Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

John River Put-in (© MacGill Adams, Wilderness Alaska)

Gates of the Arctic offers dozens of paddling rivers, with difficulty ranging from long, gentle floats to Class IV-V rapids. Rafting is the most common type of river trip in this area, because of the expense of transporting canoes and kayaks via aircraft.

Water levels tend to be safest in July and early August (which is also when the weather's likely to be at its finest), but rainy weather upstream can raise water levels (and danger) at any time. Aufeis, thick layers of ice created by the streams during winter overflows, usually have safely navigable channels melted into them by mid or late June, but they can be dangerous any time that water levels rise, as the water can carve narrow, high-walled channels or tunnels through the ice.

Listed below are the most rewarding and popular of the wild and scenic rivers that run through Gates of the Arctic National park, from the remote but relatively mellow Alatna to the wild Lower Kobuk Canyon. Stay aware of current river and weather conditions—it is usually possible to portage or line through the most difficult sections, but these rivers run through extremely remote wilderness.

Alatna River
Approximate length: 83 miles
Scenic Quality: High; variety from snow-capped mountains to spruce-hardwood forest
Recreational Opportunities: Plentiful sightseeing, nature study, hiking, photography, fishing, and floating
Geologic Features: Rugged mountains of central Brooks Range, including Arrigetch Peaks
Fish, Fauna, and Flora: Easily observed, variety of large and small mammals, migration route for arctic caribou herd

John River
Approximate length: 52 miles
Scenic Quality: Outstanding; high relief, vegetative variety, exposed rock, cliffs, and outcroppings
Recreational Opportunities: Numerous, family float stream, excellent hiking and backpacking in upper river area
Geologic Features: Wide glacial valleys dissecting central Brooks Range
Fish, Fauna, and Flora: Variety of large and small mammals, important migration route for arctic caribou herd, unique habitat for William's milk vetch

Kobuk Wild River
Approximate length: 110 miles
Scenic Quality: Wide valleys with sweeping vistas of nearby hills and low mountains, Walker Lake, two canyons
Recreational Opportunities: Exceptional float river, a few short stretches of extremely rugged rapids (up to class V), good opportunities for sport hunting (in Preserve only), wildlife observation and backpacking
Geologic Features: Endicott Mountains of central Brooks Range, upper and lower Kobuk canyons
Fish, Fauna, and Flora: Variety of fish and wildlife, one of largest concentrations of sheefish, wintering grounds for western arctic caribou herd, one of the largest continuous spruce forest areas in the Brooks Range
Cultural Resources: Highly significant potential for archaeology because of continuous occupation and links between inland Eskimo people

Noatak Wild River
Approximate length: 65 miles (continues for 265 miles in Noatak National Preserve)
Scenic Quality: Glacial valley with snowcapped peaks
Recreational Opportunities: One of the longest designated wild rivers in Alaska, good floating, sightseeing, and wildlife viewing opportunities
Geologic Features: Mount Igikpak and Schwalka Mountains of west-central Brooks Range, narrow glacial valley
Fish, Fauna, and Flora: Plentiful caribou, Dall sheep, grizzly bear, several species of raptors
Cultural Resources: Transportation route by natives for thousands of years

North Fork of the Koyukuk Wild River
Approximate length: 102 miles
Scenic Quality: Glacial valleys bordered by rugged peaks of Endicott Mountains in central Brooks Range, Frigid Crags, and Boreal Mountain (known as the Gates of the Arctic)
Recreational Opportunities: Access at headwaters, outstanding wilderness backpacking, clear water and challenging whitewater
Geologic Features: South flank of the arctic Continental Divide, through glacial valleys bordered by Endicott Mountains
Fish, Fauna, and Flora: Variety of wildlife, major caribou migration route. Remarkable values of the Tinayguk Wild River.

Tinayguk River
(A tributary of the North Fork of the Koyukuk)
Approximate length: 44 miles
Scenic Quality: Broad glacial valley bordered by the rugged peaks of the Endicott Mountains
Recreational Opportunities: High potential for hiking and backpacking. Access is more difficult than North Fork of Koyukuk.
Ecologic Features: South flank of the arctic Continental Divide, glacial valleys bordered by Endicott Mountains
Fish, Fauna, and Flora: Variety of wildlife

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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