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. Permits are not required for independent travelers. Organized recreational groups do need to get a permit from the Chief Ranger - contact the park at 907.442.3890.
Community programs are available throughout the year at the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center. Topics include natural and cultural history of the park, local research, workshops, and children's activities. Schedules vary, so please call 907.442.3890 before your arrival or check the events calendar to learn about upcoming programs.
Backpacking in the Baird Mountains is a scenic adventure, especially along ridgelines where walking is easier than on the lower level tundra. Planes cannot land high up in the mountains, so talk with your pilot about low elevation landing strips and then hike up to the ridgelines. Be prepared to do a lot of orienteering. The scenery is as spectacular as the terrain is challenging.
Floating the Kobuk River is a also great way to experience the park. Out of 350 river miles, 61 of those pass through the park. Collapsible canoes and kayaks work especially well in the slow water. Small rafts are also an option. Boaters should plan to fly in all of their own gear with one of the commercial transporters. If you prefer to have someone organize a trip for you, guided boat trips may be available.
Sheefish, salmon, grayling, pike and Dolly Varden in the rivers are good to catch and good to eat. Local subsistence users may be fishing with set nets - give them a wide berth so they can complete their important harvest activities. Anglers are required to have a fishing license and follow Alaska state fishing regulations.
The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are a popular destination for hiking and camping. Aircraft on wheels can land right on the sand. Tents can be set up on any level surface and day hiking in any direction is feasible. An alternative is to land on the Kobuk River in a float plane and backpack two miles across the tundra up to the dunes. There is no marked route, so good orienteering skills are required. See the video on trip logistics to the dunes to help plan an excursion.
Winter access is by plane, snowmachine or dogs. Plan to fly into the park, unless you have your own snowmachine or dogteam. Skiing, snowshoeing, dogsledding or skijoring through the mountains or on the frozen rivers are all possible adventures. Commercial businesses provide flights when the weather is good, but plan extra days to wait in case of bad weather. Bring all your own equipment. Currently there are no rentals or guided operations for snowmachining or running dogs. Any winter trip requires advanced knowledge of cold weather survival.
A great way to experience the park if there is not enough time for an extended backcountry trip. Certain commercial businesses located in Kotzebue or Bettles can provide transportation for 1-4 passengers in small planes. A round trip to the park from Kotzebue is about 2 hours; round trip from Bettles is about 5 hours. Sometimes planes can be chartered for the whole day. Pilots can land in different locations depending on whether the aircraft is on wheels, floats, or skis. Call the flight companies to discuss schedules and routes. Costs typically run $600 to $700 per hour.
Photography and Wildlife Viewing
Check out our Flickr site for a preview of the potential for nature photography in the park. Beautiful landscapes are everywhere. In the Arctic however, the landscape is huge, access is limited, and the wildlife is not concentrated in particular areas. Getting to see animals will require effort to travel around the park and a good dose of patience. Remember to never crowd wild animals. If they change their behavior because of your presence, you are too close. Good binoculars or telephoto lenses are smart investments.
Private land is common along the Kobuk River, so please detour around areas that show any signs of buildings, camps or residence. Remember to pack warm clothing for every trip, as winds may drop temperatures below freezing, even in summer.