Whether traveling through Alaska on the famous “Top of the World Highway”, or exploring the Fortymile National Wild and Scenic River region, visitors can stop for an overnight stay at the West Fork Campground, which is located just off the highway on a fork of the river.
The campground is situated in a rugged, heavily forested, remote wilderness area that features a network of rivers and creeks that thread through the region. Visitors can expect to see beautiful wild scenery, and may possibly encounter local wildlife including grizzly and black bears, moose, caribou, deer, and Dall sheep, as well as peregrine falcons and eagles. Use caution when camping and hiking, seal food containers, and avoid attracting or startling predators. Kayakers and rafters will find access to the western fork of the Dennison Fork of the Fortymile National Wild Scenic River about ¼ mile north of the West Fork campground. Boating is only possible when the water is high, usually earlier in the season. Fishing is also a popular activity in the region.
The West Fork campground consists of two loops with 25 individual campsites. There is potable water on-site, and vault toilets. The larger campground loop overlooks Oxbow Lake, where moose and trumpeter swans are often spotted.
While visiting the West Fork Campground and the Fortymile National Wild and Scenic River you can also explore the Steese National Conservation Area or Chena River State Recreation Area which are located in the same region of western Alaska.
The West Fork Campground is located on the west side of the Taylor Highway, at Milepost 49. The Taylor Highway is the Alaska leg of the “Top of the World Highway” a famous northern route, spanning from its junction with the Alaska Highway, to Dawson City in Yukon, Canada. Travelers to the West Fork Campground can enjoy the views of the wilderness, rivers, and creeks, and spot wildlife along the Taylor Highway.
The Taylor Highway consists of packed gravel and is regularly traversed by RVs and tow vehicles, as it is well maintained. However, unpaved routes are subject to weather conditions, and can become rooted or rough with inclement weather and use. You will need to plan on traveling at a reduced speed on this road. The Taylor Highway is closed during the winter months, and there is no access to the BLM campground during the offseason.
The campground has a short dirt access road, and the interior roads and sites are dirt surfaced. RVs can access the campground but will need to take it slow. Visitors to the region should be aware that this is a remote wilderness area of Alaska and only accessible from spring to fall. Also, there is no cellular service or wifi services available along much of the access routes, or in the campground. The nearest services and amenities are northwest in Chicken, Alaska, just over 17 miles away.
There are 25 individual camping sites at the West Fork Campground that accommodate RVs and tent camping. There are no electric or water hookups; however, water is routinely hauled in and provides a potable water supply at the campground. Campers will also find vault toilets at the campground, and picnic tables and grills at each site. The campground has two loops The larger loop has 18 back-in sites that are well treed, on the left-hand side, with an overlook of the small lake below where swans and moose can be viewed. The large loop is the most scenic, however, the right-hand loop has seven pull-through spaces that accommodate larger RVs.
The campground has a host on site and is open from May to September. Bring plenty of insect repellent, as the heavily forested terrain and proximity to the river and lake create a haven for mosquitoes! You will also need odor-proof, sealable containers for food, to avoid attracting bears. The campground sees sporadic use, and is usually private, peaceful and quiet - the perfect place to enjoy wild, natural Alaska.
Visitors to the West Fork Campground will find access to a fork of the Fortymile National Wild and Scenic River, just ¼ mile north of the campground. This fork of the river is only suitable for kayaking, canoeing, and rafting when the water is high in the spring and may require watercraft to be carried about 20 yards to reach the water.
Other sections of the Fortymile River are popular for kayaking, boating, rafting, and canoeing, with more reliable navigable water channels. There are some rapids along the waterway, which are enjoyed by whitewater enthusiasts. Be sure to wear lifejackets or PFD on watercraft, as there is a significant current, and the water is very cold which can quickly impair your ability to swim to safety.
Most of the hiking in the West Fork Campground area is done on unmarked trails, along the Fortymile River, and in the conservation and wilderness areas in the region. There are large predators in the area, and hikers should take precautions so as not to startle or attract bears.
You will need to have appropriate hiking boots for rough wilderness terrain, and damp conditions. Be sure to have accurate maps, compasses, survival gear, and GPS aided navigation devices. Inform someone off-site when hiking in the backcountry of Alaska of your intended route, and expected time of return.
The West Fork Campground is happily situated on the west fork, from which it takes its name, of the Dennison Fork of the Fortymile National and Scenic River. The small Oxbow Lake is also situated near the campground. Angling and sport fishing in the river is a favorite activity for visitors to the area.
If you are 16 or over you will require a valid State of Alaska fishing license to participate in fishing activities from the river surface or shores. Catch species available in the river include whitefish, Arctic grayling, and burbot.
Although the West Fork campground is inaccessible during the winter months, state parks and recreation sites in the area provide interesting activities during the off-season. For a truly unique “northern” experience, contact an outfitter in the region for the opportunity to go “mushing” or dog sledding.
Sites and trails near Fairbanks, and in the Tanana Valley State Forest have great routes for traveling by dog sled, and local organizations with dog sled teams can arrange for short, medium, and even overnight trips!
The remote wilderness areas nearby, such as the Steese National Conservation Area and the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve are snow-covered winter wonderlands during the off-season. Unmarked trails in these parks are open to snowmobiles, fatbikes, cross country skiers, and snowshoers. Enjoy the solitude and mystery of these northern sites when they are blanketed with pristine snow.
Be sure to let someone off-site know of your plans, carry survival gear, and have a well-arranged route and emergency plan in these secluded areas, which experience harsh winter conditions.
Wildlife is abundant in the Fortymile River National and Scenic River region. Public lands near West Fork Campground are open to hunting during the appropriate seasons, usually in the fall and winter. Trapping is also a popular activity in the region.
Be sure to have a valid license, tags, and permissions when hunting in the area for moose, caribou, sheep, bear, and deer. Many outfitters cater to hunting parties in the area and can arrange guided expeditions, and even fly in and out trips, to otherwise inaccessible hunting grounds.