But how do you set foot in a national park with no roads and no signs? One way is by air from a nearby city, like Kotzebue, where the park’s visitor center is located. You book your tickets in advance, having been warned flights are often delayed due to weather. Your flight leaves only an hour later than expected. Lucky you, the pilot says, and you climb into a seat directly behind the pilot, confident you won’t experience air sickness this time. From the sky, you scan the banks of the braided rivers for wildlife and spot a moose and her calf amid the spruce. The wild lands stretch to the horizon in every direction. Has the world always been this big?
Relics of the last ice age, these dunes are 25 square miles of towering sand, an area larger than the island of Manhattan, and appear otherworldly when seen in the Arctic. The soft ground bears witness to the diversity of life in this harsh environment. On the fringes of the dunes, where lichen, willow, and spruce encroach, your footprints may align with those of moose, wolves, and bears. Each spring and autumn, the dunes are awash in caribou tracks, evidence of the annual migration of the mighty Western Arctic Caribou Herd, a quarter million strong.
Maybe you don’t fly into the park. Maybe you travel by the Kobuk River, tracing a route first traveled by humans thousands of years ago. Onion Portage, a designated National Historic Landmark on the Kobuk River, has been a gathering place for the harvesting of caribou for hundreds of generations. The tradition continues today, with local Alaskan residents still feeding their families with caribou harvested at the river crossings.
There are no developed facilities in Kobuk Valley National Park—a discouragement for some, but an unequivocal temptation for those looking for true Alaskan wilderness. No matter your level of outdoor survival skills, summer adventures abound: boating, camping, backpacking, flightseeing, wildlife-viewing, photography, and fishing. Commercial businesses provide flights.
For those looking to experience a different side of Alaskan wilderness, the long Arctic winter brings both considerable challenges and great beauty to the land. Those with advanced Arctic winter survival skills and their own equipment can enjoy snow machining, skiing, and even dog mushing. Contact the park and start planning your adventure!
Last updated: September 18, 2017