The Kongakut is a beautiful river offering a great variety of landscapes and arctic wildlife. If you only have one opportunity to visits the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Kongakut is the perfect choice.
The Kongakut is best known for the reliability with which it treats visitors to incredible wildlife encounters. Each year some 200,000 caribou from the Porcupine caribou herd migrate north across passes in the Brooks Range to their calving grounds on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. By late June, the caribou begin to aggregate in great numbers north of the Brooks Range. As they move shoulder to shoulder, they shape one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in North America. On previous trips we have been literally surrounded by caribou. We estimate that we have seen 20 or 30 thousand caribou in a single day. It is an awe inspiring spectacle that leaves one speechless and exhilarated.
We start our raft trip on the northern edge of the Brooks Range. Our first few days will be spent exploring the mountains, gaining spectacular vistas from the flanks of Whale Mountain. Paddling north from the peaks on this clear fast river, we enter a region of alternately rugged and rounded foothills with excellent views of the Brooks Range to the south and the Arctic Ocean to the north. From there we enter an evocative stretch of the Coastal Plain. As we paddle across the Coastal Plain and into the Kongakut’s delta, we have ever-widening views of the Brooks Range stretching away to the east and west.
In its lower reaches, the Kongakut fans out into an extraordinary prairie of rocks, low vegetation, ice and water. We pick our way through a maze of river braids to a massive freshwater ice field (aufeis) that appears to block the way, acting as gates to the Arctic Ocean beyond. Blue ice, clear water, gray gravel and the endless sky. Our time on the coast presents a unique opportunity to explore this storied region. Tent rings, old sod houses and relics from the whaling area dot the coast. View its wildlife, be awe-struck by the vivid light of the midnight sun, or walk onto the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean. In addition to caribou, we may also see wolves, grizzly bears, musk oxen, and an array of birds and wildflowers. The famed and ferocious wolverine inhabits the area, but is among the rarest of sightings.
This is a leisurely-paced trip. No experience is required to paddle the raft. Instruction is provided. Everyone joins in the fun of paddling under the guidance of an experienced raft captain. The Kongakut is a fast-moving river with multiple braided channels. We may need to get out and walk the rafts in shallow places. The coast is often breezy if not windy, meaning we may have to paddle steadily for several hours.
Last updated: August 6, 2020
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet with your guide(s) for a pre-trip meeting at 4 pm in Fairbanks at Arctic Wild headquarters.
Fly north from Fairbanks across the mighty Yukon River and over the Arctic Circle. Land in the Athabascan Indian settlement of Arctic Village, population 120. Time allowing, tour the village before boarding our bush plane for the last leg into the wilderness. Once the plane goes, we are on our own in the immense and quiet landscape.
At any time during the week, we could see caribou, a grizzly bear or two, a wolf, or other arctic wildlife. On paddling days, we’ll travel from 6 to 8 hours per day. We will pull ashore several times each day for brief forays, lunch, or to watch wildlife. At day’s end, we’ll choose a nice dry camp. There will be free time for group and personal pursuits each and every day. Evenings and mornings are good times to explore our surroundings. Guides will lead informal natural history hikes, but you are also welcome to go off on your own.
We usually plan three or four “layover days” on the Kongakut. Our first day-hikes will be in the vicinity of Whale Mountain. This area affords us great opportunities for gaining elevation, admiring wildflowers covering the slopes, and hopefully watching Dall sheep.
We will take another layover before we leave the foothills, where we’ll climb tall slopes for a panoramic view of the arctic. From the broad summits of these 2,000-foot maroon-colored foothills we can survey the breadth of the Brooks Range and the arctic Coastal Plain all the way to the Arctic Ocean.
Time permitting, we’ll also take a layover on the Coastal Plain to walk the tundra expanses colored in cream by Dryas flowers. We often see Tundra Swans on nests in the shimmering distance and caribou gathered on aufeis.
Our final layover will be on the arctic coast. Hiking along the beaches is excellent and a pretty good workout. Depending on sea ice conditions, we may be able to climb an icy “pressure ridge” formed by the frozen Arctic Ocean.
Await the arrival of our bush pilot, who will land on the beach. We will fly south across the breadth of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Weather permitting, we arrive back in Fairbanks by dinner time.
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. Temperatures range from the 20s to 80s even in a single day. Cold rains and snow are possible, but we get lots of warm sunny weather this time of the year. As we get closer to the Arctic Ocean temperatures will drop as will the insects. Right on the coast we will encounter strong winds and cold temperatures. There will be bugs on this trip! Traveling with insect repellent (DEET) and a head-net is prudent.