Kobuk Valley National Park
The remote, almost untouched Kobuk Valley National Park lies in northwestern Alaska, 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The Kobuk River cuts through the middle of the park and spreads for 61 miles across the area. The park is bordered by the Baird Mountains to the north and the 25-square mile Great Kobuk Sand Dunes to the south. The dunes are the largest active sand dunes in the Arctic. Nearly half a million caribou use the park as their own personal highway, migrating through twice a year as they head north in the spring and south in the fall.
With no roads into or through the park, visitors must be determined and skilled if they want to arrive (and survive their stay within the park’s boundaries); most visitors make their way into Kobuk by air taxi, and must fend for themselves in this wild landscape without any designated trails. Even more miraculous, then, is Kobuk Valley’s ancient human history. This fertile river valley has sustained life for centuries, particularly for the Iñupiat people. Learn about their history here.
This far north, weather should be a consideration in everything you do. During the summer, temperatures in the park are usually in the mid-60s, but can venture into the 80s. Also, remember that the sun doesn’t set between June 3rd and July 9th. If you find it hard to sleep when it’s light, you may want to bring a sleep mask to help you at night. Finally, even though temperature averages are warm during the summer months, there is still the possibility of snow any time of the year. Be sure to check forecasts, bring layers, and be prepared for any type of weather.
In the winter, the average low is -8°F but temps have been known to drop to -50°F. The days are very short, and while twilight lasts for several hours, on the shortest day of the year the sun is above the horizon for only 90 minutes. Northern lights are active year-round, but are best seen on the darkest nights of winter. Be sure to prepare with high-quality winter gear if you’re headed to the park then.
The closest town to the park is Kotzebue, 80 miles southwest. You’ll find the park visitor center and museum, along with a few restaurants and shops there. You will find even more amenities in Fairbanks, which is one of the cities that provide transportation to the roadless areas in and around the park.
Because the park is so remote, and even the visitor center is 80 miles away, there are few scheduled events within the park itself. The Northwest Arctic Heritage Center does have scheduled kids programs which you can find here, and adult programs which you can see here. You can also find plenty to do on your own, including backcountry hiking and camping, and sand dune sliding!
RV Resorts & Campsites in Kobuk Valley National Park
Within the Kobuk Valley National Park, there are no designated campgrounds. Camping is allowed, but all gear must be packed in and out by air. If you have an RV, consider camping in Fairbanks and making that your base camp while you take your trip to the park, or to other more remote areas of Alaska.
Hit the Trails
There are no defined trails in the park, but there are plenty of areas to hike and explore. Hiking in the mountain areas provides firmer ground and less spongy than areas near the sand dunes. However, planes can’t land in the mountains, so be sure to discuss with your pilot where you will land. Read up on the areas where you plan to hike so you are well-prepared, and plan for delays and other possible incidents.
Hiking at Kobuk Valley National Park
Terrain: The tallest peak along the Baird Mountains is Mount Angayukaqsraq, which stands between 4700-4800 feet above sea level. The hike does require climbers to find their own way to the top, but you can summit several peaks in the range
Great Kobuk Sand Dunes
Terrain: The iconic sand dunes rise suddenly out of the trees along the south bank of the Kobuk River. The largest active sand dunes in the Arctic, along with the Little Kobuk Sand Dunes and Hunt River Sand Dunes make 30 square miles of sand mountains that look like they should be in the Sahara, rather than above the Arctic Circle. Hike up and slide down the dunes, and wander through exploring the area.
Kobuk River to the Great Sand Dunes
Terrain: One option for getting to the sand dunes is to land a float plane on the Kobuk River and backpack two miles across the tundra to the dunes. There is no marked path, and good orienteering skills are necessary to figure out where to go.
Terrain: An 8-mile loop heads out of the town of Kotzebue, across the tundra. Since the town of Kotzebue is on the water, there are also plenty of opportunities to walk along the beach and shoreline of the Kotzebue Sound. The trail offers excellent birding opportunities, and you may see birds from any one of the seven continents here.
What to Do at
Kobuk Valley National Park
Kotzebue is the closest town, 80 miles from the park, and has several shops and restaurants. You’ll find even more tours and places to visit in Fairbanks, a good place to begin your trip.
Type: Chinese and Thai
Type: Comfort Food
Sulianich Art Center
Inupiaq arts and crafts produced in the area’s eleven villages are sold through the Sulianich Art Center. Help local artists and come home with a truly unique souvenir of your trip!
Arctic Circle Trading Post
The best selection of Arctic Circle gifts including Native crafts, T-shirts, caps, pins, and general merchandise. The shop is also known by locals as an excellent location for viewing the aurora borealis.
If Only...A Fine Store
Find lots of local treasures at this quaint Fairbanks shop. Customers can browse handmade jewelry, handbags, journals and stationery, home decor, children’s gifts, and more.
The Fudge Pot
Treat yourself! The Fudge Pot sells thirty flavors of fudge, including Alaskan Cranberry and Blueberry made with local berries. All the fudge is made with real cream and butter, right in their kitchen in Fairbanks. You can also grab a cup of coffee or a sandwich while you shop.
Get geared up for taking pictures in one of the most beautiful places on earth at this camera store. The store offers a wide range of photography equipment, photo gifts, and lab services for processing your breathtaking photos.
The Heritage Center in Kotzebue serves as the visitor center for Kobuk Valley National Park. Along with housing a museum about the Arctic ecosystem and Inupiaq culture, the center has park information, advice about travel logistics, and even bear-resistant food containers to borrow for your trip into the park.
Opening in 1967, at the commemoration of the 100-year anniversary of the purchase of Alaska from Russia, Pioneer Park is home to many of Fairbanks’ early cabins and buildings. Read the history of the structures throughout the park, visit the Pioneer Museum and Air Museum, and shop in the cabins where you will find a variety of gift shops and souvenirs.
Chena Hot Springs Resort is home to the Aurora Ice Museum - created from more than 1,000 tons of ice and snow, all harvested on-site. The museum stays around 25°F and holds ice sculptures including life-sized jousters on horseback, a polar bear bedroom, a Christmas tree bedroom, a kid’s 2-story fort bedroom, and a Northern Lights room with an ice outhouse.
Participate in Alaska’s gold rush (even though it finished in 1911!) by panning for gold and visiting the mining museum. You can see gold dredges and other mining equipment used in Alaska’s heyday of gold mining.
The auto collection at this museum features more than 80 vehicles, including horseless carriages, steamers, electric cars, speedsters, and 30s classics. Rare vehicles like the 1898 Hay Motor Vehicle and the 1921 Heine-Velox Victoria are also on display. Most of the cars are even still driven, and one of the cars is available for visitors to climb in for pictures.
Take a Northern Lights Photography Tour
Here in the Arctic Circle, the Northern Lights fill the sky at night. Take a tour specially designed for budding photographers - Alaska Aurora Adventures will bring you to their viewing lodge where you can enjoy a warm fire. Professional staff photographers are also on-hand to help with questions and camera setup and will even take photos for you to treasure, along with the ones you take.
Tour the Arctic Circle
Take a tour above the Arctic Circle with the Northern Alaska Tour Company. Fly from Fairbanks to Coldfoot, north of the Circle, and get a stunning aerial view of the Alaska wilderness. Then head south on the Dalton Highway, famous for its use during the construction of the Trans Alaska pipeline. Cross the Arctic Circle, explore the vast and frozen tundra, and see the Yukon River and learn its history.
Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge
Creamer’s Refuge protects wildlife - particularly waterfowl and other migratory birds. During the gold rush in the early 1900s, a small dairy opened. As the dairy grew, migratory waterbirds congregated in the fields near the dairy, where the grain provided the perfect habitat. When the dairy went up for sale in the 1960s, the community raised the money to turn the area into a wildlife refuge.
Georgeson Botanical Garden
Although the gardens are beautiful to wander through, they began as a research facility and teach people about gardening in the unique conditions of the Alaska landscape.
Fishing in Kotzebue
As the town of Kotzebue is at the end of a peninsula on the Kotzebue Sound, it offers great fishing. Try catching sheefish, tomcod, herring, and salmon.
How to Get to
Kobuk Valley National Park
There are no roads into Kobuk Valley National Park. Visitors typically access the park by air taxi. Be sure to discuss your dropoff and pickup locations with your pilot, and plan for delays of several days, in case of weather. If you need help planning your visit, check these guidelines and be sure to consult the rangers at the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center before you go.
Most people get to the area by flying into Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Anchorage, then booking a commercial flight to Ralph Wien Memorial Airport in Kotzebue, or by flying to Fairbanks International Airport and then booking a commercial flight to Bettles Airport. From there, they arrange for authorized air taxis to take them to the park.
Another way to begin your trip is to travel by RV. RVing allows you to explore Alaska in comfort and at your own pace. You can fly into Fairbanks or Anchorage and rent an RV there, or rent one in your hometown to drive to those cities, then make arrangements to get to Kobuk Valley from there.
There are several RV campgrounds in Fairbanks and Anchorage. Just be sure the campgrounds are open at the time you want to visit, and make reservations so you’re assured of a spot.
Entering Kobuk Valley National Park
There are no fees to enter Kobuk Valley National Park.
A visit to the remote tundra and mountains of the Kobuk Valley is a unique trip you’ll remember forever! The astonishing sand dunes and the Kobuk River, and the wildlife you’re certain to encounter with so few people around, are sure to make this a one-of-a-kind vacation. At RVshare, we’re passionate about helping families and loved ones get outside to explore nature and create lasting memories. RVing is a great way to experience the outdoors with your family and friends. Whether you’re Alaska trip and visit to the Kobuk Valley begins with an RV you rent through us, or you travel in other ways, we want to hear about your trip! Be sure to send pictures and details to [email protected] and tag us on social media to share tips and stories of your visit. You might be featured on our blog or social media channels!