The Kobuk Valley National Park is a remote park, located north of Kotzebue, in northern Alaska. Due to its remote location, the park is accessible by aircraft only. There are no facilities in the park itself, rather the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center, 80 miles to the southwest of the park serves as its visitor center, and operates a small museum on Inupiaq culture and the Arctic ecosystem. The Kobuk Valley region is a wetlands valley in a transition area between the boreal forest and the tundra.
The park is bordered to the north by the Baird Mountains, and in the south by the smaller Waring Mountains. The Kobuk River runs though the park, and on the south side of the river are the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes. During the summer months, the park is popular for backcountry boating, hiking, camping, fishing and wildlife and bird viewing. Visitors with winter survival skills enjoy the park for snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, and dogsledding or skijoring. Flightseeing, or aerial tours by airplane, is a popular way for visitors to see the remote location.
The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes within the park are a popular place to camp. In the fall, visitors to the sand dunes may witness the caribou migration, which has occurred in this area for at least 9,000 years. In the summer months, camping and hiking on the sand dunes is popular, although visitors should have experience with orienteering to safely navigate the open planes. There are no delineated trails or roads within the park. Onion Portage is a long, narrow peninsula located at a bend in the Kobuk River on the east side of the park. The area is popular for wildlife viewing during the summer months, and as an additional location to witness the caribou migration. Descendants of the Inupiat still live off the land and come to the shores of the river at Onion Portage to hunt and fish, as their ancestors did over 8,000 years ago. Per United States National Park regulations, sport hunting by visitors is not allowed.
History: The Kobuk Valley region has been home to humans since their earliest existence. Free of ice during the last great ice age, the area has been flush with wildlife and big game, including the wooly mammoth. Archeological evidence suggests that caribou have migrated through the area for at least the past 9,000 years. In the late 1960’s archeologists uncovered artifacts from nine different cultures at Onion Portage, some over 8,000 years old. The campsite was popular with native groups who came to the shores of the river to hunt whales and seals, as well as nomadic groups who came to hunt the caribou during their bi-annual migrations. The Archeological District in Onion Portage is now a National Historic Landmark. In the late 1800’s when prospectors falsely announced they had found gold in the area, the Kobuk River Stampede brought thousands to the region. Those who waited out the winter months found very little gold, but enjoyed ice-skating and recreational pursuits. The stampede drew attention to the area and in the early 1900’s, the US Geological Survey mapped the region and discovered Alaska’s other gold; oil. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act was established to provide protection for over 157 million acres of land in Alaska. Of this, several regions were designated as National Parks, including the Kobuk Valley.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Park rangers operate a variety of programs for children and adults at the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center, which serves as the park’s visitor center. Programs for adults include lectures on projects and research being done at the Kobuk Valley National Park, a range of workshops on crafts and medicinal use of plants, and community activities such as bird walks and archeological digs. The Arctic Circle Film Series is a weekly film series offered in partnership with Alaska Geographic, the non-profit educational partner and bookstore of the park. All films are centered on the Kobuk Valley and Arctic conservation. In addition to the Parks Services’ Junior Ranger program, kids programs include Roving Rangers, in which park rangers bring a truck full of bones, pelts or science projects to children in the nearby community of Kotzebue. Movie Story is a weekly children’s movie program that shows short clips from films on area wildlife and Inupiaq history.
Kotzebue, AK 99752, Phone: 907-442-3890