The Kobuk River begins in Gates of the Arctic National Park among the sheer Arrigetch Peaks. From that good start, the Kobuk flows for over 300 miles along the southern flanks of the Brooks Range through forest and tundra country to the Chukchi Sea. Our floatplane lands us on the emerald green Walker Lake. After enjoying this enormous lake surrounded by mountains, we paddle through the Kobuk River canyon, sweeping downhill into a wild landscape of glacial moraines, bare bedrock and open, lichen-covered boreal forest.
We will see the river change over the course of our ninety-mile trip. The upper river is swift through the forest with lots of little rapids and long stretches of canyons with several Class III rapids. Hiking in the upper river is good – we climb peaks and broad, wind-scoured ridges just above tree line. Downstream, the river spreads out into braided channels as the valley widens. The many sub-ranges of the Brooks Range break the serrated skyline of the northern forest as we flow downriver. Hiking on the lower river consists of strolling on open gravel bars or exploring high water channels that in the past have ripped water courses through the forest.
August is a choice time to be in the wilderness, and we’ll have up to two layover days to hike or fish or just hang out. Fall is not far off and we we can find huge patches of ripe blueberries. The Kobuk has the best fishing of any Brooks Range river. It is home to arctic grayling, voracious northern pike, and the world famous Kobuk River sheefish. These big, enigmatic fish will be just arriving on the spawning grounds during our trip and make great eating. We should see moose, beavers, red fox, black bears and grizzly bears if we keep our eyes peeled. We often see wolves, and it is not unusual to hear their howls rolling throughout the dark green forests. We may also see lynx and wolverine.
This is a relatively easy, ninety-mile river trip, with stretches of rapids, and steady paddling. No experience is required for paddle rafting, as instruction is provided. Everyone joins in the fun of paddling the boats under the guidance of an experienced and professional raft captain.
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide(s) in Fairbanks for a pre-trip meeting at 4 pm.
Fly from Fairbanks 200 miles north, across the Yukon River to the frontier settlement of Bettles. From here we transfer to a smaller floatplane and fly west another 100 miles along the southern flanks of the Brooks Range to Walker Lake. En route, watch for moose feeding in ponds and bears on the hillsides.
We spend a layover day here, settling into our surroundings, hiking to a sweeping view of the route ahead, exploring the lake, and fishing for lake trout, grayling and northern pike.
We’ll raft and hike and fish our way down the Kobuk. On each “moving day,” we’ll aim to make about 20 miles, roughly six hours of paddling. We will try and place camps where the river swings closest to the mountains—for great hiking opportunities! There will be free time each and every day—after camp is pitched you’re free to do as you please. Your guide(s) will offer informal natural history hikes, but you are always welcome to strike off alone. And don’t forget the fishing!
Weather permitting our plane picks us up for a flight along the Kobuk River, and on towards Fairbanks.
Transportation beyond Fairbanks, food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils, boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear and professional guide service.
Lodging, non-camp meals, personal clothing and gear, waterproof river bag, fishing gear, and fishing license. Gratuity for guide(s). An equipment list is provided upon registration. Rental equipment is available through Arctic Wild.
Temperatures vary from the 70’s to below freezing. Snow is possible; rain is likely. However, this time of the year we can have lots of sunny mild weather too. Mosquitoes should be minimal but there may be some flies on warm evenings. Pack a bottle of DEET just in case.