Alaska rafting trips in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge allow you to take in great sweeps of the Alaska wilderness with relative ease. From the Kongakut River to the Charley River, Arctic Wild has the perfect Alaska rafting trip for you.
What to Expect from Our Rafting Trips
On our Brooks Range rafting trips we generally use 12 foot-long paddle-rafts. Each raft includes an Arctic Wild guide and either two or three paddlers. We plan our Alaska rafting trips for maximum wildlife viewing and scenery.
Generally our river trips are better suited for those seeking a wilderness experience rather than an adrenaline rush. If you are looking for an Alaska whitewater rafting trip,with Class II or Class III rapids, consider the Hulahula, or the Charley River trips.
On “travel days”, everyone works as a team to load and unload the rafts and maneuver safely down the river. Paddle-rafts allow every passenger to be actively involved in navigating and rafting the river. Some days may have challenging whitewater rafting but there is always ample time allowed for leisurely picnic lunches and exploration. Our Alaska rafting trips frequently include one, two, or three layover days, spent hiking, relaxing, or both.
How to Prepare for Alaska Rafting
No experience or training is necessary to enjoy an Alaska rafting trip, though being in decent shape physically will increase your enjoyment of the experience. Whether preparing for a float down the Kongakut River or one of our whitewater rafting adventures, we will provide you with advice on personal equipment, reading lists or anything else you need to make your Alaska adventure safe and fun.
The Kongakut is a beautiful river offering a great variety of landscapes and arctic wildlife. If you only have one opportunity to visits the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Kongakut is the perfect choice.
The Kongakut is best known for the reliability with which it treats visitors to incredible wildlife encounters. Each year some 200,000 caribou from the Porcupine caribou herd migrate north across passes in the Brooks Range to their calving grounds on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. By late June, the caribou begin to aggregate in great numbers north of the Brooks Range. As they move shoulder to shoulder, they shape one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in North America. On previous trips we have been literally surrounded by caribou. We estimate that we have seen 20 or 30 thousand caribou in a single day. It is an awe inspiring spectacle that leaves one speechless and exhilarated.
We start our raft trip on the northern edge of the Brooks Range. Our first few days will be spent exploring the mountains, gaining spectacular vistas from the flanks of Whale Mountain. Paddling north from the peaks on this clear fast river, we enter a region of alternately rugged and rounded foothills with excellent views of the Brooks Range to the south and the Arctic Ocean to the north. From there we enter an evocative stretch of the Coastal Plain. As we paddle across the Coastal Plain and into the Kongakut’s delta, we have ever-widening views of the Brooks Range stretching away to the east and west.
In its lower reaches, the Kongakut fans out into an extraordinary prairie of rocks, low vegetation, ice and water. We pick our way through a maze of river braids to a massive freshwater ice field (aufeis) that appears to block the way, acting as gates to the Arctic Ocean beyond. Blue ice, clear water, gray gravel and the endless sky. Our time on the coast presents a unique opportunity to explore this storied region. Tent rings, old sod houses and relics from the whaling area dot the coast. View its wildlife, be awe-struck by the vivid light of the midnight sun, or walk onto the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean. In addition to caribou, we may also see wolves, grizzly bears, musk oxen, and an array of birds and wildflowers. The famed and ferocious wolverine inhabits the area, but is among the rarest of sightings.
This is a leisurely-paced trip. No experience is necessary to paddle the raft, as instruction is provided. Everyone joins in the fun of paddling under the guidance of an experienced raft captain. The Kongakut is a fast-moving river with multiple braided channels. We may need to get out and walk the rafts in shallow places. The coast is often breezy if not windy, meaning we may have to paddle steadily for several hours.
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet with your guide(s) for a pre-trip meeting at 4 pm in Fairbanks at Arctic Wild headquarters.
Fly north from Fairbanks across the mighty Yukon River and over the Arctic Circle. Land in the Athabascan Indian settlement of Arctic Village, population 120. Time allowing, tour the village before boarding our bush plane for the last leg into the wilderness. Once the plane goes, we are on our own in the immense and quiet landscape.
At any time during the week, we could see caribou, a grizzly bear or two, a wolf, or other arctic wildlife. On paddling days, we’ll travel from 6 to 8 hours per day. We will pull ashore several times each day for brief forays, lunch, or to watch wildlife. At day’s end, we’ll choose a nice dry camp. There will be free time for group and personal pursuits each and every day. Evenings and mornings are good times to explore our surroundings. Guides will lead informal natural history hikes, but you are also welcome to go off on your own.
We usually plan three or four “layover days” on the Kongakut. Our first day-hikes will be in the vicinity of Whale Mountain. This area affords us great opportunities for gaining elevation, admiring wildflowers covering the slopes, and hopefully watching Dall sheep.
We will take another layover before we leave the foothills, where we’ll climb tall slopes for a panoramic view of the arctic. From the broad summits of these 2,000-foot maroon-colored foothills we can survey the breadth of the Brooks Range and the arctic Coastal Plain all the way to the Arctic Ocean.
Time permitting, we’ll also take a layover on the Coastal Plain to walk the tundra expanses colored in cream by Dryas flowers. We often see Tundra Swans on nests in the shimmering distance and caribou gathered on aufeis.
Our final layover will be on the arctic coast. Hiking along the beaches is excellent and a pretty good workout. Depending on sea ice conditions, we may be able to climb an icy “pressure ridge” formed by the frozen Arctic Ocean.
Await the arrival of our bush pilot, who will land on the beach. We will fly south across the breadth of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Weather permitting, we arrive back in Fairbanks by dinner time.
Transportation from Fairbanks, food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils, boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear and professional guide service.
Lodging, non-camp meals, personal clothing and gear, 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. Temperatures range from the 20s to 80s even in a single day. Cold rains and snow are possible, but we get lots of warm sunny weather this time of the year. As we get closer to the Arctic Ocean temperatures will drop as will the insects. Right on the coast we will encounter strong winds and cold temperatures. There will be bugs on this trip! Traveling with insect repellent (DEET) and a head-net is prudent.