Kobuk Valley National Park
Guide

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Introduction

Located in the Arctic region of northwestern Alaska (about 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle) is Kobuk Valley National Park. The park was designated by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980 in order to protect the 100 ft Great Kobuk Sand Dunes as well as the area surrounding them, which include routes for caribou migration.

Kobuk Valley National Park is remote; no roads lead into the park, so visitors have to take a chartered air taxi from Nome, Bettles or Kotzebue. Air taxis run year-round, although they are weather dependent. Likely as a result, the park is one of the least visited of America’s national parks. When visiting, one has to bring their own gear for any activities that they intend to engage in. While the park is a bit larger than the state of Delaware, it has no designated trails or roads within it.

Popular activities include backcountry camping, hiking, backpacking, boating, and dog sledding. Kobuk Valley National Park provides the perfect opportunity for folks looking to get away from it all as well as to experience the Alaskan wilderness.

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RV Rentals in Kobuk Valley National Park

Transportation in Kobuk Valley National Park

Driving

Transportation to Kobuk Valley National Park is limited. In order to access the park, visitors have to take a chartered air taxi from Nome, Bettles or Kotzebue. Taxis run all year, however are dependent on the weather.

Parking

There is no parking at Kobuk Valley National Park.

Public Transport

Public transportation is not available to Kobuk Valley National Park.

Campgrounds and parking in Kobuk Valley National Park

Campsites in Kobuk Valley National Park

Reservations camping

First-come first-served

Alternate camping

Camping at Kobuk Valley National Park

There are no established campgrounds in Kobuk Valley National Park, however backcountry camping is allowed. Embarking on a backcountry camping adventure in the park will offer the opportunity to experience the remote beauty of the park, where visitors will find no roads, trails or signs of civilization.

In addition to the solitude of the park, backcountry camping is a great way to catch a glimpse of the wildlife that make their home here. Keep your eyes open and you may see grizzly bears, caribou, moose, and bald eagles among others. Remember that arriving in the park will require a plane flight so it is important that you pack appropriately and be able to carry all that you will need for your backcountry adventure.

Seasonal activities in Kobuk Valley National Park

Spring

Wildlife Viewing

As you explore the park, keep your eyes open for wildlife. As wildlife is not concentrated in certain areas, catching a glimpse of a resident animal will take some effort. Bring along binoculars for a close-up view; remember, you don’t want to crowd wildlife, so having tools along to help you see them is a great solution.

Caribou, bears, and wolves all roam the park and with a little luck (and a lot of patience) you may just have a chance encounter.

Summer

Visit Onion Portage

Located on the north bank of the Kobuk River is the Onion Portage, a popular destination for visitors of the park. One attraction is the chance to catch caribou swimming across the river as they migrate south around Labor Day.

Those that choose to hike in the area will be treated to amazing views of the Jade Mountains. Another attraction is Giddings Cabin, which is an example of traditional log building methods. Marvel at the beauty and solitude that the area has to offer as you explore at your own pace.

Float Down the Kobuk River

An excellent way to experience the beauty of Kobuk Valley National Park is to float down the Kobuk River. The river has a length of 350 miles, 61 of which are within the Kobuk Valley National Park. For the most part, the water moves slowly and collapsible canoes and kayaks are perfect for floating down the river and taking in the area’s scenery.

Remember that you will have to fly your gear in with you on the commercial transport that you take. Make sure to avoid the 8 miles of river below Walker Lake as this section has dangerous rapids that are typically not to be navigated when on a raft.

Fall

Explore the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes

Popular for hiking and camping, the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are ideal for spending some time. There are two options to get there; aircraft can land in the sand or you can take a float plane that can land in the Kobuk River and then you can backpack around two miles to the dunes.

You can set up your tent on any level surface and hike in any direction you choose. You can enjoy a different adventure depending on the season; for example, a visit in the fall may provide you the opportunity to observe the migration of caribou.

Go Fishing

A fun activity for those visiting Kobuk Valley National Park is fishing. You can take in the park’s amazing scenery as you relax and wait for a bite. You can fish for sheefish, salmon, grayling, pike, and Dolly Varden in the park’s rivers. There are usually more sheefish in the fall, with grayling and pike available throughout the year.

The fall is also a great time to fish for chum salmon and a small pink salmon. Make sure to obtain a fishing license and follow the Alaska state fishing regulations.

Winter

Go "Flight Seeing"

An excellent way to view the significant land area of Kobuk Valley National Park is from the sky. Consider coordinating with an authorized charter company out of Kotzebue or Bettles for a “flight-seeing” trip. Planes hold up to four passengers and you can charter a flight by the hour or by the day. You can also request that the pilot land the plane so that you can walk around a bit and explore.

Day trips can even be taken to the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes. It's a great way to see as much of the park as possible without having to plan an extended backcountry trip.

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