Beginning in high tundra, the Wind River flows beneath limestone spires, past glacial lakes, and finally through the boreal forests of northern Alaska. Autumn on the Wind offers clear cold nights, aurora viewing, fall colors, and excellent hiking. Join us for fun paddling and wildlife watching in the Brooks Range this fall.
The Wind River, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, offers the wilderness traveler a little of everything. Flowing clear from the peaks of the Brooks Range, we start high in the tundra, where the views are nearly endless and the mountains beckon exploration. We have a couple of days to enjoy the headwaters of this valley, embracing the last days of summer and the broad mountains all around.
As we raft down the middle and lower river, we descend, negotiating small rapids and entering the northern boreal forest. This enchanting forest is home to wildlife typical of arctic Alaska such as grizzly bears and caribou, as well as wildlife more typical of the great interior forests such as beaver, black bear, moose, and lynx. We float past rock faces striated in red, orange, gray, white, and black. Limestone mountains hang over the valley, providing striking contrast with the dark green forests.
These limestone mountains make for great hiking and are pocked with caves. These caves provide refuge for Dall sheep and in days past provided shelter for ancient human hunters too. Moose are exceptionally abundant in the lakes near the river. These clear lakes host migrating waterfowl, as well as northern pike and lake trout. Snowy, great gray and Northern hawk owls have been spotted here, along with many other arctic and boreal bird species.
Caribou from the Porcupine herd flow through the valley on their way south to wintering grounds each fall. If the timing of their migration coincides with our trip it is quite a sight. Along with the caribou come predators: wolves, grizzly bears, and if we are lucky, the elusive wolverine.
September is autumn in the arctic and a lovely time to be in the wilderness. We will have layover days to hike, fish, or just hang out. Well-drained slopes north of the river provide some excellent hiking opportunities; gradual ridges carry the adventurous hiker towards the peaks and spectacular views in all directions. We can find huge patches of blueberries and gorge ourselves like bears.
The river is alternately fast and rocky and calm and sandy. This is a moderately difficult river trip with several sections of Class II and III rapids, and stretches of standing waves and boulder gardens. In other areas the river splays out into uncountable channels and we will need to walk a short way before resuming our journey down river. It’s all part of the fun and adventure of wilderness travel. 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: September 15, 2021
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide(s) for a pre-trip meeting in Fairbanks at 4 pm at Arctic Wild headquarters.
Leaving Fairbanks we fly 250 miles, over the Yukon River, to Arctic Village. We then catch a smaller plane for a spectacular flight to the Wind River. We set up camp and enjoy our first night in the wilderness.
We can elect to spend our first full day in the wilderness hiking the tundra and climbing towards the peaks. Hikes can be as short or as long as you desire. With endless wilderness all around there are few limits to the adventures we can have.
After inflating our rafts and talking about river safety, we set off onto the Wind—a small, clear river. The first section of the river is sandy and the river winds back and forth from mountain to mountain, descending into the boreal forest. After the first day of paddling we enter an area with numerous kettle lakes. This area offers some good hiking and we tend to see lots of moose and waterfowl.
Once we get down to Keche Mountain with it’s long limestone ridges and good walking we hope to take another layover day, searching for sheep and signs of ancient Gwich’in life in the mountains. The last few days of paddling promise steady and fun white water as this steep little river races towards the Chandalar River. Once past the confluence with the East Fork of the Ch’idriinjik (Chandalar) River, we enjoy a day of floating this broad clear river and then pull over at the appointed gravel bar for a final night in the wilderness.
Weather permitting, we will hear our plane mid-morning and then make our way back towards “civilization.” Once we get cleaned up we can begin exaggerating about the trip!
I genuinely feel, having traveled in South America, Australia, and Africa to remote villages and lodges, huts etc. that Alaska was the most foreign I have ever felt. And I am glad to have experienced it.
One of my biggest impressions is that I am so so very glad we had Arctic Wild as our outfitters. Michael Wald and his team were terrific and well prepared. I can’t say enough about the attention to detail and the experience of them and especially our guide Nancy Pfeiffer. I talked with other guides and with other groups. After each conversation, (trust me, they were lengthy chats as we were on a gravel runway sitting on our packs…) I thought how lucky we were to be with Nancy and Arctic Wild.
Transportation beyond 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)
Temperatures vary dramatically in the Arctic, especially in autumn. Temperatures range from the 20s to 70s. When the wind comes from the north, the temperature can drop to below freezing. Cold rains and snow are possible, but mostly, “bad weather” might come in the form of rain. Most years, September is a lovely time to be on the river. Mosquito season should be over and winter still several weeks away. Bring plenty of warm clothes and just a little DEET in case the weather is mild and the bugs are still around.