Beyond The Gates

The Gates are open. Paddle Home.

  • Visit 'The Gates'
  • Flexible Schedule
  • Easy float trip
  • Perfect for the novice pack rafter
  • Add-on days available
  • Mt Boreal and Frigid Crags
  • A glorious arctic packraft trip

25 years ago I flew in here. My first ever Alaska adventure. Dirk, my pilot, dropped me off in the middle of the Koyukuk River. Yes, a sandbar, an island in the middle of the river. Then he hopped back in to his plane, said ‘Have fun!” and flew away.

I’ll never forget that feeling. Watching the plane disappear, smaller and smaller as it headed south.


Well, I had certainly had fun. So much fun that I’ve ventured back to the Alaska wilderness every year since.

Now we’re offering this experience to you with our Koyukuk Float trip.

I’m sure you’re looking for details, so with no further adieu, here’s the good stuff.

Trip Details

We’ll start well south of the more technically demanding user reaches of the Koyukuk, and enjoy the paddle to the confluence with the Middle Fork.

Most of the nearby mountains are in the 5000-7500’ size. The tallest, Mt Doonerak, is 7 610’ ASL.

Packrafting is one of the best ways to go deep into this Arctic paradise and discover its hidden gems. 

What’s a packraft?

A packraft is an inflatable boat that can be packed down into a small, lightweight package. See our trip page.

The Koyukuk River runs through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, offering over 100 miles of remote, Wild & Scenic river channels for exploration. It’s a great place to experience nature at its most wild and pristine!

Exploring the Koyukuk River by packraft. An incredible and unique way to experience Alaska’s untouched wilderness. The Gates Of The Arctic National Park is as untouched as a region might be.

The remoteness of this area means that we must prepare for any situation we may encounter.

Weather conditions can vary rapidly. Bring extra clothing and supplies in case of emergency or inclement weather.

This area offers endless possibilities for exploration and adventure. Dramatic scenery and wide-open views. Prepare yourself for an unforgettable experience!

Who’s It For?

This one is moderately easy. Pretty much most folks. The float is a good match for novice paddlers, and enough fun for even more experienced paddlers. We’re not on a whitewater adventure here, we’re paddling through one of the most iconic locations in Alaska river history.

You don’t need packrafting or kayaking experience. You should be a reasonable swimmer and comfortable in the water. Paddling experience helps.

You don’t need to be backpacker or superfit outdoor guru. Just someone who loves the wilderness and is looking for real Alaska packraft adventure.

Trip Challenges

Logistics. River trips are always finicky as weather is such a thing. In waterways like this, with such a huge watershed, rain up valley can really change the water level. This affects how quickly you travel, affects which strips the planes can come get you from, affects your comfort level, etc. Everything.

As with any arctic trip, bugs can be a thing. But they’re not too bad on the river or camping on gravel bars. July is definitely the bigger time, but with the right gear, some bug spray and a little bit of tolerance you’ll be fine. Bug proof clothing is a must.

Portages. Conditions can change and sometimes we have to portage to a nearby lake for our pickup. It’s a slog but not the end of the world.


As with all Alaska backcountry travel, I’ll preface this itinerary with a strong caveat.

This is just a very loose look at what a typical trip looks like. Weather and countless other factors can make yours vary. be flexible, and ready to wing it if you have to. But this is a good outline of what we aim for.

Snippets 'n Tidbits


The trip works well as a week long adventure. That’s start to finish, from Fairbanks and back to Fairbanks.

7 days is ideal. We can run it a little briefer, in 6, or even 5 if you’re willing to get after it. A more leisurely 8 day trip works as well, with shorter paddle days and more side hikes.

My ideal? 7 days.

Is it hard?

Literally any trip in Alaska CAN be hard. Weather and conditions vary and that can completely change the nature (and logistics) of a trip. It can be hod and dry or it can be cold and wet and snowy. Or it can be all the above. All on one trip.

Your Guide Says

Expeditions Alaska backpacking guide, Rhane Pfeiffer Rhane came back from this trip in 2021. “Carl, put this on the website” I’m gunna paddle this every year. Too much fun. It’s the perfect Gates of the Arctic introductory packraft trip”.

Koyukuk Origins

Koyukuk comes from a Yupik word, sounding like Kuik-yuk meaning ‘river’.

So it translates somewhat literally as River River. The Russian explorer (Petr Vasilii Malakhov) who gave it the name Koyukuk River did so because he didn’t know the actual local name of the river. “We’ll just call it river” seemed reasonable to him, I suppose.

Word on the River is ...

“guide Rachel Taylor made all my meals and it was nothing short of gourmet dining! She is the best guide!! Would love to go on another guided trip with her next year! Hats off to this group and thanks so much for a trip of a lifetime.”
Packrafters packrafting Koyukuk River, Gates of the Arctic National Park.
Ellen Y

Beyond the Gates

Highly recommend
I did the six-day packraft expedition on the North Fork of the Koyukuk River in Gates of the Arctic NP in August 2023. It was incredible, with memories for a lifetime, thanks to Expeditions Alaska (EA) and our guide extraordinaire Jared Martin!
Packrafting Gates of the Arctic National Park
Jonathon Ruhe

Beyond the Gates

Jared was super knowledgeable
Expeditions Alaska runs a great trip! Did a packraft trip on the Koyokuk river with Jared as our guide. Trip was well planned, communication was great. The food was top notch! We were lucky enough to see a Grizzly and a moose. Absolutely stunning trip, with a great guide!
Packrafter floating by a grizzly bear on Koyukuk River, Gates of the Arctic National Park.
Jason Casey

Beyond the Gates


Where Are We?


  • This is probably the question we get most frequently for our packraft trips. In short, yes.

    While we do run a few trips on some gnarlier rivers, like the Dadina or Lakina, most of our packraft trips will be fine for a novice paddler.

    Your guide will spend more than enough time going through the basics of paddling with you and the run down of what you need to do know before you head downriver.

  • Before you hit the water, your guide will go over all the basics of whitewater river safety.

    We start with how to stay in your boat.
    How to paddle.
    What to avoid.
    How to communicate with each other on the river.

    We’ll discuss risk factors, swim positions, navigating safely and how to look after yourself.

  • Never say never.

    Alaska backcountry travel is never set in stone. We like to go downriver and get picked up by the shore, but water levels vary year to year and within the summer, so we may have to decide on the fly and head for a nearby lake for our pickup.

    That would involve a short but relatively easy portage. We can make it happen in a couple of trips if need be. But better to make good decisions and be safe than convenient ones and increase risks.

  • This depends on the guide and their preferences, but our staple dishes include (but aren’t limited to)

    • backcountry pizza,
    • backcountry baking (fresh bread, garlic bread, cinnamon rolls, brownies, cookies),
    • fresh backcountry salads with fresh greens if available (arctic dock, mountain bluebell, wild berries),
    • fresh fish if available (arctic char and grayling),
    • curries,
    • pancakes,
    • hash-browns, and
    • burritos.

    Something you’d like to have? Let us know. Mike baked a birthday cake for a guest last summer.

  • All multi-day trips (backpacking, basecamping, packrafting, photo tours) out of Fairbanks include transport to/from Fairbanks/Bettles, 1 night accommodations in Bettles, air taxi flights Bettles/The Backcountry, group gear such as cook tents, stoves, fuel, BRFCs, bear spray, etc. Hiking poles are included 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.

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

    Outfitting of equipment such as tents is available. Expeditions Alaska can either fully outfit your trip (all food, tents, etc) or adjust things a la carte if needed.

    Guide gratuities are not included but most appreciated. Trip insurance is not included. I strongly encourage you to buy it on your own. Travelex is who we steer people toward.

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

  • Expeditions Alaska will outfit your packrafting trip. That includes packraft, spray skirt and boat deck, dry suit or splash wear (trip dependent), neoprene paddling gloves and booties. Whitewater trips include helmets. All paddlers are provided with an approved PFD (Personal Flotation Device).

    Dry bags are included for you as well.

    Your guide will also carry a tow strap, throw bag and line, plus the usual backcountry safety equipment of sat phones, first aid kits, etc.

    If you have your own equipment, you’re welcome to use that instead. Let’s talk about it first and make sure your rig is appropriate for this trip.

  • Reserving your place on a trip requires a 50% deposit. Deposits are non-refundable. All trips MUST be paid in full 45 days prior to the scheduled departure date.

    If the client cancels on a trip paid in full, 80% of the price can be deferred to another trip within the next 12 months, provided that

    i) Expeditions Alaska is able to fill the spot,
    ii) the trip is full and
    iii) 30 days (or more) notice is given.

    If cancellation is within 30 days of the trip only 50% of the fee can be carried over to a future trip.

    No refunds or other reimbursements are given for cancellations within 14 days of the trip departure.

    Expeditions Alaska reserves the right to cancel and/or modify the itinerary of a trip. You will be refunded your payment in full if Expeditions Alaska cancels your trip.You will be refunded your payment in full, minus a $250 administrative fees plus any unrecoverable deposits Expeditions Alaska made to organize the trip if Expeditions Alaska cancel your trip.

    If weather or other factors delay or impede your trip, there will be no refund of fees. Expeditions Alaska is not responsible for any other costs incurred by the client as a result of the cancellation. Additional costs incurred through weather delays and itinerary changes are the responsibility of the client. Additional costs incurred by the client, such as changes to flights or additional costs, etc, are the sole responsibility of the client.

  • All trips and trip prices include the following.

    * Professional Guide Service: Experience is paramount, as is a friendly, flexible atmosphere for your trip, and Expeditions Alaska go out of our way to bring that to the backcountry. I know the routes, the natural history and the place as well as anyone, and all the best campsites! Backcountry camping in Alaska can be intimidating for a novice and even for some intermediate and experienced hikers. A qualified guide service can go a long way to minimizing problems that may come up. Customers returning for seven eight nine ten consecutive hiking trips with Expeditions Alaska speaks volumes for the value of a good guide.

    * Travel and Accommodations: Expeditions Alaska typically offers a complete Door-to-Door service.

    For example, for our Wrangell-St. Elias National Park trips, we’ll pick you up from your hotel in Anchorage, drive to McCarthy in our comfortable conversion van, stay the night at the Kennecott River Lodge, enjoy a hot breakfast the following morning in McCarthy, then fly into the backcountry. Backpack and hike for your trip, fly back to McCarthy, have the afternoon in and around McCarthy, exploring the Kennecott Glacier, or the old mines up at Kennecott, spend another night at the Kennecott River Lodge, and drive back to Anchorage the final day, right to your hotel in Anchorage.

    For the ANWR trips, we’ll usually travel from Fairbanks to Coldfoot or Kaktovik by plane, then fly into the backcountry. Whether we pick you up at your hotel in Fairbanks or not will depend on whether we’re driving or flying north. If we fly, we’ll meet you at the airport. If we’re driving, we’ll pick you up.

    For all other trips, check first as to exactly what the plan is.

    * Gear: We can provide all cookware, fuel, etc for the trip. Feel free to let us know if you’d like to bring your own. We can get the fuel you need as it’s not possible for you to fly with any fuel in your luggage. If you would prefer a fully outfitted trip we can accommodate that. You’ll need to bring your personal gear, such as a sleeping bag and backpack. We’ll also provide bear-resistant food canisters and bear spray for the trip. Expeditions Alaska trips will also provide a cook tent for the trip. We also provide hiking poles for you if you don’t have your own.

    * Safety: Any professional guide service puts safety first. This means caution, it means responsibility and it means an excellent knowledge of the area: the terrain, wildlife and travel, backcountry camping and safety. Fully qualified Wilderness First Aid certification. A satellite phone available for emergency backcountry service if necessary and a backup emergency messaging device such as Delorme inReach or PLB. We bring a GPS, map and compass on every route we do. This is an owner-operated business and all participants can feel confident knowing they’re not getting an intern or inexperienced guide for their trip.

    * Storage: Extra travel items that won’t be needed while we’re in the backcountry (limited space available).

    What’s Not Included?

    Expeditions Alaska do not provide the following unless otherwise specified.

    a) food and camping gear — Expeditions Alaska will outfit your trip if you would like us to. For a minimal addition in cost, I’m glad to supply food and camping gear (you will need your own personal gear, such as a sleeping bag, pad, clothes, pack, etc). Any specific items you may need help with, just send me an email or call me and I’ll work it out for you.

    b) travel arrangements to Anchorage from outside Alaska.

    c) trip insurance. Our suggestion is Travelex.

    d) travel meals. Any hotel or lodge meals we eat in the frontcountry are not included in your price. So if we stop to eat along the road, for example, we do not pick up the tab for that.

    d) guide gratuities.

    Extra Info

    Please note

    The ANWR and Gates of the Arctic National Park trips include all travel (return) from Fairbanks to Coldfoot, or from Fairbanks to Kaktovik, where we fly into the Refuge, as well as rafts, dry bags, etc. The Icy Bay and Malaspina Glacier trips start and end in Yakutat, Alaska. Because of the nature of backcountry adventure, trips vary year to year. Each trip is also available for longer or shorter durations, and trip prices vary accordingly. Similarly, group bookings (3 or more participants) can receive substantial discounts.

    For more information, contact us using the Contact Form here.

    All clients complete the backcountry waiver before departing for any of our trips.

  • confused smileyJust kidding – it’s really not meant to intimidate anyone. It’s a difficult thing to choose a trip like this, often with relatively little real understanding of how different backpacking here in Alaska is, different even from the more rugged and “wild” parks in the Lower 48 states. Most folks that come up here are not used to backpacking off trail (or, rather, “no trail”), and that really makes a big difference. Your gear choices, your choice of trip, the time you allow for it, and so on, become more critical choices when you’re in a place like this. This page is intended to try help you sort through this and help figure out what kind of trip will work best for you.

    At the same time, the rewards and the thrill of a place like this are also unique. I’ve no question at all that if you’ve read this far, you’ll love your Alaska backpacking trip, whether it’s with me, or another guiding service, or a trip you take on your own. Just be careful out there.

    Happy Trails!

  • We all do. Questions are good. That’s how we learn. Either give me a call or send me an email and we’ll go through them.

    I also send out a comprehensive Trip Information Packet upon your reservation and that will usually answer your questions.


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