We start our trip where two enormous mountains stand like sentinels flanking the Koyukuk river creating what Bob Marshall called “ The Gates of the Arctic.” His poetic flare and reverence for the Koyukuk gave name to the park we will explore for a week this July. We will be better equipped and provisioned than was Bob Marshall, who spent a decade from 1929 to 1939 exploring and mapping this region and was later an ardent voice for it protection, but the feeling of discovery and awe will be with us none the less. Times of rugged explorers, miners and Athabascan Natives will be on our minds as we paddle this scenic river in our sturdy collapsible canoes.
After flying first to Coldfoot and then into the North Fork of the Koyukuk, we will spend our first couple days exploring in the shadow of the “Gates”- Boreal Mountain and Frigid Crags, before we descend on our 125-mile canoe adventure through this rich and wild country. We are at the northern edge of tree line and as we float south through rugged mountains we enter the great boreal forests of northern Alaska. Taiga as it is sometimes called, is a landscape of spruce, poplar, and birch forest dotted with lakes, ponds, and mighty rivers like the Koyukuk. Along our journey down river, we will camp on gravel bars filled with animal tracks and driftwood. We can spend our evenings exploring the river and forest, enjoying the campfire’s glow and searching for good fishing holes with hopes of catching a Arctic Grayling, Northern Pike, and possibly Salmon.
The river starts fast, shallow and braided with the occasional boulder or sweeper to keep things interesting. Your guide will provide as much instruction and guidance as you need so that you feel comfortable piloting your canoe down the river.
As the river slows we have more time and attention to watch for bears (both back and grizzly), wolves, moose, and perhaps even lynx or wolverine. Beavers will slap their tales in alarm as we round the next bend and birds like Northern Hawk Owls, swans and ptarmigan are commons sights. The tall green spires of this northern forest stand in contrast to the gray rock of the Brooks Range.
We have ample time to reach our final destination of the small “outpost” village of Bettles , where we catch our flight back to Fairbanks. In addition to our first day exploring around the “Gates of the Arctic” we plan on having an additional layover day to explore, rest, fish and reflect.
Last updated: January 24, 2020
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 4pm at Arctic Wild headquarters.
Leaving Fairbanks we fly 300 miles, over the Yukon River, to the small town of Coldfoot. We then catch a smaller plane for a spectacular flight to the North Fork of the Koyukuk River. We set-up camp and enjoy our first night in the wilderness.
After inflating our rafts and talking about river safety, we set off onto the North Fork—a small, clear river. We spend the next week enjoying this little river, as well as exploring our surroundings on layover days. The river is alternately fast and rocky and calm and sandy. The river calms for our last few days of paddling before joining the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk. Once past the confluence with Middle Fork, we enjoy this broad clear river and camp within a few mile of Bettles, our take-out.
We wake early and paddle the remain miles to Bettles, where weather permitting, we catch our plane back to “civilization.” Hot showers are in order!
Our guide was a patient and highly skilled guide who also took the time to educate us about geology, local wildlife, and the nunamiut people. Once my guilt for excessive comfort was taken care, we had a terrific experience.
Transportation beyond Fairbanks
Food while in the wilderness
Stoves, cooking & eating utensils, boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Expect a bit of everything. It will rain. It might snow. And there could be some bugs. Temperatures could range from the 80’s into the 30’s even on the same day but 50’s are most typical in the summer.
Being Caribou by Karsten Heuer
People of the Noatak by Clair Fejes
Caribou and the Barren Lands by George Calef
Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner
Alaska Wilderness by Robert Marshall
Last Light Breaking by Nick Jans
Arctic Wild by Lois Crisler
More Alaska reading is available from our Bookstore.