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 can also 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 communities and people whose families have lived in these areas for thousands of years. Often, Native and local village corporations run tours, hotels, and attractions, and local people sell arts and crafts made from local materials such as bone, animal hair, and baleen. Spending time with local guides and operators can be invaluable to understanding the Bush way of life and the local people's connection to the surrounding lands and waters.
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. Fairbanks-based Arctic Treks leads small groups on hiking, rafting, and backpacking adventures in places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Noatak National Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park, Cape Krusenstern National Monument, and the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.
Arctic Outfitters. This company specializes in providing car rentals equipped for year-round use on the Dalton Highway. Based out of Fairbanks, Artic Outfitters offers gravel road-ready automobiles, accommodation arrangements, and travel packages on and around the Dalton Highway. Fairbanks, Alaska, 99709. 907/474–3530; www.arctic-outfitters.com. From $179 a day.
Arctic Treks. Based in Fairbanks, Arctic Treks takes small groups into the vast and typically inaccessible wilderness of Alaska's Arctic region. Rafting, backpacking, and camping trips range from 7 to 10 days in some of the most remote and remarkable areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Brooks Range, and Gates of the Arctic National Parks & Preserves. Alaska. 907/455–6502; www.arctictreksadventures.com. From $4300.
Explore Tours. This company helps visitors find tour packages from outfitters and vendors across the state. Options range from day trips to longer adventures, and covers every region in Alaska, including the Bush. 800/523–7405; www.exploretours.com. From $99.
Northern Alaska Tour Company. This company arranges all-season land and/or air adventures into Denali National Park, Alaska's Arctic, and other remote areas outside its hub in Fairbanks. Day or overnight trips include excursions into the Arctic circle and along the Dalton Highway, flights over Denali and the Arctic Ocean, polar bear and Aurora Borealis expeditions, and tours of Alaska Native communities. Alaska, 99709. 907/474–8600; 800/474–1986; www.northernalaska.com. From $189.
Tundra Tours. Operating out of the Top of the World Hotel in Utqiaġvik, Tundra Tours offers half-day excursions that give guests a chance to see wildlife, walk on the tundra, dip a toe in the Arctic Ocean, and learn about Utqiaġvik's cultural and historical sites. Top of the World Hotel, 3060 Eben Hopson St., Barrow, Alaska, 99723. 907/852–3900; www.tundratoursinc.com. From $162 per person.
Wilderness Birding Adventures. This Homer-based outfitter takes small groups into the Alaska wilderness to watch birds and wildlife. These eco-adventures last from a few days to a few weeks, and cover a wide range of Alaska from the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and areas outside of Utqiaġvik and Nome to the Pribilof Islands. They also do private trips that combine birding, hiking, and river-rafting. Homer, Alaska, 99603. 907/299–3937; www.wildernessbirding.com. From $1400.