Alaska backpacking tours are an opportunity to travel lightly through the Arctic wilderness. These guided trips offer a chance to appreciate the landscape step by step, and to experience the arctic at your own pace.
With spectacular destinations like the Romanzof Mountains and Gates of the Arctic National Park you will be as delighted by the Brooks Range scenery as you are by our professional guides.
Summer in the Brooks Range is serene with daylight as our constant and companion. The complete lack of darkness frees us of a time-oriented schedule and so we eat when hungry, walk when inspired, and sleep when the sun circles lazily along the northern horizon. Backpacking in the Brooks Range is an adventure.
What to Expect from Alaska Backpacking
Backpacking in Alaska is always an adventure. We frequently use streams as highways, as do the migrating wildlife. There are vast gravel bars where we can take long strides and take in the magnificent views of the mountains. There are dry ridges where we will feel as if we are walking amongst the clouds.
Backpacking in Alaska, and especially in the Brooks Range, is an off-trail experience, so a 6-mile day leaves us happily tired but with some energy left over for exploring near camp. We will typically travel around 35 miles over 8 days with one or two days devoted to hiking without our packs, watching wildlife, or just enjoying the beauty of the Brooks Range from camp.
Alaska Backpacking Preparation
While Alaska backpacking is appropriate for both experienced backpackers and newcomers in good shape, it is a very good idea to have some experience with overnight backpacking prior to the trip. Each hiker will get 15-20 pounds of food and community gear to carry, expect to start the trip with a pack weighing close to 50 pounds.
Conditioning is highly recommended for everyone. We recommend walking as often as possible with 25-30 pounds in your backpack. Use the boots you will be hiking in. A couple weeks before your trip, add weight until your pack weighs 40-45 pounds. You can alternate this with the Stairmaster or bike riding. The better condition you are in, the more you will enjoy your backpacking trip.
On the northern edge of the continent where the Brooks Range nearly meets the Arctic Ocean, caribou amass in great herds at the end of June. This scenic backpacking trip traverses one of their favorite areas. Join us on our hike from the mountains to the sea.
In the far north of Alaska where the sun circles the sky in June and trees seem like a distant memory, lies the famed Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This summer we will hike from the edge of the mountains across the flower covered coastal plain and out to the Arctic Ocean crossing 30 miles of some of the wildest and most remote land in America.
We start our trip in the mountains, where colorful ridges and cliffs of folded rock tower above our camp. With plenty of time to reach our final destination we can dawdle a bit here where the topography is dramatic and we will take time to climb a small peak for views of our route to the sea. After a day and a half of backpacking through the canyons and exploring in the hills, we will emerge into the big-sky country of the coastal plain where the tundra is etched from millennia of caribou migrations.
The coastal plain is a place like no other. Enormous, austere, mysterious, inspiring, and occasionally a bit intimidating in its vastness and unfamiliarity. The scenery is subtle with rolling tundra hills and broad gravel flats but at a walking speed there is no end to the delights we may find. From the variety of wildflowers, to ground patterned by the relentless ice, to the delight in finding an Arctic Fox den on a bluff above the creek each day is full of wonder and delight. Unlike much of the coastal plain, the area directly north of the Sadlerochit Mountains where we will hike is dry, with a nearly continuous blanket of wild-flowers covering the rolling hills making for decent hiking.
As we traverse the coastal plain we will get glimpses of the sea-ice to the north. At times an arctic mirage called “fata morgana” will make the ice appear far above the horizon. As the light changes both day and night the coastal plain transforms, perhaps disappearing into the fog, maybe blazingly bright in 24 hour sun.
Our final full day of the trip includes a day-hike to the Arctic Coast, where we are likely to find great rafts of eiders and other sea-ducks feeding amongst the sea-ice. We may find polar bear tracks on the beach, whale bones, or artifacts from Inupiat fish camps both modern and ancient. If you are brave you can even take a swim!
With luck, we will cross paths with the migrating Porcupine Caribou Herd, numbering nearly 200,000 at last count. For the last 4 summers caribou have gathered by the thousands north of the Sadlerochit Mountains at the end of June. In 2016 we watched them stream through our camp for 2 days straight! We could never predict what the caribou will do next June, but if the pattern holds we could find ourselves hiking with the herd across the coastal plain. Imagine waking in the night, the sun low in the north, to the sound of a thousand clicking hooves. Where there are caribou, there are those animals who live from their unwariness: wolves and grizzly bears. And where the two join, there are scavengers like fox, wolverine, and ravens. This is a trip with excellent potential for wildlife encounters. It is a great hike with or without caribou, but we will keep our fingers crossed and our eyes peeled.
Hiking in the arctic is an “off-trail” experience, so a six-mile day can take as long and be as taxing as ten miles in other parts of the world. The footing is a mix of dry tundra benches and gravel bars with various kinds of wet tundra mixed in. We will have to contend with some tussock fields but mostly the walking is flat and gravely. There are no sustained elevation gains or losses except on the day-hikes. This is a good trip for both experienced backpackers and newcomers in good shape who are willing to push themselves. Experience with overnight backpacking prior to the trip is highly recommended. Each hiker will get 15-20 pounds of food and community gear to carry. Due to the small party size and the trip’s duration, expect to start the trip with a pack weighing no less than 40 pounds.
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide for a pre-trip meeting at 4pm in Fairbanks at Arctic Wild headquarters.
Our final camp and the airstrip where we will meet the plane is several miles from the coast. We ought to arrive at this camp at the end of the 27th and be able to day-hike to the coast on the 28th, enjoying a long day of exploration without packs and returning to our camp inland of the coastal fog belt to meet the pilot on the 29th.
From our camp by the Katakturok River we pack up early and begin listening for our airplane. When it arrives we reluctantly load our gear and ourselves for the flight back through Arctic Village and on to Fairbanks, arriving late in the afternoon.
If you are eager for even more time in the Arctic Refuge, this trip can combine with our Canning to the Coast canoe trip which starts the following day. Contact us for details and discounts for combining trips.
Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks
Food while in the wilderness
Stoves, cooking & eating utensils, water filter, safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Personal clothing and gear, backpack, tent
Fishing gear, and fishing license
Gratuity for guide(s)
Rental equipment is available through Arctic Wild. See complete equipment list.
Temperatures vary dramatically in the Arctic and can range from the 20-80 degrees F. Temperatures could be hot in the river valleys under the 24 hour sun but as we get close to the Arctic Coast it will be cooler or downright cold. There could be mosquitoes but usually the wind keeps them down. Bring DEET and a head net in case it is calm, warm and damp.