Sierra Club – Canning to the Coast

Sierra Club – Canning to the Coast


June 14, 2021 - June 24, 2021


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge





June 14, 2021 - June 24, 2021


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge



The Canning River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a river like no other. Its clear fast waters rush from the 9,000 ft peaks in the Brooks Range spilling into the Arctic Ocean in a wildlife rich delta. We will hike the northern edge of the Brooks Range and then paddle to the northern limit of the continent, traversing the imperiled “1002 Area” and learning about the region’s wildlife and wild landscapes.


The Canning River is the largest river in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and many claim it is the most beautiful. The scenery is varied and enchanting. The river flows through mountains and foothills, across the Coastal Plain, and finally to the Arctic Coast. We will join the Canning at the northern limit of the mountains where the grey limestone mountains float above the tundra and where a hike into the hills yields views of the Arctic pack-ice on the horizon. The clear air, thin sunshine and expansive views are otherworldly. It is a wilderness without equal.

We raft the last 50 miles of the Canning as it flows seaward. To the east of the river we’ll pass three sub-ranges of the Brooks Range, the prosaically named Third Range, the Shublik Mountains, and the Sadlerochit Mountains before entering the sprawling river delta with its gravel plains and bird rich tundra ponds. Towards the end of our adventure, the Canning spills into the Arctic Ocean, mixing fresh water with the cold sea in a network of lagoons dotted with gravel islands where eiders nest among driftwood and we are likely to spot polar bear tracks.

Mid-June is a great time to paddle the Canning River. Days will be long and the weather likely warm (for the arctic) leaving us to watch the varied wildlife in peace.

We could see grizzly bears, wolves, arctic and red fox, Dall sheep, moose, caribou, musk oxen, wolverines, golden eagles and an abundance of waterfowl. Fishing for arctic grayling and arctic char can be good if the water levels are not too high. As we get towards the coast we can expect the temperatures to drop and the numbers of caribou to increase. Last July over 60,000 caribou aggregated on the Canning River delta for nearly a week. We never know what we will see but we’ll keep our fingers crossed and our binoculars handy.

The Arctic Coast is a rich and storied area. The Canning River Delta is host to thousands of breeding birds each summer and there are numerous ancient and contemporary Inupiat sites along the coast. If conditions are right we can even take a walk on the sea ice, which sometimes remains near the shore until mid-July.

We’ll paddle about 50 miles of the Canning. This is a moderately difficult trip, not a “float”.  We will have to paddle to get where we’re going, even though the current is always swift. There is no whitewater on the stretch we will be paddling, but there is often significant ice to avoid and the paddling is always engaging. As we approach the coast the weather will cool significantly and we may have to paddle against the wind.

Last updated: November 22, 2021


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

June 14

Meet your guides for a pre-trip meeting at 8 am in Fairbanks at Arctic Wild headquarters. We’ll orient you to the trip logistics, help you check through your gear, and take time to answer everyone’s questions before heading to the airport for our flight to the Gwich’in community of Arctic Village. It is a privilege to be hosted by the village and we’ll have the opportunity to discuss the long-standing struggle to prevent oil development in the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd which are central to Gwich’in culture and livelihoods. After a dinner of (with luck) caribou stew we spend the night in the community hall. 

June 15

From Arctic Village it is still almost 2 hours to fly to our put-in on the Canning. Once the entire group has arrived, we can set up camp and explore the nearly limitless wilderness.

June 16 - June 23

On paddling days we will spend about five hours on the water, stopping for short walks and a delicious lunch en route. There will be two or three “layover days” where we will keep camp set up and will explore the area on foot. Guides will lead informal natural history hikes on moving days and on the layover days.  The hiking is good the entire length of the river and wildlife can be found at any time. Early in the trip the scenery is fairly mountainous. As we descend the river the sky opens and the lands flattens. The coastal plain and especially the river delta is rich in bird life, some of the best in Arctic Alaska. The diversity of wildlife and landscapes is a great joy of the trip. We plan on spending the last full day of the trip at the Arctic Coast and we can hike down to the beach where there is an old Inupiat village.

June 24

Weather permitting, our pilot will arrive and fly us back across the Brooks Range to Fairbanks in time for a late dinner and a shower.

We had great guides and traveling companions, and were fortunate to see lots of caribou, bears, and other wildlife. The variety of scenery and adventure was great, even dragging the rafts through the mud on the delta was strangely fun. We’re really glad the trip went all the way to Arctic Coast. Great to have the library and spotting scope.


- Jeanine, Wisconsin, USA



Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks to the Brooks Range and back

Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils

Boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear

Professional guide service

Rental equipment is available through Arctic Wild and is included


Non-camp lodging

Non-camp meals

Personal clothing and gear per our equipment list

Fishing gear, and fishing license

Gratuity for guide(s)


Expect a variety of weather. Late June tends to be mild by arctic standards. Expect temperatures to range from in the 70’s down to freezing. Snow is always possible. Bugs could be an issue in the mountains and foothills so DEET and a head-net are highly recommended. Bring an extra warm layer for the coast.


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by Alaska Geographic

Being Caribou by Karsten Heuer

Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

Caribou & the Barren-Lands by George Calef

Fifty Years Below Zero by Charles Brown

More Alaska reading available at 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