THE SELL: Unmitigated solitude. And caribou.
If you haven't read John McPhee's Coming into the Country , go get it. McPhee captures the remarkable remoteness of this pristine region, one of the least-visited places in the state, where massive caribou herds roam, six Wild and Scenic rivers flow, and there are no trails or roads. It's a place where you're likely to see a wolf stalking a line of caribou ten miles long. At the heart of this eight-million-acre protected area is Gates of the Arctic National Park, one of the crown jewels of the NPS system, perfect for river trips and backpacking. It's so out there that it can be difficult to navigate on your own, so we recommend plugging into one of the following expert outfitters.
OUTFITTED: In August, Arctic Wild spends ten days trying to catch up with the 400,000-strong Western Arctic caribou herd on the Nigu River. You may not see a half-million caribou at once, but there's almost always a steady flow of between ten and 100 animals feeding on the willows along the river or roaming the hills, nose to butt. Riddled with Eskimo ruins dating back thousands of years, the Class IIplus Nigu starts in Gates of the Arctic, then leaves the park and flows through glacial moraines. The gravelly ridges are ideal for all-day hikes into the Arctic landscape. At the end of the day, you'll enjoy a good glass of boxed wine with chili and homemade cornbreada warming antidote to the massive terrain ($4,400, including internal air from Fairbanks; arcticwild.com).
OUTFITTED: Photographers who want to skip the float and focus on the caribou herds and blazing fall tundra should plan on Arctic Treks' Fall Caribou Basecamp trip, August 2430. You'll set up camp at a high lake in the Endicott Mountains, in the northwest corner of the park, then fan out along the tundra to watch the caribou (and likely grizzlies, black bears, and wolves) stream by as the Northern Lights eventually flare up the Indian summer sky. The trip is as out there as it gets, but you're in good hands: Owner Jim Campbell and his partner, Carol Kasza, have been guiding here for more than 30 years ($3,575, including internal air from Fairbanks; arctictreksadventures.com).