Each and every summer the Porcupine Caribou Herd congregates in northern Alaska for one of the world’s most inspiring wildlife migrations. By late June, the herd swells to nearly 200,000 animals and we regularly see thousands and even tens of thousands of caribou climbing tundra ridges and swimming icy rivers. It is a thrilling experience to watch a valley fill with caribou. The sound of 60,000 caribou walking through your camp cannot be described.
But because arctic Alaska is so vast and the caribou vary their route from year to year, it can be difficult to plan a trip to see this wildlife spectacle. Their movements are affected by snow depth, temperature, insect abundance and wind direction to name just a few factors. It is almost impossible to predict where they will be tomorrow never mind next June, but it is not Mission: Impossible… it is Mission: Caribou! We have a plan to get you into the herd.
Before your arrival we will be gathering information from pilots, biologists and others in the field. On the day your trip begins, together with our bush pilot, we will decide on the best place to set up our base camp. One summer we had 40,000 caribou pass by our camp for three days! Being around that many caribou also means we have an excellent chance of seeing large predators such as wolves, bears and wolverines, even Golden Eagles, soaring overhead looking for caribou calves to eat.
While we never could guarantee that we will hit the big migration, this trip will give you your best shot. The focus of this trip is to see large groups of caribou, but you will also be in one of the most beautiful places on the planet! The wildflowers will be in full bloom, the hundreds of species of migrating birds will have returned and we hope the mosquitoes will have not yet hatched. It’s a wonderful time to be in the Arctic with or without the caribou.
With 24 hours of daylight and nearly limitless wilderness all around, there is no end to the exploration we can do. Each day we will head off in a different direction seeking wildlife and vistas. How far you choose to hike each day is largely up to you, but the more you can hike, the more wildlife you are likely to see.
There is an old saying in the Arctic which translates into “No one knows the way of the wind or the caribou” which hints at the difficulty of finding caribou. There are certainly no guarantees on a trip like this, but the search is always rewarding.
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet with your guide for a pre-trip meeting at 4 pm in Fairbanks at Arctic Wild headquarters.
We fly from Fairbanks to the tiny Gwich’in Athabascan village of Arctic Village where we meet with our bush pilot and decide where we should fly to put ourselves in the path of the migrating caribou.
We spend our time exploring the area looking for caribou and other wildlife. Your guide will lead hikes in hopes we can place ourselves in a hidden location in the path of the caribou. There will be times when no caribou are present, but there is no end to the beauty of the arctic.
Weather permitting, we move our camp to a new location in the Arctic Refuge. Perhaps our first guess about where the herds would be was off and we will try again to get you into the aggregation, or perhaps you have had a couple days with the caribou and want to see a different landscape.
Another full day to enjoy the solitude and beauty of North America’s greatest wilderness. More hiking and wildlife watching is the order of the day.
We say our last goodbyes and meet our bush pilot for our flight back to Fairbanks for hot showers and a soft bed. Weather permitting we arrive back in Fairbanks for a late dinner.
Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks to the Arctic Refuge
Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils
Safety & repair gear
Professional guide service.
Personal clothing and gear
Gratuity for guide
Rental equipment is available through Arctic Wild. See full equipment list.
Temperatures vary from the 70’s to below freezing. Snow is possible; rain is likely. However, this time of the year we generally have lots of sunny weather. There could be bugs, so bring a mosquito head net and a small bottle of DEET repellent just in case.
Seasons of Life and Land by Shubanker Banjeeri; Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by Alaska Geographic; Being Caribou by Karsten Heuer; Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez; Midnight Wilderness by Debbie Miller; Caribou & the Barren-Lands by George Calef; Fifty Years Below Zero by Charles Brown. You may also find this link of interest- Porcupine Herd Movements Animation. More Alaska reading available at our bookstore.