This refers to the rivers flowing west towards the Bering Sea, into Kotzebue and Norton Sound. Beginning south of the Brooks Range, this region also includes the Noatak and Kobuk watersheds, the Seward Peninsula, and a region of the Yukon Delta, spanning from west of the Nulato Hills to approximately Nunivak Island.
What It’s Like
Many of the Western Alaska rivers begin in the majestic Gates of the Arctic National Park, where granitic peaks reach to the sky and the countryside offers vast moments of solitude. These rivers tend to be heavily forested, providing habitat for moose, caribou and bear.
Some of the rivers are sport-fishing destinations, too—namely, for the famed Sheefish, which run up the rivers to spawn each year. Some other interesting facts about the area:
- Many of the rivers flowing into Kotzebue Sound are arctic-like, with permafrost features and vast wilderness areas, but they flow west instead of north.
- The Noatak is known as the largest wilderness biosphere in the country.
- The rivers of the Kobuk drainage have long attracted river villages, and still offer great opportunities to meet local subsistence people.
Outfitter & Guide: Aniak Air Guides has provided outfitting and guides for floats in Western Alaska since 1995. Their packages include all gear except your sleeping bag and food. Each trip begins with a flight over the river you plan to float to gain you bearings, and a mid-trip flyover to check in with your group as you float the river. A guide can be booked for an additional fee.
Western Alaska Float Trips
Overview The Wild River is not as wild as the country around it. In fact, it is one of the best family float trips that is available to those who want a dose of wilderness that is far from the security of the neighborhood watch group. It is a 63-mile trip from where it heads in a lake nestled in a lovely forested valley to where it joins the Koyukuk River and flows past the town of Bettles, and is easily floated in 6 days time. It is a Class I… ...more
Overview The Squirrel River is a very clear, small volume arctic river flowing south out of the foothills of the Baird Mountains to where it joins the Kobuk River at the village of Kiana. This is an easy float and well suited to families or beginner paddlers that are competent wilderness campers. There is good hiking in the upper mountainous region and good fishing all along the way. After August, water levels become low and the upper… ...more
Overview The Salmon River, a designated National Wild and Scenic River, located in the Kobuk River National Park is a clear waterway with exceptional scenic attributes traversing a variety of vegetative zones as it flows south out of the Baird Mountains to its confluence with the Kobuk River. Gin clear and without any obstacles, it is a Class I river for the 45 miles to where it joins the Kobuk River. There is an additional 48 miles of… ...more
Overview The Nowitna River, or Novi as locals refer to it, is a non-glacial Class I river with a short bit of Class II river flowing north of the Kuskokwim Mountains and is a National Wild and Scenic River. Much of its length is within the Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge, and for over 300 miles, this tea-colored river slowly flows out of the Susulatna Hills and Sunshine Mountains, through wooded and hilly terrain, en route to its confluence… ...more
Overview Within the Brooks Range lies the Endicott Mountains and in the heart of these mountains is the Gates of The Arctic National Park and Preserve. Where the mountains rise to meet the sky the beginnings of the North Fork of the Koyukuk River lie. This is a river that begins in these mountains and eventually flows into the giant Yukon-Kusko delta region. But at its start are the 7000-foot high mountains of the Gates, with Mt Doonerak the… ...more
Overview The Nigu and Etivluk Rivers, beginning in Gates of the Arctic National Park, are seldom-visited river valleys in the high arctic at above 68 degrees north latitude and flow north out of the Brooks Range to join the Colville River. Beginning in the mountains, the rivers flow north from the Brooks Range, out of the eastern edge of the DeLong Mountains into the Arctic foothills through rolling hills and tundra. Both rivers carry small… ...more
The upper Kobuk River traverses a wide, forest-covered valley with sweeping views from the river of nearby mountains. From its start at Walker Lake the river is in the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve and it has several Class IV challenges as well as miles of Class I river. A wilderness environment exists downstream to approximately the Pah River area. Further downriver, the Kobuk is a major travel corridor for local inhabitants and… ...more
The Killik River begins in the northern portion of Gates of the Arctic National Park and flows north 135 miles to where it joins the Colville River at what is known as the Killik Bend. There is a 105-mile and a 90-mile section of river accessible to rafters and makes for a good 7 to 10 day trip. The river starts in the Endicott Mountains, in the region of Survey Pass at about GPS N 67 degrees and W 46.5 minutes, and flows through a broad,… ...more
The John River is a classic stretch of arctic river: scenically spectacular, clear with good fishing, great hiking in the upper reaches, no dangerous sections of river and lots of wildlife viewing opportunities. It flows swiftly, south out of the arctic interior through Anaktuvuk Pass into the rugged Endicott Moutains and represents a path from the Inuit culture of the north to the Athabaskan culture of the forested interior. To the north,… ...more
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… ...more
The Ambler River is a small, clear river with numerous small rocky rapids in its upper reaches and flows out of the Schwatka Mountains of the western Brooks Range. It has an 80-mile stretch of river to where it joins the Kobuk River near the town of Ambler with 15 miles of rocky rapids in a single channel at the start, 35 miles of braided channels in its heavily forested middle region and, finally, another 30 miles of single channel all the… ...more
The Alatna River is a federally designated wild and scenic river that lies, partially, within the boundaries of The Gates of the Arctic National Park. It originates in the central Brooks Range and flows through the Endicott Mountains. It flows past Circle Lake, has beautiful views of the Arrigetch Peaks and eventually flows through the Helpmejack Hills. The lower section of the river flows in a SSE direction through the Alatna Hills to its… ...more