It’s been a few days since the last park profile, so here I am, Kobuk Valley National Park is the 2nd highest latitude park in the country. Like Gates of the Arctic, it’s entirely located above the Arctic Circle. Also, like Gates, there are no roads leading into the park, the nearest town is hundreds of miles away, and the entirety of it is back-country.
Kobuk Valley is the 2nd smallest park in Alaska, which is a gigantic 1.7 million acres. It competes with Gates for small numbers of visitors, often just barely breaking 5 digits a year. The majority of those people come in via Kotzebue, a genuine metropolis compared to Bettles, with over 3,000 full time residents, a proper airport, and the headquarters of the park. The Noatak National Preserve connects with Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve to create one gigantic protected wilderness area.
One of the defining characteristics of the Kobuk Valley are it’s sand dunes. Yes, the sight more common to deserts is abundant up here because there are over 20,000 acres of them. The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are the largest active dune field in the North American Arctic. Just because there are sand dunes, doesn’t mean the weather is hot and steady like a desert, this is Alaska after all, you have to be prepared. Since the sun never sets for a good month of the year, day time temperatures can climb high, even when the sun does go down, it’s only down for a few hours. That doesn’t stop the storms and wind though, and even in summer, snow is possible.
Just like Gates, there is no formal entrance to Kobuk Valley, people have a variety of ways to enter, the most common is by a float plane, but dog-sledding, hiking, or even floating on a river are all possible. Once you’re in the park, the options available to you are vast. The most popular activity is hiking along the Sand Dunes. In the fall (late August, and early September) 500,000 caribou make their bi-annual migration across the Sand Dunes, this is a popular time to visit. No matter the time of year though, bugs are an unpopular permanent resident, so be sure to dress in long sleeves and pants, with a mosquito head net, and plenty of bug spray.