THE SELL: Inupiat culture and wildlife
An increasingly threatened 19.2 million acres of solitude covering seven ecological zones, this region spans 250 miles north to south, entirely above the Arctic Circle. Pro-oil interests are always itching to drill the estimated 5.7 to 16 billion barrels of oil here. Yes, that's a lot of crude, but this largest roadless refuge in the U.S. is also a haven for the centuries-old Inupiat culture, grizzlies, polar bears, moose, musk oxen, and caribou. With just one Inupiat village, 125 miles of Arctic Ocean coastline, and the remaining refuge one big wide-open space for large beasts to roam, there are plenty of ways to get into the wild hereso long as you have access to a plane and are comfortable navigating rivers by canoe and trail-less tundra on foot.
THE OUTFITTER: Think African-style river safari through frozen tundra. Abercrombie & Kent's ANWR trip takes you up and over the jagged 9,000-plus-foot Brooks Range to the treeless North Slope, where you'll start a ten-day journey toward the Arctic Ocean via the silty Canning River, one of the most remote river systems in North America. In the dead heat of an Alaskan summer (which means T-shirt and shorts during the day and 24 hours of daylight), you'll watch the thousands-strong Porcupine caribou herd migrate across the water, while ospreys and other predator birds circle above. You'll likely see a few musk oxen, grizzlies, and moose, too, but the line of sight is so endless, there's no need for fear. The A&K guides won't have linen tablecloths, but you will have bacon-filled omelets for breakfast and fine wines with dinner. Still hungry? Get your fly rod out and fish for grayling, trout, and arctic char ($7,000, including round-trip flight to Arctic Village from Fairbanks; abercrombiekent.com).
DIY: For a sweeping overview of this solitary, wide-open space, start your backpacking trip at Spring Creek, a tributary of the Junjik River on the southern flank of the Brooks Range, then trek on caribou trails over the Continental Divide on Carter Pass to the Marsh Fork of the Canning River, on the north side of the Brooks Range. You'll ford snowy creekbeds and camp in sites with 50-mile views, which will likely include a lot of caribou, moose, and grizzlies. Dirk Nickisch and Danielle Tirrell, owners of Coyote Air, will help you fine-tune your plans and fly you from Coldfoot to the dropoff in their DeHavilland Beaver, which fits five people with backpacking gear. They'll pick you upfive days later ($3,788 round-trip; flycoyote.com). In Coldfoot, camp at the Marion Creek BLM site, five miles north of town ($9; blm.gov/ak/st/en.html).
WILD CARD: Travel out of time and fully immerse yourself in a subsistence wayof life with Warbelow's Air Ventures' overnight polar-bear-viewing trip to Kaktovik. The only village in ANWR, 260 miles above the Arctic Circle, Kaktovik is the ultimate spot to view how the Inupiat and polar bears have relied on whale for thousands of years ($2,299; warbelows.com).