A custom trip begins with a dream. Yours. A desire to camp amongst the great herds of caribou in the Arctic. To climb high into the Arrigetch Peaks, to photograph bears in Katmai National Park…the options in Alaska are exquisite and limitless. For the wilderness traveler there is no better destination.
We take designing your custom wilderness trip seriously. With decades of experience, exhaustive knowledge of the landscape and wildlife, and an extensive network of pilots, boat captains and guides, each itinerary is tailored exactly to your specific dreams.
The process starts with your desires, the size of your group or family, your expectations, your budget and your abilities. Our role is to advise, inspire, listen, and finally to transform your dreams into reality. We can share with you what is possible and help you craft the ultimate Alaska adventure.
All of our trips are "off the beaten path", true wilderness expeditions. A custom trip can be one of our scheduled trips on dates of your choosing and exclusive to your group, or an entirely new and unique itinerary just for you. We work with groups from 1 person to 10 people but 4 to 6 is often the best. Browse through the list of custom trips we have done in the past or give us a call and tell us about your big Alaska dreams. We can help make them happen. From a family friendly base camp to true exploration in the farthest reaches of Alaska.
Wildlife trips: Our experienced guides can help you find wildlife whether it be caribou, polar bears, blue-throats, grey-headed chickadees, or musk oxen.
Photography trips: Wildlife photography, landscape photography, film or art. We have worked with professional and amateur photographers from around the world. Let us help you get the shot.
Film or Science Support: In addition to "fun trips" we also provided guide services and logistical support for field projects big and small.
Skills training: Need to improve your wilderness skills? We can provide field courses, skill specific classes in Fairbanks or a combination of the two. Rafting or canoeing workshops, navigation seminars, wilderness safety.... the list goes on. We have the experience to teach you.
Family and youth trips: We love seeing young people enjoying the wilderness. Though we haven't had any clients under the age of 7, we take our own toddlers to the Brooks Range regularly. We can plan a trip that will be safe and fun for people of any age.
The Kelly River is a little-known, yet spectacular, clear flowing river that flows from the DeLong Mountains in one of the wildest parts of Alaska. Explore the wilds of the Brooks Range with seven days of rafting and fishing on this unsung jewel of a river.
The Kelly River is a little-visited river that flows south out of the peaks of the DeLong Mountains in the western Brooks Range and ends at its confluence with the famed Noatak River. We will paddle the entire length of the river and several miles on the Noatak. In addition to canoeing, there will be plenty of time to explore, and the hiking, fishing, birding, and wildlife watching will keep us smiling through-out.
The entire watershed of the Noatak, including the Kelly River, is protected within the Noatak National Preserve, one of largest protected areas in the country. It’s a sprawling, roadless wilderness of mountains, rivers, lakes, and rolling tundra hills. The Kelly begins as a series of small rocky creeks flowing from dramatic mountains with names like Inaccessible Ridge and Copter Peak. As we descend the Kelly River, the tundra will slowly be populated with spruce trees, until in the final days we are surrounded by boreal forest. Observing this change over the course of the trip is one of it many pleasures.
This trip is at the peak of summer. Bears are busy gaining weight, caribou are steadily marching southward, and the tundra is lush and green. Char should be spawning in the river. Some years thousands of fish run up the Kelly River and the fishing can be fantastic. In addition to Char we can expect to find grayling and pike. In the lower reaches of the river, chum salmon could be showing up and we may be lucky enough to hook into a nice big bright salmon for dinner one night.
After flying up the river and accessing water levels we will land at the upper limit of navigability. Here we’ll start our paddling trip, still well north of tree-line and heading south towards the expansive Noatak Valley. The next morning we’ll assemble our boats, load up, and after an instructional session, head down river. As we raft down the Kelly, we’ll keep our eyes open for the valley’s wildlife: grizzly bears, caribou, moose, foxes, and wolves. Some years great numbers of caribou use the Kelly River Valley as a preferred route south to wintering grounds in the boreal forest.
The river starts small and grows with each incoming side creek. Though there are no rapids per se, the river is quick in spots and offers some fun challenges. Your guide will steer the raft and offer pointers on how to safely navigate the ever-changing river. As the river grows, the fishing improves.
Our last camp will be on a huge gravel bar on the Noatak. There, we’ll pack our boats, and set up our tents for the final time. After one more night listening to river sounds, weather permitting, a bush plane will arrive to whisk us back to Kotzebue.
This is a fairly easy river trip in terms of mileage and distance covered, but you can fish, hike, explore, and bird-watch until you’re worn out. The Kelly flows along with current enough to keep us moving, but if the wind blows opposite the current we will have to work to reach each day’s end. The trip is suitable for beginning or experienced paddlers and can be done as a canoe trip or as a rafting trip depending upon your experience and preference.
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide in the evening for a pre-trip meeting in Kotzebue.
We fly north from the Chukchi Coast at Kotzebue across the Noatak Valley and into the DeLong Mountains. Following the Kelly River from above, we assess water levels and choose the optimal starting location for the trip. Once the plane is unloaded and departed, we are alone in the vast wilderness. We may have to carry our gear across the tundra to access the river but once we are river-side we will set-up a comfortable camp and enjoy the area.
We spend the day exploring in the headwaters of the Kelly River on foot. Long tundra ridges beckon and the views are endless. After a day of hiking we will assemble the boats, review river safety, and prepare for the following day’s paddle.
The Kelly’s clear waters pull us steadily south. The river starts quite small and there are shallows to negotiate. As the river grows it courses against small rocky bluffs and out into vast gravel plains. Though there are no rapids, the river is swift enough to help hone our skills. Each day will offer a mix of paddling, hiking, fishing and relaxing. With only 50 miles to cover in the trip, it is a relatively leisurely affair with plenty of time of exploration and wildlife viewing.
From the banks of the Noatak we pack-up camp and, weather permitting, meet our pilot for the flight back to Kotzebue arriving in the evening.
Transportation beyond Kotzebue, food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils, boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear and professional guide service. Rental gear is included in the price of the trip.
Non-camp lodging, non-camp meals, personal clothing and gear, fishing gear, and fishing license. Gratuity for guides. See full equipment list.
Temperatures vary from the 60’s to below freezing even in the same day. Snow is possible; rain is likely. There could be some bugs around but the worst of the insect season has passed. Bring a head-net and DEET.
Land of Extremes, Alex Huryn; We Live in the Arctic, Constance Helmericks; Arctic Wild, Lois Crisler; Ordinary WolvesSeth Kantner; Alaska Wilderness Robert Marshall; Last Light Breaking Nick Jans; Path of the Paddle, Bill Mason. More Alaska reading is available from our Bookstore.