The Kongakut River is famous for dramatic mountain scenery, fun wilderness rafting and frequent wildlife encounters. We will paddle the Kongakut this August as summer gives way to fall and the river is teeming with fish. Autumn brings glorious yellow and crimson to the tundra and brilliant displays of the Aurora borealis overhead. The hiking from the river is varied and nearly endless and the paddling superb.
The Kongakut River winds through a breathtakingly gorgeous valley. August is autumn at 70 degrees north latitude, and the tundra is crimson and gold. Peaks are receiving snow which is likely to stick until the following May or June. Great flocks of snow geese may be amassing on the Coastal Plain and wildlife is preparing for winter. From each night’s camp we can hike off to explore our surroundings – quiet cottonwood glades, small waterfalls, wildflower-rich willow forests and jutting outcrops above the river.
Wildlife is abundant on the Kongakut River in August. The big caribou migrations are in June, but even at the end of August there are still small bands of bull caribou roaming the Kongakut valley and ridges. In the upper reaches there are sure to be moose heading to their wintering grounds in the mountains. Dall sheep abound and can sometimes be seen right down by the river.
Bears should be fattening up on berries and wolves, though hard to see, are hunting throughout the area. The land is full of wildlife, the sky streaked with birds and the river itself boasts one of the most reliable runs of arctic char (Dolly varden) in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Some pools erupt with red and white flashes of breeding char when the rafts go by. They are fun and easy to catch if you are so inclined, and very delicious.
The Kongakut is a fast moving river with multiple braided channels. The river is steady Class II, with a short (three-mile) canyon section with fun, Class III rapids. No previous river experience is required for paddle rafting. Instruction is provided. Everyone joins in the fun of paddling under the guidance of the raft captain.
Last updated: April 28, 2021
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Please note that there are two sets of dates for this trip.
Pre-trip meeting with your guide in Fairbanks at 4pm at Arctic Wild headquarters.
Fly 200 miles north from Fairbanks, across the Yukon River and the Arctic Circle to the Gwich’in Athabascan settlement of Arctic Village. From there, we board an even smaller plane and carry on through the Brooks Range to a river bar alongside the Kongakut River. Tonight, take a hike, and settle into your surroundings.
Once we inflate the rafts and give a safety briefing we will launch in to the swift cold water.
On paddling days we spend about five hours on the water. This will allow lots of time for exploration, photography and a delicious picnic lunch. We run fun Class III rapids on several different days, and this entire stretch of river is exciting to paddle.
On each of the three layover days, we have choices of easy or harder, longer, higher climbs. Just before the last day or the trip, we will be able to hike to a sweeping view of the arctic coast and see the Arctic Ocean stretching off to the curved horizon. The fishing is great from every single place we camp.
Weather permitting, our bush plane will arrive to fly us towards Fairbanks in time for a late dinner and warm shower.
I did not just have a good time I had a fantastic time.
Our guide was just wonderful. Lot’s of quiet patience, quiet expertise and a wonderful disposition, all of which made my Arctic Wild rafting experience down the Kongakut one of the most memorable of my lifetime.
Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks
Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils
Boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Select Camping Equipment is available through Arctic Wild
Personal clothing and gear, per our equipment list
Fishing gear, and fishing license
Gratuity for guide(s)
Temperatures vary dramatically in the Arctic. It could be warm, but it is best to prepare for autumn weather. Temperatures will range from the 20s to 60s. When the wind comes from the north, the temperature can drop to below freezing. Cold rains and snow are possible, but we get plenty of sunny pleasant weather this time of the year too. Mosquito season should be over.