Canning River Rafting ANWR Trip

Put the Wild in Wilderness. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

  • 7-12 nights in the backcountry
  • Return transport Fairbanks-Coldfoot
  • Return air taxi service to ANWR backcountry
  • Raft 90 miles nearly to the Arctic Coast
  • Hike, paddle, fish and photograph ANWR
  • 12'x12' bug screen kitchen
  • Wildlife viewing & photography
  • Packraft option available
  • Diversity of landscapes & scenery
  • Somewhat flexible itinerary

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR. 19 million acres of wonder.

On this trip we typically spend (up to) nearly 2 weeks in the Refuge, rafting and hiking from the Upper Marsh Fork of the Canning River all the way north across the coastal plain, down the Staines River, near to the Beaufort Sea.

From deep in the Brooks Range near the Continental Divide to the Arctic Ocean.


Wolves, arctic and red foxes, black and grizzly bear also roam the tundra. In ANWR, even seeing Musk Ox is a possibility. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the Canning River area in particular, is known for its amazing bird life, and there are numerous species of birds in the region, including golden eagle, Rough-legged hawks, Gyr and Peregrine falcon, ptarmigan, tundra swan, arctic terns, gulls, loons, magpies, and an amazing diversity of ducks and geese. As we approach the arctic ocean we’ll visit the marsh ponds where many of these birds are found nesting, and might easily be photographed (ensuring we’re careful not to disturb them).


Rafting is definitely the best option for travel in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. it’s faster, easier, and a nice break from carrying all that heavy gear on your back. This ANWR trip affords a great variety of terrains, from the mountains of the Brooks Range, the rolling foothills of the North Slope, and the coastal plain, host to an incredible diversity of wildlife, vegetation and birds. There is a very good possibility of encountering the migrating Central Arctic herd, numbering in the tens of thousands, as they move westward across their summer range in the Refuge.


We’ll be sure to allow plenty of time for day hikes and exploring, particularly in the earlier part of the trip in the Brooks Range. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is so little visited that we’ll likely be walking in valleys and on ridges that are rarely traveled by man. Few people leave the wide braided river beds of the valley floors.

It’s well worth the effort to climb the ridges and peaks for some stunning views or just to sit and wile away an afternoon. Soak up that ANWR wild.

Want even more hiking?

If you’re looking for a backpacking trip in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, visit our Above the Circle backpacking trip. This one is superb.


It would be remiss not to mention mosquitoes regarding this trip. The Arctic is famous for mosquitoes, and yes, they really can be that bad. But, with proper attire, mosquito repellent, bug netting, and a good attitude, it’s possible to not have too many problems. Here again, the river is your friend, as the wide braided channels of the stream provide little habitat for the mosquitoes, so they’re found in far fewer numbers along the riverbed. Also, a nice breeze is often blowing up the riverbed, which helps keep them at bay.

Trip Logistics

We’ll meet in Fairbanks and travel north up the Dalton highway to Coldfoot, at the beginning of the Brooks Range. Spend the night in Coldfoot before flying in a chartered air taxi the following morning to our landing strip on the headwaters of the upper Marsh Fork River.

From here we raft the Marsh Fork to the Canning, down the Canning and on to the coastal plain where we float almost to the Arctic Ocean. On our pickup date we fly back to Coldfoot where we’ll enjoy hot food, a shower and a relaxing evening before the drive back to Fairbanks the following day.

Trip Options

This trip is somewhat variable, depending on the year. We can do a shorter or a longer trip. We float all the way from headwaters to the sea or shorten it on either end. The actual paddle from top to bottom is a good 7-8 days floating time. It’s possible to spend 10-12 days and take more time for day hikes and explorations and photography along the way.

Packrafting option is available if you’d rather. This works well for a shorter trip, and/or a combination backpacking/packrafting route. Inquire for details.

Caribou herd migration across ANWR, Alaska

A Great Guide!

“Rafted with Expeditions Alaska 7/8/13 to 7/21/13 in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Carl Donohue (Owner/Guide) is a great guide and host. He was knowledgeable and well prepared. 13 days in Alaska’s most remote wilderness without any glitches. Carl offers a variety of guided trips all of which are quite unique. Carl’s trips are for the true outdoors person. I will go with Carl again hopefully fall of 2014.”Trumen B, California.

The Paddling

Generally mild Class I and II water. Some sections of Marsh Fork can run swift, and at high water, a low Class III is possible. Most of the Canning is slow moving calm flat water.

The biggest challenges paddling are the lower water in the Upper Marsh Fork and the lower Canning River. It’s not uncommon to encounter strong onshore headwinds out of the arctic that can also make the paddling harder out on the coastal plain. It’s not technical paddling, but making headway against strong winds is hard work.


I have nothing but great things to say about Expeditions Alaska. The preparation process for our ANWR pack-rafting trip was smooth & very easy. Our guides proved themselves to be extremely competent and were a joy to be around, great people skills, are enthusiastic & accomplished back-country chefs.
ANWR Rafting trip review, Expeditions Alaska
Kent Treptow

Canning River Rafting Trip

Had a great 12-day rafting trip with Expeditions Alaska in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. The guides and equipment were excellent and the scenery and animals were extraordinary.
Judy and AnnMarie, Canning River rafting trip, ANWR, Alaska.
Judy Larquier

Canning River Rafting Trip

Incredible wilderness experience: scenery, solitude, wildlife
Carl was a lot of fun to adventure with! I had an extraordinary experience in ANWR with Expeditions Alaska. The guides were experienced, flexible, and tried to ensure that each guest enjoyed the trip. The group size was small and intimate. Wishing I could go back now!!
Janet on the Canning River, ANWR rafting trip, Alaska.
Janet Smith

Canning River Rafting Trip


Caribou on the Tundra

Where Are We?

Trip Itinerary

I can’t over-emphasize that this itinerary is simply an example. What I work hardest on is tailoring trips to the specific interests and abilities and experience of the people who hike with us. No two trips are the same; where possible, we don’t use the same campsites when we do the same route, we often even vary the route when we can. Mostly, I try to be flexible with how far we hike each day, how many days we spend in the backcountry. What time we get up in the morning, for example, is largely up to the trip participants (unless for some reason I feel we need to be up and on the trail by a particular time – this rarely happens).

Another Video - 50 Photos

Trip FAQs

  • Download the Trip Info Packet on this page for more info. Upon your reservation you’ll receive a detailed trip departure packet that has a comprehensive gear section in it.

    You’ll need your person clothing, sleeping bag and pad, camera gear, etc.

    Expeditions Alaska can provide paddle gear (PFD, dry pants, splash jacket, booties, etc), all rafting equipment, tents, cook tent, etc.

  • Most years? It’s as buggy as you’ve heard it might be.

    It does vary a lot year to year, but typically, this trip is pretty thick with mosquitoes. So bring your repellent, a headnet and a healthy dose of tolerance.

    We provide a large cook shelter for the kitchen, and this helps a lot. On the river itself, paddling, bugs generally aren’t too terrible. Out on the tundra, if there’s no wind at all, it can be about as thick with mosquitoes as you can imagine.

  • I like to run this trip 1 guide and 3 guests per raft. Most recent years that means 2 rafts and 6 guests and 2 guides.

  • I sure hope so.

    I try to schedule this trip in such a way that we optimize our chances. But caribou migrations are erratic. They don’t follow consistent timelines or even consistent routes.

    Some years they move together in a larger single herd, other years they disband and move as many smaller groups.

    So in short, maybe. You should see “some” caribou but it’s impossible to try to say yes or no regarding the larger herd migration. We do our best.

  • Excellent. And the closer to the coast we get, the better the birding is.

    Birders, inquire about a list of birds we might typically see.

  • No.

    With any river trip it’s advisable that you’re at least comfortable in the water.

    We’ve never had anyone  come out of a boat at all, but accidents can happen. The more comfortable and less panicky you are in water the better we’ll able to help you in such a situation.

  • You paddle. We don’t use oar boats on the tour, we have a raft with a guide and 3 guests and 4 paddles. You don’t have paddle constantly, depending on water levels, of course, but yes, you’ll be paddling.

  • Your guide will go through a comprehensive safety talk with you at the start of the trip. This includes river and boating safety, safe travel in bear country, basic backcountry etiquettes and safety notes, Leave No Trace practices, some elementary navigation practices, etc.

    We provide a satellite phone and a backup emergency messaging device such as a PLB or deLorme Inreach, and a comprehensive first aid kit. We also provide bear spray and bear resistance food canisters for safe travel in bear country.

  • All multi-day trips (backpacking, basecamping, packrafting, photo tours) out of Fairbanks include transport to/from Fairbanks/Coldfoot*, 1 night accommodations in Coldfoot, air taxi flights Coldfoot/The Backcountry, group gear such as tents, cook tents and bug screen kitchen, stoves, fuel, BRFCs, bear spray, etc. Hiking poles are included (optional) if you don’t have your own.

    We include a satellite phone for emergencies and one backup emergency contact device, such as PLB or Garmin InReach. First aid kits, map and compass included. All guides are Wilderness First Responder Certified.

    All your rafting equipment is included. Raft, paddles, dry bags, splash jacket and pants, neoprene booties, neoprene gloves, etc. We’ll provide you with a detailed gear list for your personal items upon your reservation.

    Storage of your overnight travel gear is limited but available (keep it simple, one small overnight bag).

    Expeditions Alaska can either fully outfit your trip (all food, etc) or adjust things a la carte if needed.

    UPDATE: As of 2024, we fully outfit the Canning River Rafting trip, including 4-season tents for guests and all food, kitchen items, etc.

    Guide gratuities are not included but most appreciated. Trip insurance is not included. I urge you to purchase it on your own. Give Travelex a call and tell them we sent you. We do NOT pick up your travel meals, such as eating at the diner in Coldfoot or along the Dalton highway.

    For a full outline of What’s included/not included, please see this page.

  • I know you do. I do as well.

    I recommend starting with the General Trip FAQ page

    More questions? Email me or call me  and we’ll go through them.

    Upon your reservation I’ll also send out a comprehensive trip information packet that covers just about everything and more you might imagine about your trip.

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