We’ll start well south of the more technically demanding user reaches of the Koyukuk, and enjoy the easier float 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 easy. Pretty much anybody. 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 floating 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.
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.
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.
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.
You arrive in Fairbanks, and overnight (not included). next morning, meet us at the air taxi office, weigh in, and load up. Fly to Coldfoot or Bettles, we do a quick orientation with the National Park Service Visitor Center, then hip into an even smaller plane, and fly in to the Gates.
Your backcountry time, as with all of our trips, is not something we script. There are too many variables, starting with weather delays getting in to the backcountry. We may land, make camp, and do a hike. We may land, inflate boats and paddle.
But for the next 5 days you’ll packraft, palling and floating, camp, hike and enjoy Gates of the Arctic National Park, as we make our way down the North Fork of the Koyukuk River.
There are 2 spots we have where we can get picked up. Like so many things Alaska, which one we head to will depend largely on weather.
We’ll get picked up and fly back to Coldfoot (or Bettles) and overnight, before departing the final day for Fairbanks.
You should overnight in Fairbanks, and depart no sooner than 24 hours AFTER our scheduled arrival back in Fairbanks. Even better, give yourself 2 nights there.
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.
Your Guide Says
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 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 ir river” seemed reasonable to him, I suppose.
I've never packrafted before? Can I do this?
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.
What kind of safety briefing do you give?
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.
Is there much portaging to do?
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.
What kinds of food do your guides typically make?
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),
- hash-browns, and
Something you’d like to have? Let us know. Mike baked a birthday cake for a guest last summer.
What’s Included – Gates trips?
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
What about packrafting gear?
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 tripsbe paid in full 45 days prior to the scheduled departure date.
If the client cancels on a trip paid in full, 90% 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 notice is given.
If cancellation is within 30 days of the trip only 75% of the fee can be carried over to a future trip. No refunds 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.
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.
What’s Included/Not Included?
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 nineten consecutive hiking trips with Expeditions Alaska speaks volumes for the value of a good guide.
* Travel and Accommodations: Expeditions Alaska typically offers a complete .
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.
* 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.
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.
Why are there so many questions?
Just 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.
I still have more questions
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.