Are you looking for an authentic rustic camping trip that is so remote, the wildlife is untouched by technology and people? Then the Kobuk Valley National Park is just what you’re looking for!
Read on to learn all about this park and how to prepare for your visit!
Where Is Kobuk Valley National Park?
Kobuk Valley National Park is a 1.7 million acre (2736 miles) national park in Arctic Alaska. It’s located in a large valley around the middle area where the Kobuk River flows.
The Baird and Waring Mountain Ranges surround the park, forming a sort of semi-circle-shaped bowl in which the park sits. This unique location protects the geological features in the territory. It also gives protection to the migration route of the Western Arctic Caribou as they journey north and south.
The Kobuk Valley National Park is located 75 miles east of Kotzebue. This is also where the Visitor’s Center and Park Ranger Station for the park are based.
How to Get to the Park
There are no roads that lead to this national park. You can get to the park by only two methods of transportation.
The first method is to catch a commercial flight into Kotzebue or Bettles, the two closest towns to the Kobuk Valley. From there, a bush pilot can then fly you in and drop you into the depths of the valley.
The only other option for getting to the Kobuk Valley National Park is to take a boat along the Kobuk River and float to the area you plan to camp.
Facilities and Camping
There are no designated campsites available and absolutely no facilities for visitors to utilize.
The Kobuk Valley National Park is far from roads, trails, or any signs of life, other than wildlife. It is highly recommended that you visit the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center in Kotzebue to speak with a park ranger before journeying to the park.
Once you are within the boundaries of the national park, the most popular places to camp are at the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes. These are located in the southeast section of the Kobuk River.
Another popular place to set up camp is the Onion Portage. This section is located on the northern bank of the Kobuk River. One of the draws of camping at this particular spot is that it’s perfect for watching the caribou that migrate north of the valley in the springtime and south of the valley around Labor Day.
Onion Portage is also a prime location for hikers to climb for a beautiful view of the Jade Mountains. In addition, Giddings’ Cabin, built in 1964 and an example of traditional log building methods, is located here.
Please consider abiding by the Leave No Trace principles.
Things to Do in Kobuk Valley National Park
There are no formal hiking trails made, but visitors are welcome to go where they are able. Hiking, camping, backpacking, floating on rivers, fishing, and viewing wildlife are all par for the course at the Kobuk Valley National Park.
One thing to keep an eye out for is the Kobuk locoweed. This plant is a small flowering herb that’s part of the pea family and is only found within the Kobuk Valley National Park!
Reminder: The Park Ranger Station and Visitor Center are located outside the park in the town of Kotzebue. Plan to visit there prior to making the journey to your campsite.
When Is the Best Time to Go?
The Kobuk Valley National Park is open year-round.
Summer is considered the favorite time to go among most visitors. The ice breaks on the Kobuk River in May and doesn’t begin to reform again until mid-October. From mid-June through July the wildflowers grow in abundance, making it a favorite time for visitors to camp.
August brings a lot of rain, and by September the snow will return. Late August is when the aspens begin turning colors and when the southern migration of the caribou begins.
The Northern Lights are active all year round but are best seen on the darkest nights of winter.
Note: The sun never sets between June 3rd and July 9th.
All About Kobuk Valley National Park
The Kobuk Valley National Park was proclaimed a national monument in 1978. In 1980 the park went through boundary changes, changing its official status to a national park.
The park was formed from glacial-outwash streams emptying into what was once a large lake inside the valley. These glacial-outwash stream deposits are how the sand dunes were eventually formed thousands of years ago.
Archaeological sites around Orange Portage show evidence of 12 thousand years of human occupation. This makes this spot one of the earliest documented places of human inhabitants on the planet. This park has also been found to be the home to the wooly mammoth during the last ice age.
Today, the Inupiaq Eskimos still hunt the caribou just as their ancestors did thousands of years ago.
The Kobuk Valley National Park is bordered to the north by the Noatak National Preserve. To the south it’s fringed by the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge.
The park holds the Kobuk River Valley which includes the Kobuk River and Salmon Rivers. It’s also home to a region of the Boreal Forest and the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes.
The Kobuk River is considered slow-moving and flows west. This river is 1500 feet at its widest point. Overall, visitors consider it to be wide and placid. It’s a pleasant river to travel by canoe, kayak, or by motorboat.
The Kobuk Valley National Park sits in a valley with the Baird Mountains to the north and the Waring Mountains to the south.
The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes sit to the southeast of the Kobuk River. These dunes are well known for having crests reaching heights of 100 feet! Nearby to these are the Little Kobuk Sand Dunes and the Hunt River Sand Dunes.
The Boreal Forests are home to spruce, alder, and birch trees. It sits north of the valley.
The climate is something visitors will definitely want to take into consideration before planning a trip to the Kobuk Valley National Park.
Summer temperatures average in the 60s, with 70s or 80s in the highs. However, temperatures can reach 100 degrees in summer, so be aware!
In the winter months, temperatures average -6 degrees. But they can drop to below -50 degrees! Plan carefully and speak with the Park Ranger prior to camping at this time of year.
Winds average 5-10 mph throughout the year. They can reach as high as 30 mph with the approach of a storm.
Warning: At any time of the year, exposure and hypothermia are significant threats to visitors.
With such a remote location and lack of civilization nearby, this area is teeming with all kinds of wildlife!
This particular territory is considered bear country! Be sure to store your food out of reach of all wild animals, not just bears. Consider investing in animal-resistant containers prior to your journey.
In addition to grizzly bears and black bears, this part of the country has moose, wolverines, foxes, porcupines, small fur-bearing animals, wolves, and waterfowl. The rivers are also overflowing with fish. And these waters are home to the sheefish!
Kobuk Valley National Park is also home to millions of birds. The Arctic tern flies in from the coast of Antarctica, making it the longest migration of any bird in the world. Other birds that call the valley their home are ducks, cranes, loons, geese, and swans.
As stated before, this valley is home to approximately 500,000 caribou! They begin their migrations north in the springtime to reach their calving ground. They then migrate south in the fall to find their rutting area.
The migration of the caribou is considered one of the great migrations left on the planet. In total, the caribou make a 600-mile trek during their migration.
What Should I Bring When I Visit?
As you’ve read above, there will be access to very little once you arrive in the valley.
You should be prepared to know how to orient yourself and figure out which direction you wish to head. Bring along maps, a compass, and a GPS. Basic cell phones will not get service in the valley. Bring a satellite phone if you have one!
Even in the summer, it can get cold in the Arctic. The weather can change quickly. Be prepared for all kinds of weather, no matter the season you visit.
Any outerwear you bring needs to be insulated with synthetic materials. Bring along a breathable rain jacket and rain pants.
To the best of your ability, avoid wearing cotton, as it absorbs moisture and can lead to hypothermia. The best options for clothing are those made with polypropylene, fleece, wool, or fur.
Even when visiting in the summer months, bring plenty of warm clothing, dress in layers, and have high-quality rain gear. Be sure to have sturdy hiking boots. And bring along knee-high rubber or neoprene boots for wet terrain.
If you plan to visit during June or early July, bring a face mask so you can sleep even when it’s still light outside.
In the winter, the days are short. The sun is only above the horizon for 90 minutes on December 21. Again, plan accordingly with this information in mind.
Visit Kobuk Valley National Park
And that wraps up all you need to know about the Kobuk Valley National Park. Visit a piece of history and plan to take a trip to this national park on your next camping trip! Interested in finding other locations to camp in Alaska? We’re ready to answer all your questions with 30 of the Best Places to Go Camping in Alaska!