Join Arctic Wild on a wilderness canoe trip in Gates of the Arctic National Park for ten days of canoeing, hiking and wildlife in Alaska’s biggest wilderness. This is canoe camping at its best, with fun paddling, great wildlife encounters, and endless hiking opportunities. There are few places in Alaska’s arctic where we so reliably see wildlife.
Far north of the Arctic Circle in the heart of Gates of the Arctic National Park, the Noatak River is an arctic gem. From its headwaters in the granite peaks around Mt. Igikpak, it flows west through glacier-capped peaks and rolling tundra for over 400 miles to the Chukchi Sea. There is no better place to experience the wilderness and wildlife of the Brooks Range than on the Noatak River.
We have several layover days to enjoy some of the best hiking in the arctic and to fish for arctic grayling, northern pike, arctic char and lake trout. Fall colors will begin to turn while we’re out there, and blueberries are fully ripe. Wildflowers like grass of Parnassus and arctic poppies will grace the tundra with the last of the summer’s blooms.
The open country makes wildlife sightings a daily experience on the Noatak. We almost always see wolves, fox, moose and Dall sheep. Thousands upon thousands of caribou from the western arctic caribou herd migrate through the Noatak valley on their way to wintering grounds south of the Brooks Range.
While paddling the Noatak we pass two salmon spawning streams. These are excellent and safe places to watch grizzly bears feeding. Birders will not be disappointed. Passerines and waterfowl wing through the Noatak every fall, stopping over in the many lush willow thickets and rich ponds of the broad valley.
In addition to the natural wonders of the area, the Noatak also has a rich human history and artifacts of ancient Eskimo life can be found near the deep lakes and across the tundra.
This is a fairly easy 70-mile canoe trip, but you can fish and hike and explore until you’re worn out. The Noatak flows along smoothly on this stretch, with current enough to keep us moving, but if the wind blows opposite the current we will have to work to reach camp at each days end. Towards the end of the trip the river picks up speed and we get to ride the current to the take-out. Previous experience is not required to paddle canoes, instruction is provided by guides.
Last updated: November 22, 2021
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide for a pre-trip meeting in Fairbanks at 4pm at Arctic Wild headquarters.
It’s a long day. We fly north from Fairbanks over the Yukon River and Arctic Circle to the arctic village of Bettles. From Bettles we charter a plane into the Gates of the Arctic National Park. We’ll land near the river with mountains all around. If the mood strikes us, we will assemble the canoes and paddle for a bit. Or we might elect to explore our surroundings on foot and save the paddling for the next day.
We’ll canoe our way down the Noatak. On days when we travel, we will spend about five hours on the river paddling about 15 miles each day. Alternating days will be layover days when we will explore on foot from camp. We can climb peaks from every camp, but there is also lots of good walking along the river, or up pretty tundra creeks. There will be free time each and every day after camp is pitched. The long evening is yours to enjoy the golden arctic sunlight.
Clean up and pack our gear. Weather permitting, we’ll catch our return flight back up the Noatak, over a great many mountains and then on to Fairbanks. Remove rubber boots!
I know I’ll never forget the trip. I find myself on guard these days against what I call the Noatak Diversion — a simple sound or smell or circumstance that transports me instantly to the river and memories so powerful that the next thing I know, many minutes have passed and I’m sitting there with a goofy grin on my face.
A welcome surprise was the gorgeous weather for most of the trip. I had expected cloud and rain and wind and cold, and we got lots of sun, our fair share of wind for sure, and not too much cold or rain. I didn’t realize before the trip that the area was technically a desert, based on annual precipitation.
Thanks also to Michael Wald for making it all happen, and running such a first-class outfitter, as well as his untiring work on behalf of Alaskan Arctic conservation.
Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks
Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils
Boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Select Camping Equipment is available from Arctic Wild
Personal clothing and gear, See full equipment list.
Fishing gear, and fishing license
Gratuity for guide(s)
Temperatures vary dramatically in the Arctic. Temperatures range from the 20s to 70s, averaging in the high 50’s. Cold rains are likely and snow is possible, but we can get sunny weather this time of the year too. Mosquitoes should not be a problem on this trip, but a few flies could still be bothersome. Traveling with insect repellent (DEET) and a head-net is always prudent.