Big Sky Backpack


August is ideal


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)





August is ideal


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)



This year’s selection for the perfect autumn backpack takes us to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the scenery is breathtaking and the walking is easy (at least by Brooks Range standards). As the Arctic Refuge transitions into fall, we backpack along the limestone creek-beds, climb the stony ridges, and marvel at the diversity of birds and wildlife. This backpacking trip is so far off the beaten path, there is no path at all.


Last updated: January 24, 2020


What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.

Day 0

Meet your guide at 4pm for a pre-trip meeting in at Arctic Wild headquarters in Fairbanks.

Day 1

Fly 350 miles north from Fairbanks, across the Yukon River and the Arctic Circle to the Gwich’in Athabascan village of Arctic Village, which sits alongside the Chandalar River. From Arctic Village, we board a smaller plane and fly northeast to the headwaters of the Colleen. Once the pilot leaves, we’re on our own. We’ll hike several miles to the first of many lovely camps. You’ll have the evening to settle into your surroundings, hike up a ridge or just gape at the awe-inspiring scenery.

Day 2 - 7

After the first day we will be north of tree line and the pass is devoid even of brush. Dall Sheep can be seen on the craggy peaks, bears and wolves use this pass to move from one valley to the next. We will spend five or six hours a day carrying packs, looking for animals and watching the mountains slowly pass by. After hiking each day and enjoying a hot meal, there will be daylight enough for a leisurely stroll to look around. There will be time for a layover day to explore side canyons sculpted by millions of years of snowmelt, or climb one of the many ridges for a long view of the Brooks Range. Fall colors should be brilliant, evidence of another season coming to an end with a flourish of rich color and autumnal scents before the hard season of snow and darkness sets in.

Day 8

Hike a short distance to meet our plane at a gravel airstrip on the banks of the Kongakut River. Fly back to Fairbanks or on some years you can join the Fall Kongakut raftingtrip and paddle towards the sea.

Such a joy to spend days where time was meaningless.  A wonderful adventure and I would like to return next year for a longer, more challenging trip.

You mentioned to me in an email that you have terrific guides - you do indeed.  Dave is a superb guide. He is personable, knowledgeable about the Arctic, and has excellent group management skills. I appreciated the time he spent teaching me to read the map, which is not easy without trails.   He allowed Adrian and me to hike at our own pace and he encouraged all of us to explore the area surrounding our campsites. I know the others would concur in my praise.

- Sandra, California, USA



Transportation beyond Fairbanks, food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils, water filter, safety & repair gear and professional guide service.


Lodging, non-camp meals, personal clothing and gear, backpack, tent, fishing gear, and fishing license. Gratuity for guide(s). Rental equipment is available through Arctic Wild. See full equipment list.


Weather this time of year is often cool and stormy, though we can get some awesome clear weather. Precipitation is generally light, and it’s fairly easy to keep comfortably dry. Because it’s the arctic, however, snow is always possible and you can expect temperatures to range from the 30s to the 60s. Because of the cool weather, mosquitoes should be absent, but bring a little DEET just in case.


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska Geographic; Being Caribou, Karsten Heuer; Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez; Caribou & the Barren-Lands George Calef; Arctic Wild, Lois Crissler. More Alaska reading is available from our Bookstore.

"The wilderness was spectacular, the leadership perfect."
"I am just finishing my tenth trip with you guys. As always, the trip was more than I expected and I had a great time. See you next year!"
"Of all outfitters with whom we have worked (and that is quite a number), you were by far the most organized and responsive."
"That feeling of wide open wonder, the possibilities for nearly limitless wandering, and the image of those proud caribou...that will stay with me a long time"
"Our guide was an encyclopedia on legs. He was always willing and ready to teach, to talk, to listen, to do another hike, or to lie low in camp if we were beat. He truly gave us the trip we wanted!"
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Eileen - Canning River