The Yukon River is Alaska’s largest river; a landscape of huge proportions. Canoeing the Yukon is a classic Alaska wilderness experience, full of striking scenery and rich with history. A week on the river is a timeless experience suitable for novice paddlers and seasoned explorers alike.
The Yukon River starts small and gains size and speed in Canada’s thinly populated Yukon Territory. The river crosses the U.S. border just upriver from the village of Eagle, and this is where our canoe trip will begin. From Eagle, the Yukon flows another 1,400 miles through the heart of Alaska to the Bering Sea. At its mouth the river is nearly a mile wide!
The section of river that we will paddle from Eagle to Circle City is one of the most scenic stretches. Our route takes us through Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve. Gravel bars stretch around long sinuous bends dotted by roots and trunks of trees bleached by the hot summer sun. Beyond the gravel and sand are young willows and cottonwoods which frame the river in vibrant green. Towering above the brush are the trees of the boreal forest, hosting stands of paper birch whose white trunks peel in papery sheets. Other areas support dark forests of spruce, long brown columns in a sea of green moss. The boreal forest is also home to comically small black spruce all twisted and bent, seeming to barely survive in the frozen soil.
Along much of the river in this section are steep and rocky bluffs. Some of them are several hundred feet tall. These spectacular bluffs support an ecology all their own and provide some of the best nesting habitat for peregrine falcons in Alaska. This is lean country as far as wildlife is concerned, but king and chum salmon will be working their way upriver towards their spawning grounds in Canada. These fish will draw bears and others to the river for this seasonal feast. Moose are a common sight in the ponds and sloughs near the river.
In addition to the rich natural history, the river has an interesting human history. Gwich’in Athabascan Indians have hunted and fished this stretch of river for centuries. Starting in the late 1800’s trappers and then prospectors inhabited nearly every valley. Cabins, old mines, fish wheels and other relics of the area’s heyday can be found along the river and in the woods.
The pace of this trip will be leisurely. The camping along the Yukon is world class for scenery and comfort. Some of our paddling days may be long, but there will always be time to pull over and investigate sights along the way. Weather in the interior this time of year tends to be sunny and warm though we will be prepared for anything. Canoeing experience is not required. This trip is an ideal choice for the adventurous family.
The National Parks Service has a hyperlapse of a 100 mile stretch of Yukon River from Eagle, Alaska to Slaven’s Roadhouse in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve posted here if you are interested in having a look.
Last updated: December 22, 2020
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guides at 8 am at the Arctic Wild World Headquarters for a question and answer gear check before heading to the airport and flying northeast from Fairbanks to the riverside village of Eagle, Alaska (population 230). Once we arrive and settle into our lodging, we will take some time to tour the Gold Rush town before we head to the river and assemble the canoes.
After a great breakfast at the Falcon Inn we’ll load the canoes, discuss river safety and let the current pull us away from the hospitality of Eagle and into the wilderness. Will work on refining our paddling skills and settle into the routines of river life. Once we are comfortable on the river, we can stop in at fish camps and homesteads to learn about modern life along the river.
Our time is ours to do what we please. We can start our day by climbing the bluff behind camp to smell the sweet sage and watch hawks circle above the river. Or we can head out early and watch the glassy river slip beneath the canoe. At lunch we can follow a small creek back into the woods where we find an old cabin with a garden still producing rhubarb in the wilderness. We will travel most days and will be on the water for five to six hours each day. This schedule allows plenty of time for exploring from camp or making side trips during a leisurely lunch break. We will pass many clear water side streams that offer opportunities to fish. As we near our final destination, the river bluffs disappear and we enter an area called the Yukon Flats, a fantastically productive area for waterfowl. Here, as the river slows, the sky is broad and colorful.
We leave the main river for a smaller, willow-lined side channel. After a few miles we see the log buildings of Circle, Alaska. After disassembling our canoes and packing our gear we will load into our van for a four-hour scenic drive back to Fairbanks.
The guides were uncommonly knowledgeable, competent, hardworking, and they consistently took care of the group before taking care of their own stuff. They kept our safety in mind while staying open to suggestions, and allowing folks a lot of freedom for personal wanderings.
Round-trip transportation from Fairbanks
One night lodging in Eagle
Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils
Boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Temperatures vary dramatically in the Far North. Temperatures will range from 90 to 40. We will get some good hot weather and some windy cool weather, but generally it should be warm (by Alaska standards) This is mosquito season, and they will be a factor we plan to mollify by choosing open, breezy camps. Bring a mosquito head net and a small bottle DEET repellent for forays into the woods.