Kobuk Valley National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park is located in Alaska, 25 miles northwest of the Arctic Circle. The park contains 1,750,716 acres of protected land, of which 81,000 acres belong to the state and to native companies, and is one of the least visited national parks in America. It was first established as a national monument in 1978 by Jimmy Carter under the Antiquities Act, during which time the ANILCA bill was being proposed in Congress. Under this bill, which was signed by Carter in 1980, Kobuk Valley was officially established as a national park.

Kobuk Valley National Park is one of many areas that make a large ecosystem and is found between the Noatak National Preserve and the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge. The park is bordered in the north by Baird Mountains and by the Waring Mountains in the south. Its southern border encircles the park, creating part of the valley, and 174,545 acres in the southern area of the park comprises the Kobuk Valley Wilderness.

The Kobuk Valley National Park contains three areas of sand dunes located south of the Kobuk River. These dunes, known as the Little Kobuk Sand Dunes, Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, and Hunt River Dunes, were once part of a 200,000-acre dune field and have now been reduced to around 20,500 acres. Most of the dune fields have been covered by tundra and forest landscape.

The habitat of Kobuk Valley National Park lies just between that of a tundra and a boreal forest and its temperatures are known to vary drastically. In January, temperatures can fall to −50 °F at night, and during the summer, average temperatures reach between 65 °F and 85 °F. Although snowfall is common throughout the year, rainfall and winds are more common during the summer months. The park is home to many species of wildlife including mammals like caribou, voles, moose, porcupines, and snowshoe hares. The caribou in the park, which number around 400,000, migrate between the Baird and Waring Mountains and are an important food source to the Inupiaq people that are native to the area. Other mammals include Dall’s sheep, brown bears, and gray wolves. There are many species of fish in the park as well including rainbow smelt, chum, pink and sockeye salmon, and Arctic char.

There is only an average of 11,485 visitors in the Kobuk Valley National Park each year and it cannot be accessed by road. However, there are a number of other ways to visit the park including air travel, dog sleds, walking, and snowmobile. It offers many activities including dog sledding, camping, backpacking, and hiking, although there are no developed trails in any area of the park.

Image Caption: Kobuk Dunes in Kobuk Valey National Park, Alaska. Credit: LCGS Russ/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)