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The Ultimate Guide to Kobuk Valley National Park — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Countries Visited: 63U.S. States Visited: 9

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

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Kobuk Valley National Park has some of the most breathtaking sights of any national park in the U.S. These include the Kobuk River winding through the valley, a sea of sand known as the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, and magnificent wildlife viewing opportunities that can’t be seen anywhere else, like the enormous herds of hundreds of thousands of caribou migrating through the park.

This national park is one of the least visited parks, bringing in only 10,000 visitors annually. Those who make the trip to Kobuk Valley National Park are rewarded with an incredible experience of a lifetime. 

How To Get to Kobuk Valley National Park

Where Is Kobuk Valley National Park?

Kobuk Valley National Park is located in northwestern Alaska. It is one of the most secluded parks in the state and has a unique location 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle. This national park covers 1.75 million acres of mountains and boreal forest. It includes the largest active high-altitude dune field on the planet, the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes. 

Nearest Airports to Kobuk Valley National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park is a remote park that requires a flight to arrive. Most travelers will fly into a major airport and then take another flight to a nearby smaller airport. Let’s look at the 3 airports that are commonly used by guests traveling to Kobuk Valley National Park.

Bettles Airport (BTT)

Bettles Airport is located in Bettles, Alaska, about 200 miles from Kobuk Valley National Park. This airport is often used by travelers who are visiting the park.

BTT offers flights to and from several Alaskan locations, such as Gates of the Arctic National Park and Kobuk Valley National Park. This airport services smaller charter companies and Wright Air Services, which offers a scheduled passenger service.

Ralph Wien Memorial Airport (OTZ)

Ralph Wien Memorial Airport is located in Kotzebue, Alaska. This airport is one of the closest airports to Kobuk Valley National Park. Many visitors will utilize this airport and then take a private air taxi directly to the park. 

This airport exclusively services Alaska Airlines and offers weekly flights to and from Anchorage. From OTZ, visitors can hire an air taxi to take them the rest of the way to the park. 

Ted Stevens International Airport (ANC)

Ted Stevens International Airport is located in Anchorage and is the closest major airport to Kobuk Valley National Park. This airport provides nonstop flights to many major U.S. cities, including Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and several Alaskan cities. Ted Stevens International Airport services include Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Delta, and Sun Country Airlines.

Hot Tip:

From Anchorage, visitors will take a connecting flight to Kotzebue and then take an air taxi to the park.

Driving to Kobuk Valley National Park

There is no way to drive to Kobuk Valley National Park, as no roads offer access. Visitors from nearby towns must utilize private air taxi services to take them to the park. Most people will fly in from the nearby town of Kotzebue. 

Taking the Train to Kobuk Valley National Park

There are no train services that take visitors to Kobuk Valley National Park.

Taking an Air Taxi to Kobuk Valley National Park

When visiting Kobuk Valley National Park, expect to fly on many different airplanes. Most visitors will head to the park from Anchorage, and some will come from Fairbanks. Those who fly in from Anchorage will fly commercially to Kotzebue and then hire an air taxi to drop them off in the park.

Visitors from Fairbanks will fly into Bettles and then take an air taxi to the park. Planning ahead is essential when visiting Kobuk Valley National Park. Be sure to schedule extra days in case you experience bad weather or flights being rescheduled.

Getting Around Kobuk Valley National Park

Float planes and motor boats Kobuk Valley National Park
Image Credit: NPS

The best way to get around Kobuk Valley National Park is on foot, by plane, or by boat. Driving is not an option since there are no roads to or within the park. The best ways to explore this national park are hiking, flightseeing tours, and boating down the river. The National Park Service offers an interactive map to help you plan your adventures.

What To See and Do in Kobuk Valley National Park

There’s no shortage of spectacular sights and activities in Kobuk Valley National Park. There is something for every visitor to enjoy, from fishing and flightseeing to exploring mesmerizing sand dunes and watching wildlife. Take a look at the top activities and sights in Kobuk Valley National Park and see which ones you’d like to add to your itinerary. 

Backpacking

Backpacking Kobuk Valley National Park
Image Credit: Amy Martin via NPS

Backpacking through Kobuk Valley National Park is a thrilling experience. This national park has no roads or trails, so all exploration will be self-paced and self-guided. Some of the most popular places for backpacking include Onion Portage, the Baird Mountains, the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, and the Kobuk River. Backpacking through the different park areas is one of the best ways to see the wildlife in the park.

Guests are welcome to set up camp for the night during their backcountry excursions but need to be prepared for primitive camping at its finest. If you plan to backpack through Kobuk Valley National Park, be sure to come prepared with a map, GPS device, a compass, and a variety of clothing for different temperatures as they can fluctuate quickly during the day. 

Boating and Floating

The Kobuk River is a wonderful place to boat and float. The river is a slow-moving, low-gradient river that is perfect for exploring the park. Visitors can boat and float down the river, but this is also a prime spot for fishing and wildlife watching. Several commercial transporters offer guided boat trips down the river if you prefer an expert to organize your trip at Kobuk Valley National Park.  

Fishing

Kobuk Valley National Park has remarkable opportunities for fishing. The Kobuk River provides an abundance of fish species, including pike, Dolly Varden, salmon, grayling, and shellfish. Other areas that are good for fishing include the Black, Pick, and Pah Rivers. The fall is great for catching chum and pink salmon, and grayling and pike are plentiful year-round.

Hot Tip:

Visitors who want to fish while visiting Kobuk Valley National Park must have a valid fishing license and follow the state fishing regulations.

Flightseeing

This vast, remote park can be a difficult one to explore. One of the best ways to get up close and personal with the sights and attractions at Kobuk Valley National Park is to book a flightseeing tour. Several commercial operators in towns near the park offer a variety of tours for visitors to enjoy. Exploring this national park by air provides unmatched views of the landscapes, wildlife, sand dunes, and water throughout Kobuk Valley National Park.

Great Kobuk Sand Dunes

Great Kobuk Sand Dunes
Image Credit: NPS

The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are located inside Kobuk Valley National Park and require an aircraft to land right in the sand. This area of the park is a highlight and a popular place for hiking and camping. The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are an Arctic Sahara and are a remnant of great dunes that have blown here over centuries. The temperature can reach over 100 degrees.

These dunes are the largest active sand dunes in the Arctic and are a relic from the last Ice Age. When the Earth cooled and glaciers began forming 28,000 years ago, the slow grinding movements of the glaciers ground the rocks under them into fine sand that was then blown by the wind and settled in Kobuk Valley once the ice was gone.

Today, many animals live near the sand dunes of Kobuk Valley. Visiting this park area will reward you with glimpses of moose, black bears, wolves, grizzly bears, foxes, and porcupines. You may even see tracks showing how the caribou will cross the sand in their migration route.

Northwest Arctic Heritage Center

The Northwest Arctic Heritage Center serves as Kobuk Valley National Park’s visitor center. This building is located in the closest town to the park, Kotzebue. This center is open year-round and offers many amenities and opportunities for park guests. Stopping in this visitor center is highly recommended before setting out for your park adventures. 

This visitor center offers programs for kids and adults that highlight the natural and cultural importance of northwest Alaska. The center offers a weekly film series, periodic events held by park rangers, guest experts, and researchers, lectures on projects at the park, workshops on different cultural topics, and community outings such as archeological digs and bird walks.

There is also an on-site museum where visitors can learn about the Arctic ecosystem and Inupiaq culture, a bookstore for purchasing maps and souvenirs, and park rangers stationed to answer any questions you may have. Be sure to stop by the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center while visiting Kobuk Valley National Park. It is a great addition to your itinerary and will leave you with lots of new knowledge to share with others. 

Onion Portage

Onion Portage
Image Credit: NPS

Onion Portage is an Archeological District National Historic Landmark in Kobuk Valley National Park. This area of the park was a place where wild onions grew along the Kobuk River. For 9,000 years, this area was a place where people would camp, prepare game, make tools, and eventually where people settled.

Onion Portage was first excavated in the 1960s, and archeologists found artifacts, house ruins, and campsites from long ago. Today, this is a place where hunting takes place and where caribou herds cross the river. 

Wildlife Viewing

Many kinds of wildlife call Kobuk Valley National Park home, and several others travel through the park each year while migrating. When visiting this park, you will see wolves, salmon, elk, black bears, otters, lynx, brown bears, and red foxes. One of the most exciting animals to see here is the caribou. Each year, herds with over 400,000 caribou migrate through the park during the winter and summer. Visiting during these times can provide tourists with incredible sights of these majestic animals. 

Best Times To Visit Kobuk Valley National Park

You will have an experience of a lifetime, no matter when you are able to visit Kobuk Valley National Park. However, there may be a better time than others to plan a trip, especially if there is a particular event or experience you are hoping to participate in. Check out some of the best times to visit Kobuk Valley National Park and see which time works best for your vacation desires.

Best Time To Visit Kobuk Valley National Park To Float Down the Kobuk River

The best time to float the Kobuk River is in August because the river is no longer frozen. The temperatures in August are comfortable, and the daylight hours are longer.

Best Time To Visit Kobuk Valley National Park To Avoid the Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are quite a pest at Kobuk Valley National Park. The best month to visit this national park and avoid mosquitoes is in September. Other perks of coming in September include comfortable temperatures and a chance to see the caribou on their migration journey. 

Best Time To Visit Kobuk Valley National Park for Wildlife

Caribou Kobuk River
Image Credit: NPS

Any time you are able to visit Kobuk Valley National Park, you will be rewarded with amazing views of the wildlife that make their home in the park. For an exceptional experience, plan to visit this national park in the month of September. You will be rewarded with astonishing views of hundreds of caribou making their migration journey and crossing the Kobuk River. 

Cheapest Time To Visit Kobuk Valley National Park

Saving money while traveling may seem like a dream, but this dream can come true with proper planning and preparation. If you want to save money on a trip to Kobuk Valley National Park, you should plan to visit in the month of July. Flight rates are lowest at this time, which can save hundreds of dollars on travel expenses. 

Annual Events in Kobuk Valley National Park

There are many events that take place on a regular schedule at Kobuk Valley National Park, but there are also several annual events as well. You may want to plan your national park vacation in order to attend one of these events. Let’s take a look at some of the annual events at Kobuk Valley National Park. 

Kobuk 440

The Kobuk 440 is an annual event that takes place each year in April. Visitors from all around come to view a dog sledding race, learn about the culture of the surrounding villages, and explore the history of dog sledding. This event is put on by the Kobuk 440 Racing Association and is run by volunteers across the northwest Arctic region. This is an event that is not only exciting to watch but a time to learn more about the Inupiaq culture and way of life. 

Native American Heritage Month

Each year in November, Kobuk Valley National Park celebrates Native American Heritage Month. This is an exceptional time to learn more about the Inupiat, who originally made their home in the Kobuk Valley area.

The park celebrates this month with special programs and opportunities for teaching visitors about the native culture and way of life. Traditional Tools Tuesdays is a featured series sharing facts and information about the ancient tools used by this native group.

Bottom Line:

Native American Heritage Month is a special month at Kobuk Valley National Park and an excellent time to learn more about the original people of the area.

Where To Stay In and Near Kobuk Valley National Park

There aren’t many options for lodging in and near Kobuk Valley National Park due to its remote location. If you want to stay in or near the park, there are limited options. Let’s explore the different accommodations available in and near Kobuk Valley National Park. 

Inside the Park

There are no traditional lodging options in Kobuk Valley National Park. The only option for guests who want to stay within the park is camping in the backcountry.

Backcountry Camping

Camping on the Sand Dunes
Image Credit: NPS

Backcountry camping is the only option for lodging within the boundaries of Kobuk Valley National Park, as there are no developed campgrounds. Before pitching your tent, be sure to visit the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center in the nearby town of Kotzebue to chat with a ranger about the best places to set up camp and learn about any challenges you may encounter.

Some of the best places for camping include in the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, Onion Portage, or near the Kobuk River. If you plan to camp during your visit to Kobuk Valley National Park, be prepared to bring in all the necessities, as there are no places to buy last-minute or forgotten items. 

Towns Near Kobuk Valley National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park is in such a remote part of Alaska that there aren’t many towns nearby. In fact, the closest town is still a plane ride away. Take a look at the closest towns to Kobuk Valley National Park to see if it would make a good choice for a home base during your national park vacation. 

Bettles, Alaska

Bettles is a remote community that is a little over 200 miles from Kobuk Valley National Park. This city has a few options for dining, lodging, and recreation and is a great option for a home away from home during your trip to Kobuk Valley National Park. 

There are only a few options for lodging, including private rentals and a lovely lodge. Most people choose to stay at the lodge, as there are many amenities and services available that make your trip worthwhile. While there aren’t many restaurants in Bettles, you are sure to find something to curb your hunger during your visit. The options for dining range from rooftop restaurants to authentic cultural cuisine to classic diners. 

This town is a gateway to lots of Alaskan adventure. Guests enjoy the opportunities to view the northern lights, the excellent fishing locations, and hiking.  This town is still a plane ride away from Kobuk Valley National Park, but it makes a wonderful place for a quiet retreat during your national park vacation.

Visitors to Bettles enjoy the quiet and use the time to connect with nature, unplug, and reset from busy life and the daily grind. Once you are ready to explore Kobuk Valley National Park, there are several options for chartering an air taxi that can take you right to the park. 

Kotzebue, Alaska

Kotzebue is the closest town to Kobuk Valley National Park. A plane ride is still required to visit Kobuk Valley National Park. This town makes a great place to call home during your national park vacation, as it has several options for lodging, dining, and recreation. 

There are several locally-owned bed and breakfasts, inns, and hotels to choose from. Whether you are looking for a rustic getaway or a hotel with modern conveniences, the selection in this city offers something for everyone.

No matter what you crave, you can find something that hits the spot in Kotzebue. This small town has a pizza parlor, Chinese restaurants, and diners serving classic American favorites. All of the dining options are 4- and 5-star restaurants, so wherever you end up dining, you know you are in for a delicious treat. 

Kotzebue’s location is ideal for adventurers who want to backpack, hike, raft, view wildlife, fish, and hunt. There are also a couple of points of interest that tourists enjoy visiting during their stay, including the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center and Shore Avenue, which is an excellent place to get a glimpse of the culture of the city.

Bottom Line:

With its proximity to Kobuk Valley National Park and its options for lodging, dining, and recreation, Kotzebue is the ideal location to set up a home away from home while visiting this national park.

Where To Eat Near Kobuk Valley National Park

There are no places to eat within the boundaries of Kobuk Valley National Park, but there are several options in the nearby town of Kotzebue. Whether you are craving a classic American dish or an authentic cultural feast, Kotzebue has something for every palate. Take a look at the dining options in the closest town to Kobuk Valley National Park. 

Empress Chinese Restaurant

Empress Chinese Restaurant, located in Kotzebue, serves lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. The menu features a nice blend of Chinese, American, Thai, and Japanese cuisine. Customers rave about the yellow curry chicken, General Tso’s Chicken, and sushi rolls. 

With a convenient location, fantastic cuisine, and amazing customer service, you will want to be sure to check out Empress Chinese Restaurant if you plan to stay near Kobuk Valley National Park in Kotzebue. 

Little Louie’s

Little Louie’s in Kotzebue serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Saturday. 

The menu at Little Louie’s features appetizers, salads, pizzas, and signature entrees with classic dishes like chicken strips, steak, and fried chicken. Some of the most popular menu items include reindeer sausage pizza, the chicken bacon wrap, and the buffalo chicken pizza. 

No matter what you crave, Little Louie’s has something to hit the spot. Whether you want American, Italian, Chinese, or Mexican, you can find all of the above and more on their menu. You won’t want to miss this awesome restaurant when you visit Kobuk Valley National Park. 

Nullagvkik Restaurant

Nullagvkik Restaurant is a 4-star restaurant located in the Nullagvik Hotel in Kotzebue and serves traditional American cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

The menu at Nullagvkik Restaurant features classic favorites like chicken fried steak, goulash, biscuits and gravy, burgers, salads, and fries. Some highly recommended dishes include the reindeer stew, the burgers, and the brunch buffet. 

Not only is Nullagvkik Restaurant an excellent choice for dining near Kobuk Valley National Park, but it also offers a stunning view of the ocean and excellent service.

Uutuku

Uutuku, located in Kotzebue, is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. 

The menu at Uutuku serves a variety of Chinese, American, and Italian dishes. Some favorite menu items include the hot and spicy chicken, the chicken fried rice, hot and spicy vegetable shrimp, and the Western burger. 

Uutuku not only provides incredible on-site service, but it also provides delivery to where you are staying in Kotzebue. With tasty dishes, large portions, reasonable prices, and excellent customer service, Uutuku is a wonderful option for dining during your Kobuk Valley National Park vacation.

Kobuk Valley National Park Facts

The peaks of the Baird Mountains
Image Credit: NPS

1. A New National Park Established

Kobuk Valley National Park was established as a national park on December 2, 1980, by President Jimmy Carter under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Before this, Kobuk Valley was declared a national park, President Carter declared it a national monument on December 1, 1978. 

2. What’s in a Name?

This national park is named after the Kobuk River Valley, which is the centerpiece of the park. The word Kobuk is an Inupiaq word that translates to big river. 

3. Original People of the Park

The original people who lived in the Kobuk Valley National Park area were the Ipiutak. Excavation at Onion Portage has uncovered the remains of this first civilization. Some of the artifacts that have been found include masks, figurines, tools, and remnants from homes. It is believed that this group of people lived here 9,000 years ago.

Kobuk Valley National Park does an excellent job of preserving the history and culture of the original people of the park. It also offers multiple programs throughout the year to help others learn about this special people group. 

4. Highest Peak

The highest peak in Kobuk Valley National Park is Mount Angayukaqsraq. This majestic mountain stands as a tall tower in the park at 4,760 feet. This mountain is the tallest of the 4 named mountains in Kobuk Valley National Park.

5. An Abundance of Animals

There is an impressive variety of animals that make their home in Kobuk Valley National Park. Millions of insects, iconic Arctic animals such as wolves, grizzly bears, moose, and foxes, millions of birds, countless fish, and caribou call this park home at some point during the year. Visitors enjoy catching sight of the caribou herds on their migration journey and catching some of the big fish that live in the waters of Kobuk Valley National Park.

6. Float the River

Many people enjoy floating the Kobuk River during their trip to Kobuk Valley National Park. If you were to float the length of the river, you would start in the village of Ambler and end in the village of Kiana. It would take 5 to 7 days to complete this float. 

7. Onion Portage

Onion Portage was declared an Archeological District National Historic Landmark on June 2, 1978. This is an area of Kobuk Valley National Park that is used today for hunting caribou, but for 8,000 years, this was a place where people lived and worked. Because this area is an Archeological District National Historic Landmark, it protects 8,000 years of human use and will preserve it as a traditional area for generations to come. This district is a highlight of Kobuk Valley National Park and should be at the top of every itinerary. 

8. A Special Location

Kobuk Valley National Park is located 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle. This park is 1 of the 2 national parks that lie north of the Arctic Circle. The only other park that lies north of the Arctic Circle is Gates of the Arctic National Park.  

9. Daylight Hours

The daylight hours are very unique at Kobuk Valley National Park. Winter days are very short and dark. During the winter, you can expect up to 5.5 hours of daylight. Summer days are long, with days between June 3 and July 9 having no sunset at all. Researching the daylight hours prior to your visit to Kobuk Valley National Park can help you prepare fully and have the best possible experience. 

10. Self-Sufficiency

A visit to Kobuk Valley National Park will require lots of planning and preparation, but the one thing that is essential is self-sufficiency. This national park doesn’t have any services to help you during your stay. It is crucial to be prepared for any and every situation during the course of your visit. One thing is guaranteed with a trip to Kobuk Valley National Park is a thrilling adventure that can test your abilities to adapt and survive in a unique place. 

Final Thoughts

Kobuk Valley National Park is a land of wonder and awe. With an amazing river running through the park, incredible wildlife, an Arctic Sahara, and countless opportunities to explore, there’s no shortage of sights and activities in this national park. A trip to this national park will create one-of-a-kind memories to last and share with others for years to come. Book your trip to Kobuk Valley National Park and discover what brings in visitors from around the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter Kobuk Valley National Park?

There is no entry fee for entering Kobuk Valley National Park. There are other costs to factor in when planning a trip to this national park, as air taxis and water taxis are a necessity to enter.

What is the weather like at Kobuk Valley National Park?

The weather changes throughout the year at Kobuk Valley National Park. The weather also changes quite a bit during the day. Summer temperatures range from the mid-60s to the mid-80s. Winter temperatures can dip into the negatives with lows of –50 degrees Fahrenheit. No matter what time of year you plan to visit, be prepared with lots of layers to adjust to the daily temperatures.

How many days should I spend at Kobuk Valley National Park?

It is recommended to visit Kobuk Valley National Park for 2 to 4 days. This length of time allows you to see the highlights of the park, experience the river, watch the wildlife, hike, and camp.

Is there a Wi-Fi service at Kobuk Valley National Park?

Since Kobuk Valley National Park is so remote, there is no Wi-Fi or cellular service within the boundaries of the park. There is public Wi-Fi available at the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center, which is the park’s visitor center located in Kotzebue.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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