A trip to the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes takes some effort, but the scenery and solitude makes it worth the work. There are no roads or trails, so plan to hire a pilot to get there. You can do an overflight, or land and stay a while. This video will help you start planning the logistics for a backcountry trip of a lifetime.
Fifty miles above the arctic circle, the world’s northern-most dune fields rise up, like a mirage, out of the vast green expanse of Alaska’s boreal forest. This juxtaposition of dunes and trees creates spectacular contrasts of color, texture and form. Created by wind and the slow grinding of ancient glaciers, the shifting sands record the passing of animals like bears, caribou, foxes and wolves.
Hi, I’m Linda Jeshke at Kobuk Valley National Park.
The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are a very magical place. For people with some backcountry experience, a trip to the dunes could be the trip of a lifetime.
Even getting here is part of the adventure. While no permit is required, you will need to hire a bush plane to bring you in. Bush planes cost several hundred dollars an hour to haul three or four people with gear. Several authorized companies provide flights into the park. Most leave from Kotzebue, Alaska: a gateway village to much of the arctic’s backcountry.
A twohour scenic flight can take you to the dunes and back for a taste of the area. Planes can even land on the dunes so you can walk barefoot in the warm sand or spend the night. Boaters on the Kobuk River can also make a three-mile, cross-country hike to visit the dunes. There are no trails or signs out here, so make sure to bring a topographic map and compass...and know how to use them. A GPS unit works too, just be sure to pack extra batteries.
If you decide to camp on the dunes, there are several things you won’t want to forget. Before you arrive for your trip, know how to protect yourself in bear country. You should store all your food, toiletries and garbage in an animal-resistant food container. Look for one reviewed by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Commitee. Pepper spray is recommended to deter bears that might get too close.
While it might be a little less buggy on the dunes, two steps into the forest and it’s the same, old story: mosquitos, especially in June and July. Insect repellant, long sleeves and pants are critical to maintaining your sanity. For true piece of mind, bring a head net or bug jacket.
Even though it looks a little like the Sahara out here, it’s still the arctic, and weather can change on a dime. Hypothermia is always a hazard. You can also expect wet, sloppy hiking in the forest around the dunes. Extra socks, rain gear, a warm hat and layered clothing will keep you toasty and dry. Weather in northwest Alaska can change anyone’s plans. Fog and rain can ground planes for days. So pack extra food, a good book and be prepared to settle in and wait if you have to. Cell phones won’t work in Kobuk Valley, but you can bring your own satellite phone to call your pilot if plans change.
Alone in this wild landscape, you may feel like you’re the only one to have stepped foot on these dunes. Practicing Leave No Trace ethics will help others feel the same. A trip to the Kobuk Sand Dunes is as unique as the dunes themselves. While it might take a little extra effort and selfsufficiency, the solitude of this remote wilderness makes it all worthwhile.
I’m Linda Jeshke, and I hope to see you soon at Kobuk Valley National Park.
Far from the hustle and bustle of other Alaskan destinations, the magnificent scenery and untamed nature of this national park allows you to experience genuine "Wild Alaska" on its own terms. Your possibilities here are vast. Whether boating down the languid Kobuk River, thrilling your senses on a scenic flight or charting your own backcountry trek, the country is ready for those prepared to enter it. Whatever adventure you choose, please remember to leave cultural artifacts and natural features as you find them for others to enjoy.
Kobuk Valley's visitor isn't your average tourist. They tend to be skilled backcountry explorers familiar with surviving wind, rain, and snow - and that's in the summer months. Winter visits are recommended only to outdoorspeople experienced in arctic camping and survival techniques.
You'll find no roads, no gift shops, and no parking facilities within the park. Trails don't exist; neither do campgrounds. Not even the park headquarters or visitor center are within the park. Both of these facilities are in Kotzebue, Alaska.
Access and services here are limited when compared to traditional national parks you may have visited elsewhere. What the area may lack in services, it more than makes up for in friendly people and an un-crowded wilderness experience. Rangers can provide advice on logistics to help travelers begin planning their trips.
Commercial businesses offer various services such as air taxis, guided rafting, and hunting. Contact any service providers on the list to facilitate your trip. Air taxis offices are located in Kotzebue and Bettles.
Did You Know?
A frog that lives in Kobuk Valley National Park spends the winter as an ice cube. In the fall, the Wood Frog burrows under leaves on the forest floor. Its temperature drops to 20° F or lower until spring, at which point it thaws out and goes on its way.