Aniuk River

The Aniuk River begins in the mountains northwest of Howard Pass, an easy pass full of lakes and was a traditional pathway for migrating early native cultures. The river flows southwesterly for 80 miles to its confluence with the Noatak River. It is a small, clear water stream with numerous rocky rapids. For anyone wanting to do the Noatak River, yet want an alternate, more remote starting place, this is an option and traverses a rarely visited region of Noatak National Preserve. The Aniuk flows through a broad, sometimes marshy, valley draining a watershed a thousand square miles. Entirely above tree line, the Aniuk begins in alpine tundra on the south side of the Brooks Range and traverses upland, and sometimes, wetland tundra habitats. Opportunities for observing the wildlife and birdlife of this region are outstanding, as Howard Pass is a migratory route, and there are incredible scenic vistas its entire length. It lies above 68 degrees north latitude and enters the Noatak River in its upper reaches. The river length is 80 miles and takes 4 to 6 days to Cutler River, your first opportunity to exit the river. Inflatable kayaks and canoes do best.

Put In

You will need to, first, get to Bettles, to Kotzebue or to Coldfoot, Alaska. There are flights to all and road access to Coldfoot. Most groups will simplify the logistics and will take a regular scheduled flight from Fairbanks to Bettles, where they should have chartered a service to fly in to one of the lakes in Howard Pass. By driving to Coldfoot you can also fly to Howard Pass in a Beaver on floats. You will have to carry your gear at first to the small rocky stream that is the Aniuk River and for many miles the river is small and you may have to line through some of the sharp rocky riffles.

Take Out

The take out options are several. You should be able to arrange a pickup at the confluence of the Aniuk River and the Noatak. For those interested in seeing some of the upper Noatak you can continue 20 miles more to fly out of the gravel strip at the confluence of the Cutler River and the Noatak River.

The Trip

Howard Pass to Confluence with the Noatak: 80 miles

This high alpine river is more stream than river at first but water levels change with the season. Early snow melt has the river up in early June and rainfall affects it in late summer, but the level is not enough for a big raft. Inflatable kayaks and canoes do best. There are sharp rocks all along and you may need to line past some of the rocky riffles if the water is shallow

Confluence to Cutler River: 20 miles

The stretch of Noatak River from its confluence with the Aniuk down to the Cutler River is a winding maze of channels but with good current and awesome views of the Baird Mountains to the south and the beginnings of the Delong Mountains to the north, both part of the western Brooks Range. The 20-mile stretch can easily be done in a day with no obstacles to deal with. Of course there could be an angry musk ox mid river but that isn't too likely.


Ambler River C-1, D-1, D-2, D-4, D-5, D-6
Howard Pass A-3, A-4, A-5


80-100 miles












Getting There

Latitude: 68.2122222
Longitude: -156.8983333
Driving Directions

Show Map

Aniuk River Points

You should be able to arrange a pick­up here and then fly out of Kotzebue.

Howard Pass is acces­si­ble by wheelplane from Bet­tles, Cold­foot, or Kotze­bue. You will have to car­ry your gear at first to the small rocky stream that is the Aniuk Riv­er and for many miles the riv­er is small and you may have to line through some of the sharp rocky riffles.

For any­one not inter­est­ed in the beau­ti­ful head­wa­ters and instead wants the wide val­ley of the low­er riv­er then there is a grav­el strip at the con­flu­ence with the Cut­ler Riv­er where you could start.

For those inter­est­ed in see­ing some of the upper Noatak you can con­tin­ue 20 miles more to fly out of the grav­el strip at the con­flu­ence of the Cut­ler Riv­er and the Noatak River.