The Canning River is the largest river in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Many claim it to be the most beautiful. Our journey through the wilderness is designed to immerse you in the beauty of this exceptional area, introduce you to its varied wildlife, and to facilitate your learning about wilderness travel. The Canning offers excellent rafting and nearly endless hiking opportunities. Naturalists will delight in the diversity of wildlife and birds.
The Canning begins amid some of the Brooks Range’s most jagged limestone mountains. The upper river is exceptionally rugged and severely beautiful. As the river flows seaward, it bounds the west end of three sub-ranges of the Brooks Range, the prosaically named “Third Range,” the Shublik Mountains, and the Sadlerochit Mountains. By trip’s end the land is broad and the sky enormous. From a hill near the take out spot there is a view to the Arctic Ocean in good weather.
From each of our camps there will be time and opportunity for day hikes deeper into the mountains in search of wildlife. Other activities can include fishing for grayling and arctic char, making casts of tracks we find in the mud, searching out raptor nest on the cliffs near the river, or simply enjoying the quiet of the wilderness.
Wildlife encounters are difficult to predict, but in years past we have seen a great variety of wildlife on the Canning River. Sightings have included grizzly bears, wolves, arctic and red fox, Dall sheep, moose, caribou, musk oxen, wolverine and one year we saw a Polar Bear near the coast.
For birds you can expect to see a host of passerines including some rarities like bluethroats, northern wheatears and wagtails. Raptors will be fledging and the young birds will be learning to hunt on their own. We may see golden eagles, peregrine falcons, gyrfalcons, rough-legged hawks, short-eared owls, and maybe even the snowy owl, known as “ukpik” in Inupiaq.
Though it is not apparent on the ground, the Canning is at a literal crossroads of conservation. The headwaters are protected as wilderness, but as we travel down river, we enter the famous 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an area Congress has never been able to either permanently protect nor exploit for oil and gas.
We’ll paddle about 90 miles of the Canning, from near the headwaters of the Marsh Fork, nearly to the Coast. This is a moderately difficult trip, not a “float”. We may have to drag the boats over shallow spots; we will have to paddle to get where we’re going, even though the current is always swift. There is Class III whitewater at several points along the river. However, no experience is required for paddle rafting, as instruction is provided. Everyone joins in the fun of paddling the boats under the guidance of a raft captain.
Last updated: January 29, 2021
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guides for a pre-trip meeting at 4pm at Arctic Wild headquarters in Fairbanks.
Fly from Fairbanks to the Gwich’in settlement of Arctic Village, where we switch to a smaller plane and head further north, over the spectacular Philip Smith Mountains, to our put-in on on the Marsh Fork of the Canning River. We will set up camp and inflate our rafts in preparation for the next day’s float.
We will spend our time floating from the tiny headwaters of the Marsh Fork to the northern edge of the mountains. Along the way we will have as many as three layover days to enjoy day hiking, fishing, or just hanging around camp, enjoying the solitude and quiet. The hiking is fantastic the entire length of the river and wildlife can be found at any time. There are hard hikes and easy strolls from each camp. Only your imagination limits the adventures we can have. On our travel days we will paddle for about 6 hours. There is a bit of whitewater and lots of fast water but also plenty of stretches where we can watch the sky and scan the mountains for wildlife.
Pack our gear and await the arrival of our bush pilot, who will land on a long gravel bar. We will fly back to Fairbanks in time for a late dinner.
Beyond expectations! Our family just returned from the most amazing trip with Arctic Wild. My wife, our 3 kids, and myself, paddled the Canning River through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for 10 wonderful days.
Michael Wald was so organized and professional that gearing up for the trip was a breeze. We had some initial concerns in terms of water safety in such a remote place, as our kids are 9, 11, and 13 years old respectively, but Michael assured us that the rafts were very stable and that the rapids would be more splashy than scary. He was correct, and at no point in the trip did we feel out of our comfort zone.
Our guides, were exceptional. They were super knowledgeable guides, talented cooks, and fantastic with our kids. We spent many afternoons fishing on the river, hiking in the mountains, and learning about the Refuge first hand. It was truly a trip of a lifetime!
The experience was incredible, and our kids will remember it forever. We will be back!
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, See full equipment list
Fishing gear, and fishing license
Gratuity for guide(s)
Expect a variety of weather. Temperatures can range from in the 70’s down to freezing. Snow is always possible. Bugs should be gone but bring some DEET just in case.