Start with two days of day hiking from a base camp at the northern edge of the Brooks Range. Then paddle your own packraft to the Arctic Ocean and stand on the sea ice! Join us this summer solstice for this unique Mountains-to-the-Sea packrafting adventure.
At this latitude the sun never sets in June. The vastness of the landscape and unending daylight can create a euphoric sense of possibility. Many of our packrafting trips include several days of backpacking. In contrast this trip combines a few days of day-hiking before we begin paddling, making it a great introduction to packrafting and to the Arctic.
Starting in the foothills of the Brooks Range, we take a few days to explore the mountain front. Climb a ridge for views of 9,000 ft peaks, or watch Dall sheep perched on the cliffs above the river. To the north the land falls away across the vast Coastal Plain toward the frozen Arctic Ocean.
After a couple days day-hiking and enjoying the area, we inflate our boats and let the river carry us to the sea. As we head towards the coast, both the river and the sky grow larger. Eventually we leave the mountains behind and paddle across the an ocean of tundra, the famed Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Near the trip’s end we reach the Beaufort Sea and can paddle out to the sea ice!
Light and nimble packrafts allow us to paddle this small river and tread where few others go. Packrafts are lightweight one-person rafts propelled with a kayak paddle. Weighing in at around six pounds, they offer unparalleled freedom for wilderness explorers. This Alaska packrafting trip will have its challenges, but there is ample time for day hikes and leisure.
Wildlife is of course unpredictable, but the area is home to the 200,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd and on many years they filter through the foothills and cross the Aichilik. Wolves and bears are common sights when caribou herds are in the area. Golden eagles, horned larks, and an Asian bird called a northern wheatear thrive even in the starkest of alpine areas. As you approach the coast, the wildlife and scenery changes and animals like arctic fox and muskoxen become more common. The birding along the arctic coast is legendary.
Familiarity with river travel is a bonus but packrafting experience is not required. We will paddle around 50 miles of the Aichilik River. There is no white water on the route, but the Aichilik does require that you pay attention.
Packrafting was invented in Alaska and is a great way to enjoy the remote wilderness of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Packrafts are light, strong, and easy to learn.
Last updated: February 18, 2020
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide for a pre-trip meeting at 4 p.m. at the Arctic Wild headquarters in Fairbanks.
Fly 250 miles north from Fairbanks, across the Yukon River and the Arctic Circle to the Gwich’in Athabaskan village of Arctic Village. In Arctic Village we will meet our pilot for the beautiful flight over the Continental Divide past countless peaks and glaciers into the Aichilik River valley. After finding a suitable campsite, we will make camp, eat dinner and then take a hike under the midnight sun.
Dwarfed by peaks, we can explore all around our camp. The scenery is unbeatable and the hiking limitless. We’ll take two full days to base-camp and enjoy the northern edge of the northernmost mountains in Alaska.
Happy Solstice! Today we begin our paddle to the Arctic Ocean.
As the river exits the mountains the sky broadens and the river braids into multiple channels. Once you get the knack of following your guide through the deepest water, you will make good time and can scan the banks for bear, wolf, and caribou. Traveling towards the coast the wildlife changes along with the scenery. Waterfowl collect on the gravel bars and arctic fox can be found denning on the sandy banks. To the south, the Brooks Range dominates the skyline.
Approaching the coast, the current slows and you enter one of the most wildlife rich portions of the Arctic Refuge. The Aichilik Delta is a birder’s paradise. After negotiating the delta, we paddle across the coastal lagoon to a barrier island in the Arctic Ocean. Most years there is sea ice still attached to the shore and we have an endless evening to explore this austere land of sky and ice. The sun won’t even come close to setting.
Pack your gear and begin listening for our airplane. When it arrives (weather permitting) we reluctantly load our gear and ourselves for the flight back through Arctic Village and on to Fairbanks, arriving in time for a late dinner. A shower is in order.
I genuinely feel, having traveled in South America, Australia, and Africa to remote villages and lodges, huts etc. that Alaska was the most foreign I have ever felt. And I am glad to have experienced it.
One of my biggest impressions is that I am so so very glad we had Arctic Wild as our outfitters. Michael Wald and his team were terrific and well prepared. I can’t say enough about the attention to detail and the experience of them and especially our guide Nancy Pfeiffer. I talked with other guides and with other groups. After each conversation, (trust me, they were lengthy chats as we were on a gravel runway sitting on our packs…) I thought how lucky we were to be with Nancy and Arctic Wild.
Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks
Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils, water filter
Packraft, life jacket and paddle, safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Weather this time of year is typically dry and sunny, though we can get some powerful storms that can either rain or snow on us. Precipitation is generally light, and it’s fairly easy to keep comfortably dry. You can expect temperatures to range from the 30s to the 70s. Mosquitoes could be bothersome towards the end of the trip. DEET and a head net are essential.