Kobuk Valley National Park is in northwestern Alaska 40 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. It was designated a United States National Park in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. It is noted for the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes and caribou migration routes. The park offers backcountry camping, hiking, backpacking, and dog sledding. There are no designated trails or roads in the park, which at 7,084.90 km2, is approximately the size of the state of Delaware. The park is entirely above the Arctic Circle.
The park is the center of a vast ecosystem between Selawik National Wildlife Refuge and the Noatak National Preserve. It is over 120 kilometres by river to the Chukchi Sea. The Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve lie 50 kilometres to the east. The park includes about 33,000 ha of lands owned by native corporations and the State of Alaska.
The park consists of the broad wetlands valley of the Kobuk River which runs along the southern edge of the western Brooks Range, which is known as the Baird Mountains. The boundary of the park runs along the height-of-land of the Baird Mountains in the north and the shorter Waring Mountains in the south that form a ring, defining and enclosing the Kobuk Valley. The middle two-thirds of the Kobuk River, from just above Kiana to just below Ambler, is included in the park, as are several of its major tributaries such as the Salmon River and the Hunt River. The valley floor is mainly covered by glacial drift. Much of the southern portion of the park, south of the Kobuk River, is managed as the Kobuk Valley Wilderness of 70,636 ha. The Selawik Wilderness lies to the south, in the adjoining Selawik National Wildlife Refuge.
Three sets of sand dune fields are located on the south side of the Kobuk River. The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, Little Kobuk Sand Dunes and the Hunt River Dunes are remnants of dunefields that covered as many as 81,000 ha immediately after the retreat of Pleistocene glaciation. A combination of outwash deposits from the glaciers and strong winds created the field, which is now mostly covered by forest and tundra. In present times the active dune fields cover about 8,300 ha. The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes comprise the largest active Arctic dune field in North America.
There are no developed facilities in Kobuk Valley National Park, but 1,795,280 acres of remote backcountry provides a lot of room for outdoor adventures. In summer, boating, camping, hiking, backpacking, flightseeing, wildlife watching, photography and fishing opportunities abound. For people with Arctic winter survival skills and personal equipment, snow machining, skiing and dog mushing are also possible.
Kobuk Valley National Park is open year around. The headquarters office and visitor center are located at the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center in the bush village of Kotzebue, Alaska.
There is no required entrance fee to access Kobuk Valley National Park.
If you are organizing a trip for yourself, the National Park Service does not require reservations for any type of travel or backcountry camping within the park.
Kobuk Valley National Park is very remote. There are no roads to provide access, so planes take care of most transportation needs.
Commercial airlines provide service from Anchorage to Kotzebue, or from Fairbanks to Bettles. Once in Kotzebue or Bettles, you must fly to the park with authorized air taxis. From Kotzebue, commercial airlines provide regularly scheduled flights to villages near the park.
Summer access may include motorized/non-motorized watercraft, aircraft, or by foot. Some visitors bring their own packable boats and have pilots drop them off to start a float through the park. Study a topographic map, then talk with a pilot to decide on a feasible backcountry landing spot. Or plan to fly the boat as cargo on a small commercial plane to the villages of Kobuk, Shungnak or Ambler to start a trip on the Kobuk River. The take out and flight home can be from the villages of Kiana or Noorvik. Hiking into the park from Kotzebue or Bettles is possible, but it's a wilderness trek over rough terrain that requires many weeks to complete.
Winter access may include aircraft, snowmobiles or by foot. Small commercial planes fly to the local villages year round, weather permitting. Chartered aircraft may be able to land at backcountry sites on skis when the weather is clear. There are no local equipment rental services in Kotzebue. With advance planning, visitors can bring their own skis, snowshoes, dogteam or snowmobiles to travel into the park. Any winter trip requires advanced knowledge of cold weather survival.
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