In the far northwest corner of Alaska near the Chukchi Sea is a seldom traveled river we love to paddle in June. We consider it the best canoeing river in Alaska. For 9 out of 10 years our June river trips have seen tens of thousands of caribou swimming the river. We regularly see bears, wolves and even wolverines on this fantastically remote canoe trip. If your interest is wildlife, this is the trip for you.
Last updated: August 11, 2018
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Pre-trip meeting with your guides in Kotzebue at 6:45 pm.
Our trip begins with a flight over the Noatak River and into the Brooks Range. We fly on and on, watching the world’s largest terrestrial wilderness pass below us. We will land on a gravel island along the river. After unloading the plane and pitching camp we will have nothing but time to explore this pristine area.
Assemble the boats and head downriver. The upper valley hosts not only an abundance of wildlife, but an abundance of fossil life. Coal beds can be reached from the river and marine and terrestrial fossils abound. The river carves its way through the mountains, hugging first the east bank, and then the west. Gravel and sand bars fill the broad floodplain valley. We will only paddle around 10 miles of this clear river on our first day. Our priority will be to make sure everyone feels safe and confident in the boats.
We will mix paddling days with hiking days. We have some miles we must cover but the schedule allows ample time for exploration on foot and leisure time in camp. The river traverses first one mountain range and then another. We will have the opportunity to ascend some of these broad colorful ridges. As we travel north, the river grows from a large creek to a meandering river. There are obstacles to avoid but for the most part we can devote our attention to scenery and wildlife. The river cuts through many small sub-ranges of the Brooks Range. In between each of these ranges are broad valleys where you feel as if you could be swallowed by the sky.
At the appointed gravel bar we will wait for our pilot and then fly back to Kotzebue (or the Squirrel) and shower! (or not)
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.
Round-trip airfare from Kotzebue
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)
Temperatures vary from the 70’s to below freezing. Snow is possible; rain is likely. However, this time of the year we generally have lots of sunny weather. Strong, cold north winds and fog off the Arctic ice pack are not unusual. There will be bugs so bring a mosquito head net and a bottle of DEET repellent.
Being Caribou by Karsten Heuer; Land of Extremes by Alex Huryn; People of the Noatak by Clair Fejes; Caribou and the Barren Lands by George Calef; Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner; Alaska Wilderness by Robert Marshall; Last Light Breaking by Nick Jans; Arctic Wild by Lois Crisler; Path of the Paddle by Bill Mason. More Alaska reading is available from our Bookstore.