Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve

    Photo: Courtesy of Carl Stapler/NPS

THE SELL: Paddling the frontier
Jack London, the 1880s Klondike gold rush, the Yukon Quest dogsled race—few wild spaces hold more historical cachet than this wide-open, undulating, 2.5-millon-acre hunk of tundra 125 miles east of Fairbanks. In August, when the mosquitoes die off and the temperatures drop from 90-degree highs, the mighty Yukon River (which is a relatively easy float as long as you stay upright in your canoe) turns into an Alaska-style freeway. History and river buffs paddle the silty, 50-degree water from the historic town of Eagle to see abandoned gold dredges, endangered peregrine falcons in the limestone bluffs, and caribou from the Fortymile herd on the hillside.

OUTFITTED: You're in for a wild ride on the Charley, the most under-the-radar whitewater trip in Alaska—it's so off the map that this Yukon-tributary river feels almost exploratory. Raft it in a 16-foot SOAR inflatable canoe with Alaska Alpine Adventures. The first two days you'll ride the Charley's Class III water, with time to spin-cast for grayling (bring your own fishing gear) and eat delicious camp grub like chorizo-scramble burritos. After the Charley spits you into the Yukon, you'll paddle the wide river for two to three days, the first night bellying up to the stove at Slaven's Roadhouse, a pit stop on the Yukon Quest ($3,650, including transportation to/from Fairbanks; $300 discount for Outside readers; alaskaalpineadventures.com).

DIY: Fly 90 minutes from Fairbanks to Eagle on Everts Air ($170 each way; evertsair.com), then rent a sturdy Old Town canoe from Eagle Canoe Rentals for a five-to-six-day, 165-mile paddle on the Yukon ($195, plus $20 return fee; eaglecanoerentals.com). You'll see fox, moose, and grizzlies (or at least their scat). Camp on gravel bars or islands, or stay in one of five free National Park Service public-use cabins, equipped with bunks, stoves, and outhouses (first come, first served; no fee). The NPS Visitor Center in Eagle can help you with logistics (nps.gov/yuch). Warbelow's Air Ventures will fly you back to Fairbanks from Circle, the end of the line ($99 each way; warbelows.com).

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