel bar we will wait for our pilot and then fly back to Kotzebue. Shower!
Round-trip airfare from Kotzebue
Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils
Boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Personal clothing and gear, waterproof river bag
Fishing gear, and fishing license
Gratuity for guide(s)
Rental equipment is available through Arctic Wild. See full equipment list.
Temperatures vary from the 70’s to below freezing. Snow is possible; rain is likely. However, this time of the year we generally have lots of sunny weather. Strong, cold north winds and fog off the Arctic ice pack are not unusual. There could be bugs so bring a mosquito head net and a bottle of DEET repellent.
Being Caribou Karsten Heuer;Land of Extremes, Alex Huryn; People of the Noatak Clair Fejes; Caribou and the Barren Lands George Calef; Ordinary Wolves Seth Kantner; Alaska Wilderness Robert Marshall; Last Light Breaking Nick Jans; Arctic Wild Lois Crisler; Path of the Paddle, Bill Mason. More Alaska reading is available from our Bookstore.