Kobuk River at Kobuk Valley National Park

Where is Kobuk Valley National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park resides in the arctic region of northwestern Alaska. The national park is about 20 miles north of the arctic circle and lies within a transition zone of boreal forest and tundra. Originally, the park was established by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to ensure the continued protection of the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes. Today, the park protects a variety of Alaskan environments and wildlife. Visitors arriving at Kobuk Valley US National Park will find a variety of backpacking and backcountry camping opportunities. The park does not contain any designated trails, roads, or visitor centers. However, the park does operate a visitor center located at the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center in the village of Kotzebue. The park also provides access to the Kobuk River where visitors may float, boat, and fish for a variety of species.

How Large is Kobuk Valley National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park is the ninth largest national park in the United States, and it stretches and covers a total area of 1,750,716 acres. In comparison, the national park would completely cover the entire state of Delaware and still have enough landmass leftover to approach other nearby states. Most of the southern portion of the park, roughly 174,545 acres, is managed and protected as the Kobuk Valley Wilderness. Across its expanse, the national park contains several distinct landforms including the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, the Kobuk River, the Baird Mountains and the shorter and ring forming Waring Mountains. These landforms provide essential habitats for a variety of flora and fauna species. However, due to its isolated location and ruggedness Kobuk Valley is one of the least visited national parks in the United States park system.

Northwestern Wolf Native to Alaska

Kobuk Valley National Park Weather

The climate of Kobuk Valley National Park has been classified as a subarctic climate by the Koppen climate classification system. Locations with this climate classification rarely experience temperatures above 71 degrees Fahrenheit. On average, Kobuk Valley National Park experiences high summer temperatures of around 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit, and low temperatures of around -15-0 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. Precipitation in the park is moderate throughout the entire year, and this lack of precipitation fluctuation from season to season is another factor of the subarctic climate the location is equipped with. Visitors planning to hike throughout the park in any season should be prepared with a variety of layers in order to combat different temperatures as they move throughout the park.

When Did Kobuk Valley Become a National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park first became a national park in 1980 with assistance from the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. However, the park received its first protection and designation as a national monument in 1978. President Jimmy Carter was the first to designate the area a monument using the Antiquities act. In its entirety, the state of Alaska contains eight separate national parks. The state contains the second largest collection of national parks when compared to the other 49 United States (only California contains more national parks with nine). Kobuk Valley National Park differs from most Alaskan national parks because none of its property is designated as a national preserve. These preserves are found in other national parks in Alaska and allow sport hunting. The only hunting allowed within Kobuk Valley National Park is subsistence hunting by local residents that have obtained permits. 

Things to do in Kobuk Valley National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park offers visitors the chance to explore the ruggedness and wild landscapes of northwestern Alaska. The park is one of the most remote national parks within the United States park system. Visitors will find a variety of opportunities to explore the backcountry, set up camp, and get in touch with nature.  Our National Park Visitors Guide outlines below some of these activities you will enjoy.   

Kobuk River at Kobuk Valley National Park Alaska

Backpacking in the Park

The premier activity practiced within Kobuk Valley National Park is backpacking. While no designated trails have been blazed within the park in order to maintain its isolated and rugged appeal, avid hikers can venture across the park’s acreage with the use of a topographical map and compass. Backpackers working their way across the several different environments of Kobuk Valley National Park should exercise caution and be well trained in areas such as wilderness survival and wilderness first aid. Additional information regarding popular backpacking routes or sights can be explored through a visit to the park’s visitor center located within the Northwest Alaska Heritage Center.

Backcountry Camping

Backpacking in Kobuk Valley National Park normally coincides with setting up camp within the backcountry of the park. Camping is allowed at most locations found throughout the park. However, visitors are encouraged to exercise caution when choosing where to set up camp. Proper backcountry camping practices such as utilizing bear canisters and packing out trash should always be followed. Camping within the park’s backcountry is the perfect way to enjoy a once in a lifetime Alaskan experience! 

Explore the Sand Dunes

The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are another popular spot found within Kobuk Valley National Park. These sand dunes are a great place for camping, hiking, and sight-seeing. In the summer, visitors hiking on the dunes may experience temperatures upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In the fall, the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are special for another reason. Every year the great caribou migration climbs across the sand dunes as they travel throughout the park. Visitors lucky enough to experience this event will want to have their camera at the ready. 

Floating on the Kobuk River

In total, the Kobuk River stretches for over 350 miles. Of these 350 miles, about 61 of them are found within Kobuk Valley National Park. Visitors looking to experience large expenses of the national park will want to access the river for travel. Collapsible canoes and kayaks are consistently utilized by visitors traveling within the park’s backcountry. 

Fishing on the Kobuk River

While fishing conditions within the national park are widely unreported due to its isolated location, the Kobuk River is known to contain sheefish, salmon, grayling, pike, and Dolly Varden. All anglers wishing to target species on the Kobuk River will need to obtain a valid Alaskan fishing license. All Alaskan state fishing regulations also apply within the national park.

Wildlife Viewing in the Park

Kobuk Valley National Park is a wildlife paradise. The national park contains several notable mammal species including caribou, moose, black bears, brown bears, beavers, river otters, lynx, wolves, arctic foxes, and red foxes. The park also contains a variety of other species including chinook, chum, pink, and sockeye salmon, arctic char, a variety of migratory birds, and several other smaller mammals.

When to Visit Kobuk Valley National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park is open throughout most of the year. Occasionally during adverse winter weather events the park is forced to close due to public safety concerns. The best time to visit the park is during the summer when temperatures in the park are warmer and more conducive to outdoor recreation. During the season visitors will find camping, hiking, and fishing much easier. Wildlife within the park is most active during the spring. However, the caribou migration occurs during the fall.

Must Have Items to Bring to Kobuk Valley National Park

A trip to Kobuk Valley National Park requires extensive planning and preparation. Visitors should not attempt a trip to the park if they are not in adequate physical condition or prepared to venture into the park’s wilderness. List of Parks notes the following items are a few things visitors should look to bring with them to the park. 

Topographic Map & Compass

A topographic map is a detailed map that includes shaded sections that represent different elevations. These maps also normally easily indicate geographic and man-made structures. A topographic map and working compass are essential for navigation in Kobuk Valley National Park. In some cases, these maps may prove to be more essential than water and food. 

Water, Food, & Extra

Visitors planning to spend several days in Kobuk Valley National Park should bring all of the food and water they will need during their stay with them to the park. Visitors should also bring a couple extra days’ worth of rations in case of an emergency. It is not the most uncommon thing for a fight out of the park to be delayed by inclement weather or a passing storm.

First Aid Kit

Kobuk Valley National Park is a designated wilderness area. Accidents may happen! However, the best way to remain safe in the park is to avoid major accidents and immediately handle minor ones. A first aid kit is critical for backcountry survival as it will not only provide help if needed but also confidence.

Ignition Source

All visitors should travel to Kobuk Valley National Park with two sources of ignition. A fire will not only permit backpackers to enjoy their meals every night, but it will also provide protection and warmth in the event of an emergency or critical situation.

Satellite Phone

Due to the park’s location north of the Arctic circle, cell phones will not work within Kobuk Valley National Park. Satellite phones are a great item to carry into the park’s backcountry. They can be used to summon a rescue team in the event of an emergency or to check in on changing weather conditions.

Bear-Resistant Food Containers

All visitors staying overnight in Kobuk Valley National Park are required to store their food in bear proof containers. Visitors who do not have their own container can receive one from any of the park’s visitor centers free of charge.

Where to Stay in Kobuk Valley National Park

Visitors looking to camp within Kobuk Valley National Park should be prepared to be completely self-sufficient. These visitors should also be well versed in wilderness survival and first aid techniques. Camping in the national park is not regulated and should be done at the discretion of backpackers.  Gravel beds are recommended by the park as great places to set up camp, for these campsites will cause less harm to the environment. However, visitors camping near the Kobuk River should make sure their camp is above the waterline.

Food Near Kobuk Valley National Park

There are no food opportunities near Kobuk Valley National Park. Few supplies can be found in villages near the park. However, most will need to be purchased in Anchorage before arriving at Kobuk Valley National Park.

Airports Near Kobuk Valley National Park

The closest airport to Kobuk Valley National Park is located in Fairbanks, Alaska. From this international airport individuals traveling to the park can purchase a ticket for a charter plane that will take them to the park.

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