Things To Know Before You Go

golden evening light on sand dunes in Kobuk Valley, mountains in the background

Arctic summers yield long daylight hours, and lovely low-angled light

NPS Photo


Pre-Trip Logistics
Visitors should be prepared to enjoy a non-traditional national park experience. There are no roads, trails, campgrounds or regularly attended ranger stations in Kobuk Valley National Park. Access is typically by small aircraft, which can cost several hundred dollars per hour. Flight companies who are licensed commercial businesses are available in Kotzebue and Bettles. Study a topographic map of the area you would like to visit, then discuss drop off and pick up locations with the flight company you choose. Always plan 2-3 extra days in your trip for delays due to weather. One-day flightseeing trips can also be arranged with your pilot. Pack clothing for wet and cold weather, even if the forecast says warm and sunny. Park rangers at the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center can answer specific questions as you work through your planning process. Call 907.442.3890.

Getting Help
The number of National Park Service staff in Kotzebue is small and the acreage of the park is large. Visitors may not be able to contact a ranger if they have an emergency. Backcountry experience and self-sufficiency are vital. Your safety is your responsibility. Along with this come tremendous opportunities for peace and solitude on a vast landscape. Visitors are not required to check in with staff at the headquarters office in Kotzebue or get a permit before starting a trip in the park. Cell phones do not work in the backcountry. Satellite phones do work, though, and many travelers choose to carry them for added safety. Carrying a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) adds another layer of safety.

Even in summer, weather should be on your mind. Conditions can change rapidly and dramatically, so be prepared for a wild range of temperatures and precipitation. Read more tips on preparing for Arctic weather.

Wildlife Safety
Kobuk Valley National Park is good habitat for both brown (grizzly) and black bears. Give these animals your respect and keep your distance. Cow moose with calves also need us to respect their space. It is important to keep food and scented items away from bears or any wild animals. Food containers are strongly recommended for backcountry trips - do not count on finding trees large or strong enough to hang food bags. Look for bear resistant food containers certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.

Defensive aerosol sprays with capsaicin (bear spray) is another line of defense that some people choose to carry. Make sure it is close at hand for unexpected encounters and know how to use it safely. Bear spray is sometimes available at stores in Kotzebue, or travelers can have it shipped as hazardous material cargo to Kotzebue. Firearms are permissible in the backcountry. Travelers should be very proficient with their firearms before arriving.

The best first defense is always respect for wildlife: Be aware of animals in your vicinity, maintain a safe distance, and don't attract animals into your camp. Practice Leave No Trace principals to maintain the healthy and wild nature of the park and avoid dangerous encounters with any wildlife. Learn more about .staying safe in bear country

Hunting, Fishing and Berry Picking
Only local rural residents are allowed to hunt in this national park. All hunters are required to have an Alaska state hunting license and follow federal subsistence regulations. Anyone may fish in the park. Anglers need to have an Alaska state fishing license, which can be obtained in Kotzebue or online. Berry picking is a popular with local people in the region, and visitors are welcome to enjoy this activity as well. People can pick berries for their personal consumption, but not for commercial sale.

Subsistence Users
Federally qualified subsistence users are local rural residents who live year round in one of the 4? villages near the park. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) dictates that this group has a right to harvest plants and animals in the park to sustain themselves and their families. Qualified subsistence users often hunt big game animals like caribou and moose. They can also trap fur-bearers and take certain birds according to regulated seasons and bag limits. Many village residents catch hundreds of salmon and whitefish in set nets each summer. Those fish are dried and eaten throughout the year. Please respect all local subsistence hunting and gathering and give people a wide berth so they can finish their work without interruption.

Leave No Trace
To protect the environment in the park and help the next visitor have a good experience, try not to leave any evidence of your trip. Pack out everything you pack in.

Leave any natural items or artifacts just as you find them - bring home pictures instead. Keep food and scented items out of animals' reach by using effective animal resistant food containers. Bury human waste in a 6-inch deep hole at least 20 feet from streams and lakes. Generally, spread your group out as you hike. However, on the delicate lichen mats around the sand dunes, hiking in single file does less damage. Do not create rock cairns or arrows to direct other hikers. Leave the wilderness trail-less. Scatter ashes and rock rings from campfires.

Drinking Water
Some small streams in the park may be safe to drink from, but larger rivers are usually not clean enough to be safely potable. However, it is impossible to judge by the look of the water. Plan to treat all your drinking water taken from streams, lakes or rivers using filters or tablets.

Did You Know?