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Kobuk Valley National Park

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. See more pictures of national parks.

Kobuk Valley National Park

PO Box 1029

Kotzebue, AK 99752

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907-442-3890

www.nps.gov/kova

Kobuk Valley National Park, one of the most remotely located national parks in the system, offers solitude in a peaceful wilderness setting. Situated in northern Alaska, this park has no roads and is traversed using the Kobuk River. If they're lucky, visitors can catch a glimpse of the wildlife in the Kobuk Valley's arctic terrain, including moose, caribou, and grizzly bears.

Entrance fees: Admission is free.

Visitor center: Headquarters is open Monday-Friday.

Accommodations: The park offers no developed campgrounds. Backcountry camping is available.

Visiting Kobuk Valley National Park

This park is one of the loveliest in Alaska, replete with clear running streams and rivers, the northernmost sand dune field in the Western Hemisphere, ancient archaeological sites, and all of the diverse fauna and flora typical of a vast province of the Brooks Range. These include such wildlife as barren-ground caribou and Yukon moose and such plant species as white spruce and paper birch.

The Kobuk Valley is pure Arctic terrain. Its wide bowl is filled with great boreal forests and a tundra that creeps up the lower slopes of the mountains.

The Kobuk River is the main artery for transportation in the park, which lies entirely above the Arctic Circle and has no roads. The two other major attractions of this park are the 25-square-mile Kobuk Sand Dunes, some of which rise more than 150 feet in height, and the Salmon River, which was classified as a national wild and scenic river.

Kobuk Valley National Park boasts sand dunes over 100 feet high, making it one of the best sandboarding destinations in Alaska. Check out the sandboarding article, video and images at Discovery’s Fearless Planet to learn more.

Kobuk Valley National Park is best suited for the adventurous, with its kayaking, canoeing, backcountry hiking, and camping. Keep reading to learn more about the sights and activities in this secluded wilderness.

©2006 National Park ServicesThe Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, some of which are 100 feet high, cover 25 square miles of Kobuk Valley National Park.

Flowing from its headwaters in the Brooks Range on the east and draining into the Hotham Inlet, the Kobuk River glides across the heart of Kobuk Valley National Park. Its floor is so flat that the river drops only about two or three inches every mile. The river's barely detectable current makes it look like a lake in places where it is especially broad.

A paddle or motor trip on the river usually begins from the little settlement of Ambler on the east side of the park and ends in Kiana, a village outside the park's western boundary.

Placid and pleasant, the Kobuk River flows through land belonging to the Inupiaq Eskimos. In some places, steep banks rise above the water, while elsewhere great boreal forests line both shores, interrupted by lakes and tundra. In late August and early September, you can sit above the river and watch huge herds of caribou swim across the river, the great antlers of the males bobbing and swaying with the motion of the water. In a stream that meanders through a grassy meadow down to a confluence with the river, you may see a grizzly bear fishing for dinner, its enormous paws slashing through the water with lightning speed.

South of a bend in the river on the eastern side of the park, great sand dunes appear suddenly. This is an Arctic Sahara in a strange and unlikely setting. East of the dunes is Onion Portage, the park's best known feature, which is named for the wild chives that grow there. For thousands of years, migrating caribou have splashed across the river here on their way south for the winter. Here, too, evidence indicates that hunters have waited for them. 

Kobuk Valley National Park Photo Opportunities

In the solitude of the Kobuk Valley, visitors can find abundant photo opportunities. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Kobuk River: This placid, slow-moving river winds its way through the park. Visitors might see caribou swimming across the river in the summer and fall months.
  • Great Kobuk Sand Dunes: The northernmost sand dunes in the Western Hemisphere, these sandy mounds cover 25 square miles with their shifting sands.
  • Onion Portage: One of the most significant archaeological sites in the Arctic, Onion Portage holds evidence of human habitation dating back 12,000 years.

The Great Kobuk Sand DunesSand is everywhere, shifting and blowing with the wind and the weather. The dunes stretch for 25 square miles south of Alaska's Kobuk River. In this barren landscape, summer temperatures can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

These rolling, active hills, colored yellow and beige, are more than 24,000 years old. Geologists believe they came into existence long before the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, when the Kobuk Valley was an ice-free refuge with grassy tundra similar to the kind spreading across Siberia today.

The great dunes, along with a smaller tract farther east, were formed by the weathered and wind-blown debris left by an earlier ice age. An unusual combination of geology, topography, and prevailing winds keeps the dunes on the go. Generally inhospitable to vegetation, the dunes of Kobuk Valley are advancing every year through a doomed boreal forest that is in their path. Visitors to the park reach the dunes by boat and can take a short walk through the sand.

In addition to its beautiful scenery, the Kobuk Valley has a rich archaeological history. We'll cover the history of the Kobuk Valley on the next page.

©2006 National Park Services In the Eskimo language, Kobuk means "great river." Ever since people came to live in this place, the Kobuk has been an important source of food, as well as the main east-west travel route.

The Kobuk Valley National Park region, which sits in a secluded part of northern Alaska, has an intriguing history. In 1961, at Onion Portage, archaeologist J. Louis Giddings found what has been called the most important archaeological site in the Arctic. Giddings uncovered an area that yielded evidence of flint-working technology representing a number of eight different cultures.

Scientists have found chiseled stone spearheads and tools, ancient hearthbeds, Siberian-style pit houses, and other artifacts. Data suggests that native people have been using this game-rich area for at least 12,000 years. The site, now inactive and overgrown, provides important clues about human migration across a land bridge from Asia to North America. In 1980, just as he was leaving office, President Jimmy Carter signed the bill that established this 1.7-million-acre area as Kobuk Valley National Park.

Floating on the river, you will find solitude in the wilderness. Kobuk Valley is one of the least visited national parks. In each of 2004 and 2005, there were fewer than 9,500 visitors to this remote natural realm where Eskimos still hunt the great herds of caribou that migrate through the area each summer.

Although this park receives few visitors, it holds many great sights to reward those adventurous enough to make the trek. Kobuk Valley National Park is a secluded wilderness brimming with natural beauty, abundant wildlife, and archeological treasures.

© Publications International, Ltd.

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