Gates of the Arctic National Park’s iconic backpack trip. The headwaters of the Alatna and Noatak Rivers are 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 trip combines with our Noatak Canoe Trip. Discounts apply if you join both trips. Contact us for details.
This is a classic route, though rarely traveled and we think it is one of the finest backpacking trips in the Brooks Range for its varied scenery and outstanding wildlife encounters.
Our backpack begins on a high plateau near the Arctic Divide where towering peaks loom dark above large glacial lakes. This route follows the gray gravels of the headwater creeks of the Alatna River deep into the mountains past innumerable waterfalls and crags into an area of broad plateaus and alpine lakes.
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 moderately 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 1,000-foot climb over the pass, and the rest of the route is alpine terrain. The footing is mostly good, but the first and last days 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.
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 sprawling lake, we’ll hike a short distance to the best camp we can find. We can use the rest of the evening to explore the plateau.
We have about thirty five 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, a lake shining blue, beneath white- and cream-colored bluffs covered with sage. Weather permitting, we’ll meet the floatplane for our flight back to town and a hot shower!
If you are staying with us for the Noatak Canoe Trip, enjoy a relaxing day by the lake. You’ve earned it.
Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks
Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils, water filter
Safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Personal clothing, gear, backpack, and tent. See full equipment list.
Gratuity for guide(s)
Rental equipment is available through Arctic Wild.
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.