Gates of the Arctic National Park’s iconic backpack trip. The headwaters of the Noatak is an inviting region of rugged mountains, broad valleys and clear water. Every fall caribou of the Western Arctic Herd make their way through this beautiful area. Join them following timeless trails through the mountains.
This is a new route for us this year, through the rarely traveled and wildly scenic mountains of the Central Brooks Range. We’ve chosen the area for its varied scenery and outstanding wildlife encounters.
Our backpack begins in a high valley near the Arctic Divide where towering peaks loom dark above large glacial crags. This route follows the gray gravels of the headwater creeks, deep into the mountains past innumerable waterfalls and crags into an area of of the highest peaks in Gates of the Arctic.
This remote and rich area is home to a great variety of wildlife and we can expect encounters with all sorts of arctic animals during our week long trek. The high country is home to Dall sheep. Caribou use the creek beds to wind their way through the mountains, and bears gorge in berry thickets. Wolves have been denning along this route for the past three years and we know of no other place in the Brooks Range where you are as likely to see the elusive wolverine.
The scenery is as good as it gets and, being over 150 miles from the nearest village, and twice as far from a road, opportunities for solitude are everywhere.
This is a fairly difficult backpack. Expect to carry a 50-pound pack at the outset, which includes 15-20 pounds of group food and fuel. We will travel about seven miles per day, a total of thirty miles. There is a single, steep 1,500-foot climb over a steep pass, and the rest of the route is alpine terrain. The footing is mostly good, but the last day will be a little brushy and wet. We’ll have at least one layover day to explore and enjoy our surroundings without the burden of our packs.
Last updated: August 6, 2020
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.
Fly north from Fairbanks across the Yukon River to the tiny village of Bettles. After touring both streets in town, we board a small plane and continue on into the Gates of the Arctic National Park. After landing on a gravel landing strip, we’ll hike a short distance to the best camp we can find. We can use the rest of the evening to explore the valley.
We have about thirty miles to go and six full days to cover the distance. Of these, we will take at least one layover day to hike and explore. On moving days, we’ll travel about seven miles, which will keep us on our feet for five to six hours. The day hiking from our campsites will be good. On layover days we can strike out without our heavy packs and climb peaks or enjoy a leisurely day resting in camp and watching the wildlife and light dance around the landscape.
Hike a few miles to our pick-up spot, on the Noatak River. Weather permitting, we’ll meet the charter flight for our scenic trip back to town and a hot shower!
If you are staying with us for the Noatak Canoe Trip, enjoy a relaxing day by the river. You’ve earned it.
Such a joy to spend days where time was meaningless. A wonderful adventure and I would like to return next year for a longer, more challenging trip.
You mentioned to me in an email that you have terrific guides – you do indeed. Dave is a superb guide. He is personable, knowledgeable about the Arctic, and has excellent group management skills. I appreciated the time he spent teaching me to read the map, which is not easy without trails. He allowed Adrian and me to hike at our own pace and he encouraged all of us to explore the area surrounding our campsites. I know the others would concur in my praise.
Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks
Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils, water filter
Safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Weather this time of year is often cool and sometimes stormy, though we can get some awesome clear weather. Precipitation is generally light, and it’s fairly easy to keep comfortably dry. Because it’s the arctic, however, snow is always possible and you can expect temperatures to range from the 30s to the 60s. Because of the cool weather, mosquitoes should be absent but there could still be a few flies so DEET and a head-net are prudent things to pack.