The Alatna River is like no other and is the perfect place for an introduction to Gates of the Arctic National Park. The rich and beautiful valley winds through the Brooks Range and skirts the edge of the iconic Arrigetch Peaks.
We will begin our trip adjacent to, and within sight of the Arrigetch Peaks which as their translated name implies do jut from the Alatna valley like fingers reaching for the cold arctic sky. Here deep in the Brooks Range and almost a hundred miles from the nearest road we feel the solace of wilderness and begin to learn about the complexities of arctic ecology.
The Arrigetch Peaks themselves are beyond our reach but there is plenty of good hiking to beckon us to climb up through the boreal forest into the high country. Dall sheep, wolves, bears, moose and caribou inhabit the area and we may see them moving quietly in the woods or walking high on the ridgelines above the river.
The river itself is lovely with colorful rocks and clear waters flanked by the greens of spruce and tundra. Its single channel sweeps across a broad floodplain, swinging west and carving cliffs at the foot of the mountains before wandering back to the east past oxbow lakes and willow flats littered with animal sign.
Gates of the Arctic in the autumn is rich with wild berries. Blueberries are a daily treat and the densest patches attract bears, birds, porcupine, and other wildlife all trying to fatten up for the long winter ahead. We don’t know what wildlife we may see in the boreal forest but we will keep the spotting scope at the ready and our eyes peeled.
Canoeing the Alatna is the best way to traverse this part of Gates of the Arctic. The river here is simultaneously swift and serene, providing an efficient path through the wilderness and an excellent place to discover the joys of canoe camping in the Arctic. Your guides will provide instruction on the fine points of paddling a canoe and the current will provide much of the propulsion.
This 60 mile paddling trip through Gates of the Arctic brings us from the higher peaks of the Brooks Range, into the dramatically folded sedimentary peaks, rich with marine fossils, of the southern foothills, and finally to the edge of the wildlife rich Koyukuk flats as summer turns to fall. The last week of August is typically the peak of fall colors and we expect the birches to burn brilliantly yellow above the crimson berry bushes. With the return of autumn darkness we have chances to witness the Aurora borealis dancing above the Brooks Range. It is a lovely time of year.
Gates of the Arctic National Park is 19 million acres and protected by law. Unfortunately, there is a proposal to build an industrial road across the southern portion of the park to access the Ambler Mining District. The proposed Ambler Road would bring irreparable harm to the region and its residents. We will paddle the Alatna River to near the proposed road and can discuss the project and our efforts to keep the area as wild as it currently is.
The Alatna is a good place to improve canoe skills and is a fairly easy canoe trip. But all wilderness travel is challenging and high water or storms could make paddling the Alatna more challenging. If you don’t have any canoe experience, we highly encourage you to take a canoe class before joining the fun.