Starting among some of the most beautiful peaks of the Brooks Range, the Sheenjek flows from the tundra south into the boreal forests. Our week on the river brings mountain hiking, river canoeing, and opportunities to spot wildlife around every bend. Join us on a classic Arctic Refuge River trip.
The Sheenjek River, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was made famous by Olaus and Mardy Murie with their 1956 expedition (complete with 1 yr old child) to census caribou in the region. Inspired by the Sheenjek, they advocated for the formation of the Arctic Refuge which we enjoy today. We think the Sheenjek will inspire you too.
Starting in the limestone peaks of the Eastern Brooks Range the Sheenjek’s clear waters flow through deep gravel beds of ancient fossils and beneath gray and purple mountains. The upper river is dry and spare with enormous vistas and excellent hiking. As the river flows south and descends, the banks grow lush (for the Arctic) with every hue of green you can imagine, and before long the river enters the northernmost boreal forest, an open parkland of spruce dotted with lakes. Further south the Sheenjek is surrounded by the dark green of large trees and an ecology similar to the interior of Alaska. Each area has its charms and distinct wildlife.
Our trip on the Sheenjek focuses on the area of transition between tundra and forest, home to an astonishing mix of creatures. We may see tundra species like caribou, grizzly bears, arctic ground squirrel, and ptarmigan. Later in the trip we may see animals typical of the boreal forest such as beaver, moose, grouse, and lynx. Everywhere we look we will find beauty. Our Sheenjek River Canoe Trip travels through the Wilderness portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Sheenjek River is also a National Wild and Scenic River and truly an icon of the Refuge.
We offer two different options on the Sheenjek, a shorter 30 mile trip from the headwaters to Lobo Lake with lots of time to hike, explore, fish and relish in the solitude. Or we can explore more of the river and northern forests and paddle 90 miles of the Sheenjek, flying-out from a gravel bar where the Brooks Range merges into the Yukon Flats. No matter if you prefer a shorter paddle or a longer expedition, we will plan a few lay-over days, and on our traveling days, you will have free time enough for personal pursuits. There are mountains, hills, and bluffs to climb, arctic grayling to cast for, soaring white spruce forests to meander through, and graceful river bars made up of colorful Brooks Range rocks and fossils to explore.
The Sheenjek River starts slow as it works its way through the river gravels. then moves into a region of tundra ponds and clear lakes with spruces on the fringes where the river runs in a single channel. As we move downstream and gain skills as canoeists the current picks up speed and we dodge overhanging trees, small riffles and cut-banks. Canoe experience is recommended, but the Sheenjek is not a particularly technical river to paddle at normal water levels. If you are a novice canoeist, let us know and we can make adjustments to the trip.
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide(s) for a pre-trip meeting in Fairbanks at 4 pm at Arctic Wild headquarters.
Leaving Fairbanks we fly 250 miles, over the Yukon River, to Arctic Village. We then catch a smaller plane for a spectacular flight to the Sheenjek. We set up camp and enjoy our first night in the wilderness.
We like to spend our first full day in the wilderness hiking the tundra and climbing towards the peaks. The upper valley is stunning. Hikes can be as short or as long as you desire. With endless wilderness all around there are few limits to the adventures we can have.
When we are ready to head downriver we will assemble the boats, refresh our paddling skills, discuss river safety, and join the Sheenjek on its way south to the Yukon. An average paddling day involves 4 or 5 hours in the canoes plus a leisurely picnic and maybe a stroll to a bluff or lake near the river.
As a custom trip we can set the pace of the trip to match your desires and schedule. We will make time for side trips to nearby lakes and can try and climb numerous peaks and hills near the river on layover days or in the evenings after a day on the water.
A 6 or 7 day trip is about right for the upper-most section of the river. 9 or 10 is better if we want to paddle beyond the mountains and into the sea of spruce forests beyond. If you want to paddle all the way to the Porcupine and Yukon Rivers, we’ll need at least 20 days.
Weather permitting, we will hear our plane mid-morning and then make our way back towards “civilization.” Once we get cleaned-up we can being exaggerating about the trip!
Transportation beyond Fairbanks
Food while in the wilderness
Stoves, cooking & eating utensils
Boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Personal clothing and gear. See full equipment list.
Fishing gear, and fishing license
Gratuity for guide(s)
Rental equipment is available through Arctic Wild.
Temperatures vary dramatically in the Arctic. Temperatures range from the 20s to 70s. When the wind comes from the north, the temperature can drop to below freezing. Cold rains and snow are possible, but mostly, “bad weather” might come in the form of rain. Bring plenty of warm clothes and just a little DEET in case the weather is mild and the bugs are still around.