We think the Wind River is the finest rafting trip on the south side of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Starting on the open tundra, it flows beneath limestone spires, past glacial lakes, and through the boreal forests of northern Alaska. Experience the grandeur of wilderness and the excitement of river travel on this clear and beautiful river. The Wind River offers a great mix of river rafting, hiking, fishing, and wildlife.
The Wind River, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, offers the wilderness traveler a little of everything. Flowing clear from the peaks of the Brooks Range, we start this rafting trip high in the tundra, where the views are nearly endless and the mountains beckon exploration. We have a couple days to enjoy the headwaters of this valley, embracing the last days of summer and the broad mountains all around.
As we paddle the middle and lower river, we descend, negotiating small rapids and entering the northern boreal forest. This enchanting forest is home to wildlife typical of arctic Alaska such as grizzly bears and caribou. This country also hosts wildlife more typical of the great interior forests such as beaver, black bear, moose, and lynx. We delight in the view of rock faces striated in red, orange, gray, white, and black. Limestone mountains hang over the valley, providing striking contrast with the dark green forests.
These limestone mountains make for great hiking and are pocked with caves. These caves provide refuge for Dall Sheep and in days past provided shelter for ancient human hunters too. Moose are exceptionally abundant in the lakes near the river. These clear lakes host migrating waterfowl, as well as northern pike and lake trout. Snowy, Great Gray and Northern Hawk Owls have been spotted here, along with many other arctic and boreal bird species. Caribou from the Porcupine Herd flow through the valley on their way south to wintering grounds each fall. If the timing of their migration coincides with our trip it is quite a sight. Along with the caribou come predators: wolves, grizzly bears, and if we are lucky, the elusive wolverine.
Mid-August is the start of autumn in the arctic and a lovely time to be in the wilderness. We will have layover days to hike, fish, or just hang out. Well-drained slopes north of the river provide some excellent hiking opportunities; gradual ridges carry the adventurous hiker towards the peaks and spectacular views in all directions. We can find huge patches of blueberries and gorge like the bears.
The river is alternately fast and rocky and calm and sandy. Whichever mood the river chooses is captivating. This is a moderately difficult river trip. There are several sections with Class II and III rapids, and stretches of standing waves and boulder gardens. In other areas the river splays out into uncountable channels and we will need to walk a short way before resuming our journey down-river. It’s all part of the fun and adventure of wilderness travel. No experience is required for paddle-rafting, as instruction is provided. Everyone joins in the fun of paddling the boats under the guidance of a raft captain.
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide(s) for a pre-trip meeting in Fairbanks at 4 pm at Arctic Wild headquarters.
Leaving Fairbanks we fly 300 miles, over the Yukon River, to the small town of Coldfoot. We then catch a smaller plane for a spectacular flight to the Wind River. We set up camp and enjoy our first night in the wilderness.
After inflating our rafts and talking about river safety, we set off onto the Wind—a small, clear river. We spend the next week enjoying this little river, as well as exploring our surroundings on layover days. The last few days of paddling promise steady and fun white water as this steep little river races towards the Chandalar River. Once past the confluence with the East Fork of the Chandalar River, we enjoy a day of floating this broad clear river and then pull over at the appointed gravel bar, where our pilot will meet us.
Weather permitting, we catch our plane back to “civilization”. Hot showers are in order!
Transportation beyond 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, 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 dramatically in the Arctic. Temperatures range from the 20s to 70s. When the wind comes from the north, the temperature can drop to below freezing. Cold rains and snow are possible, but mostly, “bad weather” might come in the form of rain. Most years mid-August is an easy time to be on the river. Mosquito season should be over but bring a small bottle of DEET repellent just in case.