We want YOU!

Imagine, for a moment, both of these scenarios...

  1. You’ve Googled us extensively. You’ve read the blog posts. You follow our Instagram. You’ve even combed our social media tags. And still-- you’re daydreaming about what it might be like to visit, or maybe even live in the Alaskan Arctic.

  2. Or, you’ve already come to visit, and you loved your time here. You posted photos, told your friends and family about your trip, and even have Sukakpak set as your computer background. In fact, some might say, you haven’t been able to stop thinking about the Arctic since.

Sound familiar? If we’re literally describing you right now:

First of all, we’re flattered. Second of all, we’ve got great news: we have open positions at each of our camps for the upcoming season for responsible, friendly, and adventurous coworkers.

Here are the details and the application.

Let’s talk. The extreme Arctic might just be your next adventure!

No Cold Feet: Essentials (and Optionals!) for a Winter Trip to Coldfoot

There’s no arguing that Coldfoot shines in the wintertime: we’ve got incredible wildlife, pristine snowy landscapes, and beautiful mountains bathed in alpenglow. Not to mention, of course, some of the best views of the aurora borealis in the world!

What’s the catch? Few places in the world experience winter quite like we do. Recently, the temperature dropped down to -44 in the area. We do average a little warmer, around -20, but still..most folks would hardly call it balmy.

Some of the most common questions we’ve heard from guests in the winter months go something like this: How do I prepare for winter weather in Coldfoot? What should I bring? Is there anything I should buy?

Our best advice: don’t be nervous! Here are some winter-weather essentials and not-so-essentials (both tips and gear recommendations) to make the most of your winter trip to Coldfoot.

Image by  Brandon Gray .

Image by Brandon Gray.

Remember, layers are key!

For a quick visit, it’s less about quality than quantity. Don’t feel like you have to spend hundreds of dollars on gear for a short vacation! Just bring lots of layers, and don’t be afraid to wear them--especially if you’ll be joining us for an outdoors excursion.

We always like to remind people that being over-prepared is much better than being under-prepared. You don’t want to miss out on the incredible outdoors scenery. And you can always take off layers if you’re too warm!

If you don’t own anything you think would be suitable, there are winter gear rental services available in Fairbanks, as well as a number of outfitters and a thrift store. You’ve got lots of options.

Scarves, gloves, socks, boots, sunglasses

These might seem like obvious picks, but they’re definitely worth double-checking your bags for before you make your way north.

A scarf or neck warmer to cover your face can make breathing more comfortable if you want to play outside.

Good gloves are essential: you can even layer tech gloves under winter gloves if you plan on taking a lot of photos!

Warm feet can be the difference between a rough day and a great one. Wearing a pair of wool socks to wear over your regular socks can help you keep warm all night as you go aurora-scouting.

Likewise, good winter boots are crucial if you’re planning on exploring, hiking, or snowshoeing around in camp while you’re here. If you don’t already own a pair, there are plenty of outfitters (and a thrift store) in Fairbanks that sell gear at reasonable prices; or you might choose to use a rental service, instead.

Finally, don’t forget your sunglasses! Wait, isn’t it dark up there all winter? When we do outdoor activities (besides aurora watching), we try to maximize daylight. What sun we see can reflect off of all the snow and make for a very bright view.

Less obvious picks: headlamp, ice grips

A headlamp with a red-light setting is super useful if you plan on aurora-watching with us. Why red light? White light throws both eyes and cameras off in the darkness. Red light allows you to move safely outside without ruining your (or anyone else’s) photos.

Ice grips (like YakTrax, for instance) can be helpful if you struggle to walk on ice, or if you’re worried about safety. We plow, but even getting from the cafe to the inn requires a walk outside. They’re super optional, but do make a difference--so we like to mention them just in case!

You choose!

Part of experiencing winter in Coldfoot is slowing down, relaxing, and moving with the outdoor world. We don’t have cell service (unless you’re a GCI customer), and WiFi costs money. Instead, consider taking some time off from being plugged in.

We’ve got a cozy space with hot cocoa, tea, and coffee: you bring a book, a notebook, a journal, a coloring book, a sketchbook, a board game, a card game, or...well, you get the idea. It’s the perfect time to enjoy something you wouldn’t have time for in the “real world.”

Still feel like a lot to think about? Like we said up top: don’t sweat it. If you’ve still got questions, don’t hesitate to ask. We want you to enjoy your time in the Arctic, and we’re happy to help you as much as we can!

Do you have any cold-weather essentials you can’t live without? Drop a comment below and let us know!

Aurora Lore: Myths of the Northern Lights

Nowadays, we’ve come to accept the scientific explanation of the northern lights: it’s a particulate reaction with the atmosphere influenced by Earth’s magnetic fields. Pretty simple, right?

But when you’re standing right below them–staring straight up and watching the lights shimmer, dance, and change colors overhead–it becomes easy to understand why the aurora borealis is the subject of so many folk tales.

Photo by Jackie Veats

Photo by Jackie Veats

It’s absolutely otherworldly.

Stories come from places as far apart as Iceland, Greece, and China, and legends of what the aurora borealis represented vary just as much. Here’s a compilation of some of the most popular aurora legends from cultures around the world.

International Folklore

Greenland: Indigenous Greenlanders believed that the aurora was made up of the spirits of children who had died in childbirth.

Iceland: In Iceland, the northern lights were thought to relieve the pain of childbirth, but only if the mother didn’t look directly at them. If she did, it was believed that she’d give birth to a cross-eyed child.

Finland: In Finnish, the word for aurora is “revontulet,” which translates to “fox fires.” In Finnish lore, the aurora is caused by a fox running so fast across the snow that its tail sparks flames up into the sky. The Sámi people believed that the lights were created by a whale’s water spew.

China: Because of their latitudinal location, the Chinese rarely saw the aurora borealis. However, when they did see a rare display, they thought the northern lights were the fiery plumes on the breath of good and evil dragons, battling each other across the night sky.

Photo by Kenji Sato

Photo by Kenji Sato

Japan: Though Japanese legend isn’t so visual, the northern lights are still a good omen. According to Japanese lore, a baby conceived under the Northern Lights will be blessed with good looks, good fortune, and good luck.

Russia: Similarly to the Chinese, Russians believed that the aurora was a massive fire dragon. The difference? According to the Russians, the fire dragon would descend to earth while a village’s men were away in order to seduce the remaining women.

Greece & Rome: The Greeks and the Romans believed the northern lights represented the visible path of the dawn, named Aurora. She rode her chariot across the sky each morning to warn her siblings–the sun and the moon (Helios & Selene)–that a new day was coming.

England & France: The few times the English and the French happened to see an aurora display, the lights seemed to correlate with a war or other tragedy. So, to the English and the French, the red sky was an omen of bloodshed or ill fortune. 

Photo by Jackie Veats

Photo by Jackie Veats

Myths from North America

Indigenous people in North America had the most diverse range of beliefs about the northern lights, believing it to be anything from a battle omen to walruses playing ball with a human skull.

An excerpt from The Labrador Eskimo by explorer Ernest W. Hawkes:

“The ends of the land and sea are bounded by an immense abyss,
over which a narrow and dangerous pathway leads to the
heavenly regions. The sky is a great dome of hard material
arched over the Earth. There is a hole in it through which the
spirits pass to the true heavens. Only the spirits of those who
have died a voluntary or violent death, and the Raven, have been
over this pathway. The spirits who live there light torches to
guide the feet of new arrivals. This is the light of the aurora.
They can be seen there feasting and playing football with a
walrus skull.

The whistling crackling noise which sometimes accompanies the
aurora is the voices of these spirits trying to communicate
with the people of the Earth. They should always be answered
in a whispering voice. Youths dance to the aurora. The
heavenly spirits are called selamiut, “sky-dwellers,” those who
live in the sky.”

Photo by Jackie Veats

Photo by Jackie Veats

To the Saulteaux tribe of Canada, the northern lights were the dancing of human spirits.

The Fox people of Wisconsin believed the lights were spirits of enemies killed in battle come back to visit pestilence and famine; the Mandan people of North Dakota thought they emanated from fires lit by powerful warriors–over which large cauldrons filled with dead enemies simmered.

Some Inuit groups thought they were spirits of animals they’d hunted, like belugas, caribou, seals, and salmon. The Menominee of Wisconsin said they were huge torches friendly giants used on hunts to help spear fish.

A popular legend stated that the lights were human spirits playing ball with a walrus skull. People on Nunivak Island told it the opposite way, where walrus spirits played the game with a human head.

The Algonquin people believed it was the fire of Earth’s creator retired to the north, its bright reflection in the sky a reminder that he still remembered and cared for his people.

Only the Native people of Point Barrow believed it was evil; they carried knives and weapons when traveling outside at night to defend themselves.

So, which myth best describes the northern lights?

We’ll let you decide for yourself!

Photo by    Nickolas Warner

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Where are the Animals?

Many people come to Coldfoot and the Brooks Range and one of their first questions is, “Where are the animals?”   We don’t see them every day as they rarely come into camp.   But they are out there.   Take your camera and take a walk around Coldfoot.  If you keep your eyes open you will see signs of many different types of animals that inhabit this area.   Take a walk along the creek and see what footprints are in the mud.  The other evening I walked to Slate Creek and there were raven prints.  I also saw grizzly footprints following both a large and a small set of moose prints…a cow and a calf most certainly!   Wolf prints were in the mix as well, and there were boot prints!   A human!!

While I had my head down I came upon some moose scat…a large pile (the cow) and a tiny pile (the calf).  An lo and behold what else did I see but a pile of wolf scat.  All this in about 15 minutes!!  Scat and prints…two very interesting things to find.   If you find scat don’t let it put you off.  Go get a stick and prod around in it to see who or what that critter has been eating.   Do you see lots of fur?   Perhaps they dined on the hares that are a popular tidbit for many local animals.   Piles of moose scat might make you wonder why the nuggets all come out same size and perfectly shaped!  Has the scat been there long?  Is it dry?  Or is it still steaming?  I might leave the area if a big pile of bear scat is still steaming!!!  Try to guess how long it has been since the animal passed by.

If you get tired of looking down, look up.   You’d be surprised at what you might see….a lynx sitting on top of a structure, a great horned owl sitting in a tree, or maybe a bald or golden eagle looking for a meal.   Look at the vegetation…can you see where a moose nibbled on the willows?  Do you see the scratches left by a bear?

If you aren’t used to identifying footprints, scat, or other signs of animals there are field guides available to help you identify the evidence of their presence.  If you aren’t sure, take photos and ask others to help identify them.  Also, it is a good idea to make some noise when you are out looking around so as not to surprise any of our forest friends.

Good hunting!

Hiking Shockpoint

Around Coldfoot there are plenty of mountains to hike, but no trails. It makes for slow, arduous going, but reaching your destination is very rewarding.

If you’re standing in Coldfoot and looking north, the mountain you see is called Slate Mountain, though coworkers and locals call it “Shockpoint.” It’s a moderately difficult hike and can take about six hours for a round trip.

To start, walk about 1.5-2 miles North on the Dalton. You’ll see a gravel road that goes east from the highway. From this point, the mountain looks closer than it actually is. The rough terrain will make the hike longer than you think. Turn right onto the road and head into the woods. If you’re hiking in the middle of summer (like we did), you’ll run into a ton of mosquitoes—bring repellent.

Keep following the gravel road and before long you’ll have to splash across a creek. Your boots will most likely get wet. (I’ve come to expect wet feet when hiking in Alaska.)

The road quickly disappears and then you just bushwhack east for a while. You’ll feel like a moose, lumbering through the trees and bushes, taking long strides across mushy ground.

Recently a few hikers saw a fresh moose kill around here, so they hurried along for fear of the bear that killed it. It’s always good to hike with others. Safety in numbers, just in case.

As the trees thin, you can start to see the terrain sloping upwards. Just keep going uphill.  Use your own best judgment as you pick a route up the slope. The trees end and there’s more rock the further up you get. Once you’re on the ridge, you’re golden. There’s certainly still plenty of climbing to do, but there’s no more tussocks, and not much spongy wet ground. It’s easy walking compared to what you just did. And now you have views the rest of the way!

Just keep heading east and up, higher and higher. At times it will look like you’re almost done, but then you crest that slope and another slope reveals itself.  Don’t let the false summits fool you. You’re done when you can’t go any higher.

It’s easy to get boxed in by the mountains when you’re down in the valley in Coldfoot. But once you’re on top of a mountain, you realize the expanse of the range all around us. It’s awesome.

If you’re ambitious you can keep walking the ridge, which starts to curve North and makes a big circle, which you can see from the summit of Shockpoint. Make sure to pack plenty of water if you plan to do that, though.

When you’re ready to make the return trip, just head back the way you came as best you can. Down the ridge, down the slope, bushwhack to the creek and follow it back to the gravel road, or cross it and head straight West until you run into the highway.

Hiking around here can be tough and sometimes discouraging. Just keep pushing forward and you’ll be glad you did it.

And maybe you’ll get lucky like we did. We saw a lynx!

A disclaimer from the editor: The Brooks Range is the definition of true wilderness. Trails are nonexistent, and rescue support is largely unavailable. Make sure to employ bear & wildlife safety measures when appropriate. Exercise caution and common sense in planning any and all hikes in the area.

Coldfoot is the Best (and Most Underrated) Place to See the Northern Lights

Photo of the aurora borealis over the South Inn by Kenji Sato.

Photo of the aurora borealis over the South Inn by Kenji Sato.

Be honest with us for a moment: what comes to mind first when you think of ‘taking a trip to see the Northern Lights’?

For lots of folks, that’s “Oh, right, where is my passport?” or, if you’re in much of the U.S., “Would it really be worth taking that international flight?” The good news is, that totally doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already clued in-–but lots of Americans don’t even realize they have the option to see the aurora borealis right here in the United States.

In short: Coldfoot has stellar auroras. (Get it?) This isn’t just seeing the aurora, either, like it’s possible to do in the northern parts of some states in the Lower 48. It’s world-class aurora-viewing. Cool, right?

Here's why. 

For one, Coldfoot is located above the Arctic Circle. As you may already know, our Arctic location means that we have twenty-four hours of daylight in the summer and almost twenty-four hours of darkness in the winter (which, up here, is most of the year). Skies are dark all the way from the 21st of August to the 21st of April, meaning that aurora hunters can catch excellent Northern Lights displays for almost eight months.

Another perk of being in the Arctic is that Coldfoot is located directly underneath the Aurora Oval. The northern Aurora Oval is a band encircling the north pole where solar flares collide with atmospheric particles and emit photons (light energy). As the name implies, the northern Aurora Oval is also the zone where the aurora borealis is most visible to us on the ground. This means that any night where the weather is clear enough, you’ll be able to see the aurora from Coldfoot or Wiseman.

In addition to a perfect location, we also have near-perfect weather. By the time that the very brightest and most colorful auroras are out, eighty percent of nights are totally clear--cloudless, and without precipitation--making for incredible views almost every night.

Finally, we have little to no light pollution! Often, in the Lower 48, even if the aurora is visible, it appears dimmer due to the amount of light pollution from nearby neighborhoods or urban areas. At our cabin in the nearby village of Wiseman, Alaska, there is absolutely no light contamination; here in Coldfoot, there are some outdoor lighting fixtures, but they’re very easy to get away from. In both cases, the nearest towns are 240 miles away in either direction-–meaning darkness and great displays no matter where you choose to watch.

For all these reasons, we like to think Coldfoot is one of the best (and most underrated) destinations for aurora hunters and travelers alike. If seeing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list, forget about your passport, take that long weekend, and come on up to Coldfoot!

Colorful aurora borealis over Slate Mountain by Kenji Sato.

Colorful aurora borealis over Slate Mountain by Kenji Sato.

The Onset of Fall

Photo by Jackie Veats

Photo by Jackie Veats

Fall is my favorite season. Here in the Brooks Range the heat of summer will suddenly shift overnight to cooler nights, days have a sharp edge to them, the smell of coming winter is faint. I look around and notice suddenly that the migratory birds have all vanished, the summer flowers have gone to seed. I see one willow bush with a yellow leaf, the next few days there are many more, another week later Fall colors are putting on a vibrant show. The tundra showcases red, cranberry, yellow, pink, purple, and multiple shades of green. The leaves continue to turn vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. The berries are ripe for the picking and my thoughts turn to preserving them.

I walk the same path every day and look for changes in the rivers and creeks. The edges of the creeks start to freeze and the frozen water slowly takes over for the free flow as it creeps towards center. Soon the rivers will follow suit. I now listen to my steps crunching over the frozen mud. The young bull moose I’ve been watching all summer has grown antlers covered in velvet and his color is shiny mahogany.

Coffee is best brewed on a Fall morning down by the river. I love sitting in the mist doing nothing but watching a lynx peruse the opposite band or listening to the deafening silence that only the Brooks Range can offer. My senses sharpen at this time of year. I can feel the softness of a Fall breeze running over my cheek or the mist of low clouds dampening my hair. All of this happens at lightning speed as the freight train of Fall thunders through the Koyukuk River valley. I wait all year for its beauty and, sadly, it is gone within a few weeks. But, oh! the joy of those few weeks!!


Photo by Jackie Veats.

Photo by Jackie Veats.

Three Hikes Around Coldfoot (for Hikers of All Levels)

One of the greatest parts of coming to Coldfoot is that, well, there's nothing to do. Your phone doesn't work, there's no reliable internet, and the nearest town is 240 miles away.  You're in the middle of nowhere. There's really only three buildings that are a part of the Camp. So: you made it. What now?

Well, we'd argue that much of the real beauty of Coldfoot--and the best parts of the area--aren't necessarily in camp. They're around camp. Just start walking!

The best way to discover Coldfoot and the surrounding areas is on foot. However, because there aren't too many paths or trails, the terrain can be intimidating for novice hikers and experienced hikers alike. This isn't a bad thing, though, it just gives you a chance to blaze your own trail!

If you're feeling overwhelmed: this guide is for you. Check out our picks for the three best hikes around Coldfoot for hikers of all levels.

1) Visitor's Center Trails

The beautiful Alaska Interagency Visitor's Center is located just across the street from Coldfoot Camp. In addition to an array of awesome exhibits on local flora and fauna, as well as a series of fun, informative presentations on the Arctic region, the Visitor's Center also maintains a series of short trails behind the building. Visitors in the mood for a shorter walk or those who would feel safer sticking to a trail can experience a measured taste of Alaskan wilderness, landscape, and wildlife here.

2) The Coldfoot-Chandalar Lake Trail

While the entire Coldfoot-Chandalar Lake Trail is 60 miles long, making it more fit for a backpacking or camping trip than a day-hike, visitors wanting a more rigorous day trip hike can easily tackle a few miles of the Chandalar trail post-breakfast and turn around in time to make it back to camp for the dinner buffet. No sweat! (Well, maybe some sweat.)

3) Hiker's Choice!

Seriously. Most of the mid-level hikes (without trails) will be best found by driving or walking along the highway and scouting a mountain or hill out for yourself. See a hill that looks perfect for a midday picnic? Order a sack lunch from the Cafe, drive on down, then pull over (without blocking the highway or any access roads) and climb it! Part of the magic of the Arctic is that there are very few hiking and camping regulations--so you can experience it exactly how you'd like. Talk about choosing your own adventure!

4) Bonus

If nothing on this list sounds like your thing, don't worry. Come on in to the Cafe and chat with a Camp Host about finding a hike (or walk) to suit you. The great majority of us love hiking and exploring around the Brooks Range--it's a big part of the reason many  of us live here--so we may be able to give you personalized recommendations for hikes that would suit your specific interests and needs. Just ask!