Ipnavik River Rafting

Ipnavik River Rafting


August 18, 2023 - August 24, 2023


National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska





August 18, 2023 - August 24, 2023


National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska



In the upper Colville Basin, in the far western Brooks Range there is a wilderness almost totally unknown. Shallow, clear and punctuated by rocky bluffs, the Ipnavik River takes us through one of the least visited parts of Alaska. With help from CLF this area may someday form the core of the 5 Rivers Wilderness Area.


The Ipnavik is an area of complex geology, with rocky spires, and whaleback ridges, and rolling green tundra etched by the trails of the Western Arctic caribou herd. The trip starts in the Utukok uplands which boasts the highest densities of both bears and wolverines in Arctic Alaska. As we travel east, we descend into the Colville Basin, an area renowned for birding.

We will start as high on the Ipnavik as we can. It is sure to be shallow and the paddling engaging. We may have to wade through the shallows and line the boats periodically but as the river gains tributaries the miles should come more easily.

Hiking along the ridge lines is good and we will make time to hike early in the trip when we can see the spine of the DeLong Mountains to the south. A climb of “Mt Ekakevik” (really just a hill) and and exploration of Battery Lake are sure to be highlights of the trip.

As we near the Colville, the landscape melts into rolling hills and the sky yawns above. As we merge with the Colville, the river will change dramatically. The Colville is arctic Alaska’s largest river and one of its least visited. Here the current is swift but the normal river hazards are sparse, leaving you time to soak in this landscape with one hand on your binoculars.



The Colville is legendary for its awe-inspiring bluffs, where Rough-Legged Hawks and Peregrine Falcons make their nests and greet river travelers with searing calls. The steeper bluffs erode before our eyes, the sliding silt/sand crashing like thunder into the river.

We have planned this trip to proceed at a leisurely pace, giving you a healthy balance of exciting days “travel” days spent floating down the river, discovering what is around the next bend, and “layover” days spent exploring from camp, hiking in whatever direction you choose. The guides will lead informal natural history hikes on travel days and on the layover days. The time is yours to explore and rejuvenate as you wish. We will almost certainly be the only humans for miles.

Musk ox are common in the area and August is a good time to see small bands of caribou, before they head south for the winter. We may see bears digging for ground squirrels or scavenging in the drift line. Willow thickets are great for birding and passerines will be starting to flock. Rarities like bluethroats and yellow wagtails won’t have departed for Asia quite yet. Lakes along the river nourish migratory waterfowl such as Northern Pintail Ducks, Tundra Swans and Scaup.

This is an active and challenging trip. Everyone works together to paddle the rafts and depending on the group size we may also bring a kayak or two for you to paddle.

Last updated: December 19, 2023


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

August 17

Meet your guides for a pre-trip meeting at 4 pm in Fairbanks at the Arctic Wild headquarters. Then it is time to celebrate Ed’s 81st Birthday!

August 18

Fly north from Fairbanks across the Yukon River over the Brooks Range past Gates of the Arctic National Park to a gravel bar on the Ipnavik River in the NPR-A. After unloading the airplane we will make camp and relish the feeling of solitude. An evening hike on the tundra will whet our appetites for more exploration.

August 19

We have the day to explore the headwaters on foot. Late in the day we can ready the boats, get a refresher on paddle strokes and review river safety in preparation for the next day’s paddle.

August 21 - 23

The weather, the river and the wildlife inform our decisions about when to paddle, when to hike, when to rest and when to climb the bluffs for a vista. Some days we will spend most of the day on the water. Some days will be shorter and more leisurely and there will be one day when we elect to explore the uplands on foot and fish for grayling in the river, leaving camp set up for two nights in a single location. No matter how we spend our time, each day will be full of adventure and surprises

We will camp at the base of bluffs that will afford us sweeping views of the Colville basin. Each day presents new wonders and each moment offers a quiet surprise. It is a subtle, serene, and rich landscape; hauntingly beautiful primordial wilderness.

August 24

A final search of the gravel bar for fossilized coral; one last look in the willows for blue-throats and then it is time to pack our gear and listen for the distant hum of an airplane, perhaps the first we have heard in a week. Once the plane arrives (Weather Permitting) we wing south and back to Fairbanks. If the weather permits we may have the opportunity to fly over the proposed Willow Project and the adjacent oil fields on a lengthy detour at trips end.

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 from Fairbanks to the river and back

Food while in the wilderness

Stoves, cooking & eating utensils, water filter, safety & repair gear

Professional guide service

Select Camping Equipment



Non-camp meals

Personal clothing and gear per our Equipment List

Fishing gear, and fishing license

Gratuity for guides


We can get some powerful storms that can either rain or snow on us in August, but we also get mild summery days. You can expect temperatures to range from the 30s to the 70s. Mosquitoes and flies could be bothersome on occasion. A small bottle of DEET is suggested, but the worst of bug season should be behind us. Mid- August is not a time of extremes. We expect a bit of everything from sun to wind to rain to snow to flies to perfect fall days when there is no place on earth finer than the Arctic.


On Arctic Ground by Debbie Miller

Nunamiut by Helge Ingstadt

Land of Extremes by Alex Huryn

Last Light Breaking by Nick Jans

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!"
client client client client client
Eileen - Canning River