Kobuk Valley National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park is almost 2 million acres

Kobuk Valley National Park protects 61 miles (98 km) of the Kobuk River and three regions of sand dunes. Created by glaciers, the Great Kobuk, Little Kobuk, and Hunt River Sand Dunes can reach 100 feet (30 m) high and 100 °F (38 °C), and they are the largest dunes in the Arctic. Twice a year, half a million caribou migrate through the dunes and across river bluffs that expose well-preserved ice age fossils.


While no glaciers currently exist within the park, at least five major Pleistocene glaciations have been identified in Northwest Alaska

While no glaciers currently exist within the park, at least five major Pleistocene glaciations have been identified in Northwest Alaska. The greatest of these glacial events occurred during Illinoisian time when glaciers extended west to the Baldwin Peninsula. The two earlier glaciations, the Kobuk and Ambler glaciations, covered large areas of the Kobuk and Selawik valleys, as well as the drainages of the Baird Mountains. The three later glaciations were restricted to portions of the Schwatka Mountains, east of the park.

During the interglacial period between the Kobuk and Ambler glaciations, glacio-fluvial deposits on river bars and outwash plains were worked by strong easterly winds. The down-valley movement of large volumes of silt and sand created dune fields (eolian deposits) which cover an area of approximately 200,000 acres. Most of this dune area is currently vegetated by tundra and forest, except for the three active dunes – the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, the Little Kobuk Sand Dunes and the Hunt River Dunes. These active dunes cover approximately 20,500 acres. The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes lie less than two miles south of the Kobuk River, immediately east of Kavet Creek, and the Little Kobuk Sand Dunes lie about five miles south of the Kobuk River, in the southeastern portion of the park. The hunt River Dunes are located on the south bank of the Kobuk River at the mouth of the Hunt River.

The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes display a complete and readily observable sequence of dune development, from the U-shaped, concave dunes with vegetative cover in the eastern portion of the field, to the crescent-shaped, unvegetated barchan dunes, which stand over 100 feet in height, in the western portion. It is the largest active dune field in arctic North America.

see original article here: http://www.ohranger.com/kobuk-valley/geology

Photo courtesy of NPS


Native American History

Home of the Inupiat peoples

Human habitation in Kobuk Valley is believed to extend back at least 12,500 years. The present inhabitants of the valley are the Inupiat people, who subsist on hunting and fishing in the region. The Onion Portage Archeological District is a National Historic Landmark district at the east end of the Kobuk River’s course through the park. The site, strategically located at a major caribou river crossing, documents nine cultural complexes spanning from 8,000–6,000 BC to about 1000–1700 AD. The site is an inholding of the NANA Regional Corporation, an Alaskan native corporation with rights in the park.

The first human inhabitants of the Kobuk Valley were people of the Paleo-Arctic Tradition, who hunted caribou at Onion Portage. The region was apparently deserted for about 2,000 years until people of the Archaic tradition appeared in the valley from the south and east. By about 4,000 years before the present, people of the Arctic Small Tool tradition arrived, but departed between 1,500 and 1,000 years ago, again leaving the valley unoccupied. New people arrived by about 1200 AD, as documented by the Ahteut site 25 miles (40 km) downriver from Onion Portage. People remained in the valley until the mid-19th century, when the caribou population declined and people moved closer to the coast. These people were the Akunirmiut and Kuuvaum Kangiamirnuit. One of their villages was located in the present park at the mouth of the Hunt River. Their descendants, now known as the Kuuvangmiit, have mostly moved out of park lands.

see original article here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobuk_Valley_National_Park

Photo courtesy of NPS


Park History

How Kobuk Valley became a National Park

About 32 prospectors’ camps were established during a short gold rush in 1899–1900. Surveys have not yet located them, although debris associated with the miners’ boats has been found.

Kobuk Valley National Park was established as one of fifteen new National Park Service properties established by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980. It was first declared a national monument by President Jimmy Carter on December 1, 1978 using his authority under the Antiquities Act when Congressional negotiations on the proposed ANILCA bill were stalled. ANILCA was finally passed in 1980, and signed by Carter on December 2, 1980. Unlike many Park Service units in Alaska, Kobuk Valley is entirely national park land, with only subsistence hunting by local residents permitted. No part of the park is designated as a national preserve, which would allow sport hunting.

see original article here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobuk_Valley_National_Park

Photo courtesy of NPS



The best things to do in Kobuk Valley National Park

Although Kotzebue is not located within the national park, most visitors find themselves spending a fair amount of time exploring town while they wait for their chartered flights. There are several companies, organizations, and opportunities for visitors to take advantage of listed below.

Northwest Arctic Heritage Center (National Park Service Visitor Center)
– Museum
– Movies
– Ranger lead programs

Northwest Arctic Borough
– Sulianjich Art Center (native art store)
– Community Events

City of Kotzebue
– Recreation Center
– Community Events
**Check their Facebook Page for the most up to date listing of events

Things to See
Hiking- there is an 8-mile loop road that goes out of town and back across the tundra as well as excellent walking along the beach and shoreline of the Kotzebue Sound.
Birding- Take a hike out of town on the loop road and you could find birds from any of the seven continents. Don’t forget your binoculars.
Fishing- located at the end of a peninsula on the Kotzebue Sound, town is surround by water with opportunities to catch sheefish, tomcod, herring, and even salmon.
For more information about any of these opportunities, check out their websites or contact the visitor center at (90)442-3890

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/kova/planyourvisit/nearby-attractions.htm

Photo courtesy of NPS


Lying entirely north of the Arctic Circle, the ground is permanently frozen below much of the park

Lying entirely north of the Arctic Circle, the ground is permanently frozen below much of the park. This impermeable “permafrost” layer prevents drainage and causes many surface areas to remain wet during the summer. Trees approach their northern limit in Kobuk Valley, where boreal forest and tundra meet. All plants that grow in the arctic must be specially adapted to survive fierce winds, biting cold, thin soils, and a short growing season. The northern tree line zigzags through the valleys of the Brooks Range and along the Kobuk River. Spruce, willow, and birch trees are found along rivers and streams, on many south-facing hills, and where drainage is good and permafrost is lacking.

The park was established to maintain the environmental integrity of the valley’s natural features in an undeveloped state and, in cooperation with local Natives, to protect and interpret archeological sites associated with Native cultures. As such, natural and archeological objects are protected. Leaving them where you find them preserves these special resources for the good of residents and visitors alike.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/kova/learn/nature/plants.htm

Photo courtesy of NPS

Animal Life

Iconic Arctic animals like grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, foxes, porcupines, moose can be seen regularly

Summer along the Kobuk River is a story of abundance. From May through September, the snow and ice retreat, the sun shines nearly continuously and the valley comes to life. Millions of insects thrive in ponds formed from melting snow trapped by permafrost, and grasses, willows, sedges and lichen flourish in the warm Arctic sun. Iconic Arctic animals like grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, foxes, porcupines, moose and more can be seen darting across the tundra and lumbering through the woods in search of food.

Kobuk Valley is home to one of the last great migrations left on the planet. Every spring and fall, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd – a quarter of a million animals – passes through the valley on the 600 mile trek between their summer and winter grounds. In our rapidly urbanizing world, many of the great migrations have disappeared, and Kobuk Valley National Park protects this millennia-old journey that is vital to both the caribou and the people who live in their path.

The Kobuk River and its tributaries are home to an abundance of fish. Sheefish, rare elsewhere, are abundant along the Kobuk River, and can grow as large as 60 pounds. Every summer, the chum salmon return from the ocean to their spawning grounds within the valley. They return vital nutrients to the river and bringing food to the people who live along its banks.

Millions of birds flock to the sheltered lakes and rivers of Kobuk Valley National Park every spring to breed, some of them traveling unimaginable distances. The arctic tern flies all the way from the coast of Antarctica – the longest migration of any bird in the world. Ducks, cranes, loons, geese and swans all make the valley their home for a few months each year.

Summer is a time of plenty in Kobuk Valley, but any animal that makes its home in the Arctic must contend with the winter. Temperatures plummet, the rivers freeze and the sun disappears. Heavy snow and ice blanket the landscape, hiding the willows and lichen from sight. Food becomes scares. As the nights grow long and the temperatures drop, many animals leave, migrating south for the winter. Most of the animals that stay hibernate, spending the long winter asleep underground, but a few, such as the Arctic wolf and the ptarmigan, are active all winter long. They make do with what food remains on the snowy tundra, scraping by until sun and the bounty of summer returns.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/kova/learn/nature/animals.htm

Photo courtesy of NPS

Hiking Trails

The best hiking in Kobuk Valley National Park

Camping in Kobuk Valley National Park is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Far from any roads, trails or signs of civilization, a camping trip in the park is a unique wilderness experience that is hard to find anywhere else in the world. Before you go, make sure to stop by the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center in Kotzebue to pick up your Kobuk Valley towel so you can make a video postcard of your trip.

Backcountry Opportunities
Camping in the backcountry allows visitors to experience the best of Kobuk Valley National Park. Campers can hike through the tundra, climb the peaks of the Baird Mountains or walk across the sand at the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes.

Hiking is easier in the mountains, where the ground is drier and less spongy. Planes cannot land high up in the mountains, so talk with your pilot about landing at lower elevations or on the river and then hiking up to the ridgelines. The mountains are quite a distance from the valley and accessing the mountains from the river is a trek over tundra and through patches of forest. Blazing your own trail across is possible, but it takes much longer than hiking on firm ground and can be rough going, so plan your time and resources accordingly.

A backcountry camping trip is also one of the best ways to see some of the park’s spectacular wildlife. Grizzly bears, caribou, moose and bald eagles can all be seen in the park.

Popular Destinations
The most popular campsite is the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, and this Ice Age relic – the largest active sand dunes in the Arctic – makes a great place to spend a couple day. Visitors can either land directly on the sand dunes, or hike from the Kobuk River. Contact the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center or watch our introductory film to learn more about visiting the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes.

Onion Portage on the north bank of the Kobuk River is another popular destination. Around Labor Day, caribou can typically be seen swimming across the river here on their migration south, and hikers can climb the bluff for drier ground and spectacular views of the Jade Mountains. Giddings Cabin, located on the bluff overlooking the cabin, isn’t open to the public, but is a nice example of traditional log building methods. Build in 1964 for an archeological excavation, builders from the nearby town of Ambler used moss the fill in the chinks.

Wilderness Experience
Kobuk Valley National Park is a wilderness area, and there are no roads, trails, calculated mileages or specialized maps of the area. There are also no designated campsites, and visitors must choose their own place to camp. Contact the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center for tips on the best places to make your camp. Large tracks of unspoiled and undeveloped land is increasingly rare in the United States, and backcountry visitors are encouraged to practice Leave No Trace principles to help preserve this pristine wilderness.

Come Prepared
Camping in the Arctic backcountry is an unforgettable trip, but the scenery is as spectacular as the terrain is challenging. Be prepared to do a lot of orienteering. We recommend all visitors being prepared with map, compass, and GPS as well as the knowledge to use all three. Even in the summer, it can be cold in the Arctic and the weather can change on a dime, so be prepared for any and all conditions.

Kobuk Valley National Park is bear country, and campers are responsible for storing their food out of reach of wildlife. Animal-resistant food containers are available to borrow from the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center in Kotzeube. Permits are not required for independent travelers, but organized recreational groups do need to get a permit from the Chief Ranger. Contact the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center to get one.

Be Respectful
For many local residents, Kobuk Valley National Park is more than a national park; it’s their back yard. There are many parcels of private land through the park. If you see any sign of personal property, buildings or habitation, respect their property and steer clear.

Unlike in many national parks, local residents are allowed to hunt and gather resources from the land. Please respect these subsistence activities and give people a wide berth so they may finish their work without interruption.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/kova/planyourvisit/backpacking.htm

Photo courtesy of NPS

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