Package tours are the most common way of traveling to Bush communities, where making your flight connections and having a room to sleep in at the end of the line are no small feats. During peak season (late May through Labor Day) planes, state ferries, hotels, and sportfishing lodges are often crowded with travelers on organized tours; to create a trip on your own can sometimes mean making reservations a year in advance for the really popular destinations. But the Bush is also large enough that there's always somewhere to go, and wherever you end up the odds are it will be amazing and like nothing you've ever seen before.
The type of tour you choose will determine how you get there. In most cases this will be by air, since flying is the only way to access the vast majority of Bush communities. By flying to and from your destination, you get there relatively quickly and enjoy an aerial perspective of the Arctic en route. Tours to Arctic towns and villages are usually short—one, two, or three days—so it's easy to combine them with visits to other regions. Road tours up the Dalton Highway are not common, but also not impossible. Northern Alaska Tour Company and Arctic Outfitters offer overland tours on the Dalton Highway, with the latter even renting road-ready vehicles for self-guided land tours. Even more so than usual driving in Alaska, taking to the Dalton Highway on your own can be risky; the road is unpaved, mostly unmaintained, and completely lacks the modern roadside convenience stores and gas stations. Do research first and be prepared for a long, bumpy, and potentially hazardous ride (flat tires and cracked windshields are the norm). Before departing in a rented car, check with your rental car company about any provisions, exclusions, and extra insurance you might need to make the rough drive.
The Bush is home to many Alaska Native groups, quite a few of which are active in tourism. Often, Native corporations and local village corporations act as your hosts—running the tours, hotels, and attractions. Nome Tours and Marketing (book through Alaska Airlines Vacations) provides ground transportation from the airport and accommodations, as well as guided tours around town and other services for visitors to Nome. (It is not Native-run/owned though.) The NANA Regional Corporation provides ground transportation and accommodations in Kotzebue as well as at Prudhoe Bay, in conjunction with bus tours. If you visit Barrow and stay at the Top of the World Hotel, Tundra Tours (book through the hotel), owned by the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, will be your host.
The Northern Alaska Tour Company conducts highly regarded ecotours to the Arctic Circle, the Brooks Range, and Prudhoe Bay that emphasize natural and cultural history, wildlife, and geology. Groups are limited to 25 people on Arctic day tours and to 10 people on Prudhoe Bay overnight trips. Some tours are completely ground-based; others include a mix of ground and air travel. Another ecotourism company, Fairbanks-based Arctic Treks, leads small groups on hiking, rafting, and backpacking adventures through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Noatak National Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park, Cape Krusenstern National Monument, and Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.
Alaska Airlines Vacations. Operated in partnership with Explore Tours, Alaska Airlines Vacations offers a wide range of tours and experiences, from rustic backcountry itineraries with camping, fishing, and hiking to all-inclusive, guided sightseeing tours on buses, the Alaska Railroad, small cruise ships, and by air. Alaska is made accessible to travelers of all interests and ages. Their "add-on" adventures are also available to those on independently planned vacations. 866/500–5511; 907/786–0192; www.alaskavacationsalaska.com. From $700.
Arctic Outfitters. Year-round tours of the Dalton Highway and Arctic Ocean, by land or air, can be arranged. Day trips, overnight trips, and four-day tours (all out of Fairbanks) are among the options, with add-ons such as dogsledding in winter. Car rentals for Dalton Highway driving are also provided. 907/474–3530; www.arctic-outfitters.com. From $189.
Arctic Treks. Operating exclusively in Alaska's Arctic region, Arctic Treks' experienced guides make exploring a vast and ordinarily unaccessible wilderness possible. Rafting, backpacking, fishing, and camping trips range from 4 to 10 days and take guests to some of the most remote locations in the Brooks Range. 907/455–6502; www.arctictreksadventures.com. From $3,500.
Northern Alaska Tour Company. All-season land and air adventures into Alaska's Arctic can be arranged with this company. Their day or overnight trips operate out of Fairbanks and include polar bear expeditions, tours of Alaska Native villages and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields, and winter views of the northern lights. 907/474–8600; 800/474–1986; www.northernalaska.com. From $189.
Tundra Tours. This company will ensure you make the most of your trip to the top of the world. Their five-hour guided day tour gives you a chance to see wildlife such as polar bears, caribou, and Arctic Fox; walk on the tundra and dip your toe in the Arctic Ocean; learn about Barrow's historical sites and memorials; and sometimes even join in the Alaska Native song and dance at an Eskimo celebration. 907/852–3900; www.tundratoursinc.com. From $300.
Wilderness Birding Adventures. This Homer-based outfitter runs intermittent small-group bird-watching and wilderness trips across Alaska, including the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, Barrow, Dutch Harbor, Nome, and the Pribilofs. Bringing travelers passionate about the outdoors to some of the most remote locations in the state (plus Bhutan) is their specialty, so you're in very good hands. Private trips combining birding, hiking, and river rafting are also available. 40208 Alpenglow Circle, Homer, Alaska, 99603. 907/299–3937; www.wildernessbirding.com. From $1,500.