Alaska’s National Parks are true wilderness parks; most of them are both rarely visited and stunningly beautiful. Our National Park trip visits both Kobuk Valley National Park and Gates of the Arctic National Park in a single fun filled trip.
Trying to visit all of Alaska’s National Park Units? We can also take you to Bering Land Bridge and Cape Krusenstern National Monuments.
Gates of the Arctic National Park is 8.5 million acres of unspoiled and largely untraveled wilderness. The National Park Service is justly proud of its “crowning jewel”. The park is beautiful and diverse. As one travels from south to north, boreal forest gives way to broad green tundra basins, vast glacial lakes and severe granite spires. Beyond the continental divide the sky opens and the seemingly endless tundra stretches beyond the horizon.
We will spend the first 2-1/2 days of our trip in the wilderness of Gates of the Arctic National Park. We will land north of the spruce forests in a landscape of mountains and tundra. Clear lakes feed fast, rocky rivers. Rugged and barren peaks stand sentinel above the verdant tundra and signs of wildlife are everywhere. We will camp by the river and spend our days exploring on foot. Many of the nearby ridges can be easily ascended for grand views of unnamed mountains. We can explore side valleys with waterfalls and hidden grottoes. With any luck, caribou will be in the area and we will get to watch them and their attendant predators thriving in North America’s largest wilderness. The scenery is stunning and the hiking is limitless.
Located entirely north of the Arctic Circle, Kobuk Valley National Park is the least visited park in the America. Though nearly totally unknown, the park is full of wildlife and scenic wonders. Kobuk Dunes is like the Sahara but with wolves, moose and cranes. Onion Portage is an archaeological district with evidence of human use for the past 12,000 years! The Kobuk River is a magnificent river rich with wildlife and broad vistas.
On the third day of our trip we will fly southwest into Kobuk Valley National Park and arrive at the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, a sea of sand in the arctic wilderness. The dunes were formed during the last ice age as winds tore through the region and deposited sand south of the Kobuk River in an enormous mountain basin. This is the largest dune complex in arctic North America and it is both fascinating and beautiful. The eastern side of the dunes is more stable and vegetated. There are ponds, wolf dens, and fingers of spruce forest which extend in to the dunes. On the leeward side, the dunes get larger and larger with sand ridges over 200 feet tall! There are vast areas where a hiker cannot see the edge of the dunes anywhere and one expects to see a camel or caravan until a Sandhill Crane flies by with its prehistoric sounding call, or a moose trots off over the sand. On the west side of the dunes, sand blows off the sand ridges and into the woods and creek. It is easy to visualize how the forest is being swallowed by the advancing dunes.
For those who are trying to visit all the National Park Units in Alaska, we can arrange to make stops in Noatak National Preserve, and Cape Krusenstern National Monument during this trip.
Last updated: February 9, 2021
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
After seeing the sights in Kotzebue and collecting park stamps at the new Western Arctic Parklands visitors center, meet your guide for a pre-trip meeting at 6:45 pm in Kotzebue.
Fly from the Eskimo village of Kotzebue on the Chukchi Sea up the Kobuk River and then head north into Gates of the Arctic National Park. Landing on a gravel bar near a clear fast river we will unload and set up camp. We spend the afternoon and evening settling in, learning the birds and plants, and planning the next day’s adventure. (Please note that in recent years our landing strip has been just barely outside the National Park Boundary. We are looking for a new landing area within the Park but there is some chance you’ll camp near the Park Boundary and will hike to the Park. From the ground it is all spectacular wilderness!)
A full day to explore and enjoy Gates of the Arctic. Your desires help govern our activities. We can hike to a lake and try some fishing, ascend the nearest peak and watch Dall Sheep grazing, or plan a big loop hike, up one drainage and down the other. With 24 hours of daylight and more wilderness than we could explore in a lifetime, our energy and imagination are the only limits to what our day in the wilderness will hold.
After packing up our camp, we await the pilot’s return. We will fly south right into the heart of the Kobuk Dunes. Once we unload we may have to carry our gear a ways to access fresh drinking water but then we can go and explore the dunes, springs and sand flats.
A full day to enjoy the dunes. Moose, wolves and fox all frequent the dunes as do a great number of birds. The sand constantly shifts and swirls. There are springs coming right out of the sand and great expanses where nothing seems to live. The hiking is soft in places but great distances can be covered if you are so inclined. Swim in the ponds, look for wolf dens, slide down the tallest dunes, or just stretch out your beach towel and parasol.
Weather permitting, our bush plane will arrive to fly us back to “civilization”. We plan to arrive back in Kotzebue by early evening. Empty sand from boots and take a shower.
Our guide was a patient and highly skilled guide who also took the time to educate us about geology, local wildlife, and the nunamiut people. Once my guilt for excessive comfort was taken care, we had a terrific experience.
Round-trip airfare from Kotzebue, Alaska to the National Parks and back
Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils, water filter, base camp tent
Safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Select Camping Equipment is available through Arctic Wild
Personal clothing and gear. See full equipment list
Gratuity for guide(s)
Temperatures vary dramatically in the Arctic. It should be hot at this time of year, but it could just as easily be cool and rainy. Temperatures will range from the 20s to 70s. Cold rains and snow are possible, but we get plenty of sunny weather this time of the year. Mosquitoes could be an issue in Gates of the Arctic, so bring a mosquito head net and a small bottle of DEET repellent.