Raft with us through the heart of the Brooks Range on the fast-paced Hulahula River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This wilderness rafting trip has it all: day hikes up to glacier views, whitewater rafting, and arctic wildlife. We are planning several extra days to hike in the mountains. If you like wilderness hiking, this is the trip for you.
How can we make a classic Arctic rafting trip even better? Add more time to hike!
For those that love adventure there is no better way to experience the grandeur of the region than to raft and hike in turn. Ascending a rocky ridge to get a look at Dall sheep one day, and paddling on the fast paced Hulahula the next. On this “hikers special” rafting trip we’ll have lots of time to explore side canyons and climb towards the glaciers.
The Hulahula is a glacial river which pours from the most dramatic and tallest portion of the Brooks Range. Starting near the Continental Divide the tundra valley features perfect camping, spectacular views, and varied wildlife. We will explore this vast wilderness together, enjoying our favorite hikes and seeking new vistas. With long days and no trails, the only limits are our imaginations (and safety concerns). On one hike we can get views of the Esetuk Glacier and the summit of Mount Michelson, one of the tallest peaks in the Brooks Range. From our final camp we may even ascend Kikiktat Mountain where, when conditions are right, we can see the Arctic Ocean 30 miles to the north.
When not hiking, loafing in camp, enjoying good meals, or scanning the landscape for wildlife, we’ll paddle the small but spunky Hulahula River. There are shallow braids to negotiate and the river is punctuated by several Class III rapids. They are lots of fun and a bit splashy. Paddling is active and engaging and by day’s end we are happy to land at another perfect campsite to begin exploring anew.
One of the beauties of this trip is in the diversity of landscapes and wildlife. High in the mountains Dall sheep dot the mountainsides and bears dig roots on the river flats. In the foothills we could see wolves hunting marmots or following caribou trails. The Coastal Plain is where we may see musk oxen and a great variety of birds. We don’t go to the coast in August (too many polar bears for relaxed camping) but you will sample many of the habitats that make the Arctic Refuge special.
Wildlife is hard to predict but over the years we have seen an amazing variety of wildlife life on the Hulahula. And even if no wildlife is to be found the landscape is truly stunning and the ecology of the Arctic fascinating.
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. Everyone will be busy and engaged on this small rock-studded river. There are several rapids that your skilled guide will negotiate with great care. You will get splashed, but in all our years of running the Hulahula we’ve never had anyone go for an (unintentional) swim.
Summer travel in the Arctic can be rigorous and participants should be ready for anything, including low water levels that require us to get out of the boats and drag them over shallow spots. The hiking opportunities are limitless and will be a focus of this trip; from easy ambles up the valley, to all-day peak ascents. Day hikes will be tailored to your interests and abilities.
On a wilderness trip like the Hulahula, one never knows what conditions we may face nor what opportunities might arise. This is the nature, and the honor, of wilderness travel.
Last updated: January 20, 2020
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Pre-trip meeting with your guide(s) in Fairbanks at 4pm at Arctic Wild headquarters.
Fly north from Fairbanks across the Yukon River, the Arctic Circle, and the Brooks Range, to the headwaters of the Hulahula River. We’ll make a comfortable camp, have a good dinner, and take a short hike. Welcome to the arctic!
We’ll spend our first full day of the trip hiking on the tundra and learning about the refuge. From our camp next the the Hulahula’s headwaters we can climb into the high-country for views to the continental divide. We’ll glass for Dall Sheep in the peaks and press our faces close to the ground to study the tundra plants which flourish in the Arctic environment.
After a safety discussion we can launch the 4 person paddle rafts into the current and work on paddling as a team on the small and technical Hulahula River. We’ll backpaddle away from rocky cliffs, skitter over the shallow cobbles and weave our way past remnants of last winter’s ice. The river is fast and fun.
At intervals, we’ll pull over and search the gravel bars for follized coral or we may have the opportunity to get out the spotting scope so we can watch a distant grizzly, digging for squirrels.
We’ll have time (and nearly infinite daylight) to take a hike after dinner and explore away from each of our riverside camps.
Take a hike. There is lots to see so we need not go far. But if you are eager to climb to the top of the ridge, there are plenty of places we can go. The mountains stretch forever!
Another day on the river. We’ll paddle a fun rapid on this day, but will likely have time at lunch to hike up a small canyon for a view back to our first camp. We tend to see lots of sheep in this area so we will keep our binos handy.
This is our chance to get close to the alpine glaciers which pour off of Mt. Michelson. Despite the size of the mountains, glaciers are a rarity in Arctic Alaska because of the dry climate. This hike is worth the effort
As we approach the northern edge of the mountains we enter a spectacular canyon and the river gains speed and difficulty. Here we encounter a couple of Class III rapids and numerous Class II sections. We may stop and scout or even line the boats through the rapids if the water level makes them unsafe.
Once through the rapids we reach the “Mountain Front” where the Brooks Range ends and the foothills begins. We encounter many unique species of plants and animals where the two habitats intersect and we’ll have a full day here to hike and/ or relax.
If you are particularly ambitious we can climb Mt Kikiktat for views to the north. Or grab you binoculars and stroll to a nearby lake and observe waterfowl nesting and feeding on the edge of the coastal plain. There is lots to do here and the camping is superb.
Sadly our time on the Hulahula is at an end. On our last morning, we’ll pack-up our gear and listen for the plane. Weather permitting, it arrives mid-day and shuttles us back to Fairbanks arriving in time for a late dinner. (and a shower)
We had great guides and traveling companions, and were fortunate to see lots of caribou, bears, and other wildlife. The variety of scenery and adventure was great, even dragging the rafts through the mud on the delta was strangely fun. We’re really glad the trip went all the way to Arctic Coast. Great to have the library and spotting scope.
Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks
Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils
Boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Temperatures vary dramatically in the Arctic and can 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 we get lots of sunny weather in the summer season. With luck this trip is prior to the “bug season” but bring along a mosquito head net and a small bottle of DEET repellent. Better safe than sorry.