Exploring north of the Arctic Circle

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of January 23-29, 1997
Exploring north of the Arctic Circle
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Exploring north of the Arctic Circle
Question: What's the best adventure tour to remote Alaska? I'm looking for a unique Alaska adventure that takes me to wilderness area that is truly beautiful but still a bit uncharted. Thanks for your thoughts.

Bernard Friedman
Los Angeles, CA
[email protected]

You'll have no trouble losing the crowds at Gates of the Arctic National Park
Adventure Adviser: You'd be hard-pressed to travel to Alaska and not find truly beautiful scenery at practically every turn. But losing the crowds, even in a state twice the size of Texas and with more coastline than all of the continental U.S., means steering clear of Denali and heading north to one of the lesser-visited parks. With 8.2 million acres of outback in the Brooks Range just north of the Arctic Circle, Gates of the Arctic National Park is as good a choice as any.

If you've got time, plan a five-day backpack from Anaktuvuk Pass south through the open tundra of Ernie Pass and down the north fork of the Koyukuk River to Boreal Mountain and Frigid Crags Mountain. Arrange ahead of time for a Brooks Range Aviation air taxi to meet you with a food cache and inflatable canoes ($660 for a resupply flight, plus $35 per day for a canoe; 907-692-5444) and then put in for a five-day float down the Class II-III Koyukuk to the tiny outpost of Bettles.

If you've still got some energy after the 10-day trip, check in with the Park Service in Bettles (970-692-5494) for details on additional hiking loops in the area. If rivers are your thing, take a closer look at the Noatak, which flows west out of the park through the largest untouched river basin in the United States, and the Class II Kobuk.

Your best bet is to take the guided trip route, with either ABEC's Alaska Adventures (907-457-8907) or Wilderness: Alaska/Mexico (907-479-8203). Both run the Noatak for under $2,000 per person for a 12-day trip. A 10-day, 100-mile float down the Kobuk with Wilderness: Alaska/Mexico will cost you $1,800 per person. For more details on Gates of the Arctic National Park, call the headquarters in Fairbanks at 907-456-0281. There are no visitor centers or facilities inside the park and you won't need a camping permit, although it is a good idea to get updated bear and weather information from the Bettles Ranger Station before you go.

Another good resource for Alaska expedition information is "Alaska's Untamed Parks" in the Destinations section of Outside's May 1995 issue.

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