Caribou Migration Backpack

Caribou Migration Backpack


June 20, 2025 - June 27, 2025


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)





June 20, 2025 - June 27, 2025


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)



Caribou amass in great herds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in late June. This scenic backpacking trip follows their ancient paths across the tundra to the northern edge of the Brooks Range.



In the far north of Alaska where the sun circles the June sky and trees seem like a distant memory, the Brooks Range rises from the coastal plain with ridge after rocky ridge.

We start our trip near the northern edge of the Brooks Range where colorful ridges and cliffs of folded marine sediments tower above our camp. These are amongst the oldest rocks in the region, fossil-rich, and fascinating. With plenty of time to reach our final destination we can dawdle a bit here and learn about the natural history of the Arctic.

Soon enough we will shoulder packs, following caribou trails heading northwest towards the famed coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. We follow the caribou trails etched into blooming hillsides and walk along the cobble bars crossing the creek and crossing again in search of the best footing. Dall sheep and bears are common in the high country and we may see small bands of caribou, mostly bulls following the same trails we walk upon.

Hiking west, we emerge from the mountains and get our first views of the coastal plain stretching to the Arctic Ocean beyond. From this new vantage we can climb a ridge and if the weather is right we can see the gleaming ice on the ocean to the north.

Then we descend into a new and lovely river valley. Once we find a place to ford and are safely on the other side, we find long sandbars where the hiking is good and skirt the willow thickets where the walking is more challenging. Moose winter in these valleys and their sign is abundant. We may also see ptarmigan, red fox, wolf and if very lucky, wolverine. The area is very rarely visited by hikers. The only tracks we see are left by wildlife.


Eventually we climb out of the wildlife rich valley back onto the ridges where the vistas are endless and we can again see the coastal plain and the sky yawns in all directions. The combination of endless daylight and seemingly endless space is intoxicating.

The further north we get the more likely we are to see large groups of caribou feeding on the greening tundra, nursing young calves, and always walking and bleating. Many years they favor areas at the edge of the mountains so we will plan to spend a few days here among the last hills looking and hoping to see caribou.

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 is a single mountain pass to cross and several stream crossings so expect tired legs and wet boots daily.

This is a good trip for both experienced backpackers and newcomers to Alaska 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 45 pounds.

Last updated: January 9, 2024


What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.

June 19

Meet your guide for a pre-trip meeting at 4pm in Fairbanks at Arctic Wild headquarters.

June 20

Fly north from Fairbanks across the mighty Yukon River and over the Arctic Circle. Land in Arctic Village, a Gwich’in settlement of about 100 people.
From there, we fly over the Brooks Range into the Arctic Refuge. Once our link to civilization wings back south, we will setup camp, and take a hike to stretch our legs. Welcome to the Arctic!

June 21- 26

We have thirty miles to hike and time enough to get there. The route zigzags between mountains from east to west, emerging onto the coastal plain to hike on the epic caribou trails and search for the herds, and then returning to the complicated topography of the Brooks Range’s northernmost peaks.
When we intersect with wildlife we will stop and watch, enjoying the company of wild-things. This route intersects an area that sees tens of thousands of caribou most summers and chances of seeing big groups of caribou are very good.
A highlight of the trip will be a hike up a mountain for views of the Arctic Coast to the north.
On moving days, we’ll walk about 8 miles, which will keep us on our feet for about 6 hours. With the endless daylight this leaves ample time for exploration and relaxation. There will be good hiking from every camp, whether it’s up a peak, or out looking for wildlife in the flats.  At any time, we could see thousands of caribou, a grizzly bear or two, a wolf, or other arctic wildlife. We will see wildlife, and plenty of birds so keep your binoculars at the ready.

June 20

If everything goes according to plan we will see the bush-plane early in the afternoon. If the weather cooperates you will be back to Fairbanks in time for a late dinner and can begin exaggerating about the trip.


Stellar guides!

They went above and beyond the typical guide responsibilities and there was never a demarcation between guide and client–we were one pack of unruly rabble-rousers, loving every breathtaking minute on that wild river.  One of the best trips of my life.
Thank you!

- Nancy, Indiana, USA



Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks

Food while in the wilderness

Stoves, cooking & eating utensils, water filter, safety & repair gear

Professional guide service

Select Camping Equipment is available through Arctic Wild


Non-camp lodging

Non-camp meals

Personal clothing and gear. See complete equipment list.

Fishing gear, and fishing license

Gratuity for guide(s)


Temperatures vary dramatically in the Arctic and can range from 20-80 degrees. Temperatures could be hot in the river valleys under the 24 hour sun, but up on the ridges it will be cooler or downright cold. There could be a few mosquitoes but the trip. Bring DEET and a head-net just in case.



Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by Alaska Geographic

Being Caribou by Karsten Heuer

Midnight Wilderness by Debbie Miller

More Alaska reading is available at our bookstore

"The wilderness was spectacular, the leadership perfect."
"I am just finishing my tenth trip with you guys. As always, the trip was more than I expected and I had a great time. See you next year!"
"Of all outfitters with whom we have worked (and that is quite a number), you were by far the most organized and responsive."
"That feeling of wide open wonder, the possibilities for nearly limitless wandering, and the image of those proud caribou...that will stay with me a long time"
"Our guide was an encyclopedia on legs. He was always willing and ready to teach, to talk, to listen, to do another hike, or to lie low in camp if we were beat. He truly gave us the trip we wanted!"
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Eileen - Canning River