The Aichilik River is a beautiful clear river traversing the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The trip starts in the foothills of the Brooks Range and ends at the frozen Arctic Ocean, allowing visitors to experience a great diversity of wildlife and habitats. The trip is timed to experience spring in all its abundance, with multitudes of birds nesting on the tundra, 24 hour daylight, and the river high with spring runoff.
Silence, sweeping vistas, pure water, and solitude make this an exceptional wilderness journey. The hiking in the foothills is excellent and we can expect wildlife encounters each and every day. Some years, the Porcupine Caribou Herd numbering almost 200,000 migrates across the Aichilik near the solstice. With luck we may be in the right place at the right time to witness great throngs of caribou swimming the river. Even if we don’t see them, their presence is etched in the tundra of this inspiring wilderness.
We start our 45-mile rafting adventure in a region of rolling, but rugged mountains. After an initial two days spent hiking along the Brooks Range’s “mountain front,” we head for the coast, always on the lookout for caribou, wolves, grizzly bears, musk oxen, arctic foxes, and birds of many feather. As we paddle across the Coastal Plain the vistas grow and we have expansive views of the Brooks Range stretching away to the east and west. Towards the end of the week we enter the Aichilik River delta, which teems with bird life. The rich coastal area is full of history and we will be able to visit several ancient Eskimo villages.
Once at the coast we will paddle several miles of this protected coastline, marveling at the abundant bird life, looking for dens of arctic foxes and musing over the Eskimo and whaling artifacts along the beach. We may even be able to venture out onto the sea ice to watch ringed seals basking in the spring sun.
The Aichilik river is swift and shallow as it traverses the Coastal Plain and slows only once it reaches the delta where it splits into multiple channels and mixes with the Beaufort Sea. This is a leisurely-paced trip with lots of time for hiking, birding, photography or whatever please you most. No experience is necessary to paddle-raft, as instruction is provided. Everyone joins in the fun of paddling under the guidance of an experienced raft captain. Though not a technical river, wilderness travel does have its challenges. We may need to get out and walk the rafts in shallow places. The coast is often breezy if not windy, meaning we may have to paddle steadily for several hours as we near the arctic coast.
Last updated: December 22, 2020
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet with your guide(s) for a pre-trip meeting at 4 pm in at Arctic Wild headquarters in Fairbanks.
Fly north from Fairbanks across the mighty Yukon River and over the Arctic Circle. Land in the Athabascan Indian settlement of Arctic Village, pop. 120. Time allowing, tour the village before boarding our bush plane for the last leg into the wilderness. Once the plane goes, we are on our own in the immense and quiet landscape.
At any time during the week, we could see caribou, a grizzly bear or two, a wolf, or other arctic wildlife. On the 3 anticipated paddling days, we will be on the “go” for 6 to 8 hours. We won’t be in the rafts that whole time and will pull ashore several times each day for brief forays or to watch wildlife. At day’s end, we’ll choose a nice, dry, scenic camp. There will be free time for group and personal pursuits. Guides will lead informal natural history hikes, but you are also welcome to go off on your own.
We will plan two or three “layover days” and 3 full paddling days. Our first day hikes will be in the Brooks Range foothills. This area affords us great opportunities for gaining elevation, admiring wildflowers covering the slopes, and hopefully watching wildlife.
Our final layover will be on the arctic coast. Hiking along the beaches is excellent and a pretty good workout. Depending on sea ice conditions, we may be able to climb an icy “pressure ridge” formed by the frozen Arctic Ocean.
Await the arrival of our bush pilot, who will land on the beach. We will fly south across the breadth of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge back to Arctic Village where we will switch to a larger plane. Weather permitting we arrive back in Fairbanks for a late dinner.
Just a note to let you know what a great trip we had. It was a real adventure and our guides were terrific. The unplanned trip to Barter Island just added to the adventure and fun of the trip. Your equipment list worked well for us as well as our rented equipment. I was wary of the synthetic fill in the sleeping bags as I’ve always favored down – but they were comfortably warm despite some cool nights.
Transportation from Fairbanks
Food while in the wilderness
Stoves, cooking & eating utensils
Boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Temperatures vary dramatically in the Arctic. Temperatures range from the 20s to 80s even in a single day. Cold rains and snow are possible, but we get lots of warm sunny weather this time of the year. As we get closer to the Arctic Ocean temperatures will drop as will the insects. Right on the coast we will probably encounter strong winds and cold temperatures. Traveling with insect repellent (DEET) is always prudent in the arctic but we don’t expect bad bugs during these dates.