Official State of Alaska Vacation and Travel Information


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge  

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Vast, beautiful and remote, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has often been called America's last great wilderness. The 19.6 million-acre refuge is located in Alaska's upper-right-hand corner, straddling the eastern Brooks Range from the treeless Arctic Coast to the taiga of the Porcupine River Valley. The majestic Brooks Range, with peaks and glaciers to 9,000 feet, dominates the refuge. These rugged mountains extend east to west in a band 75 miles wide, rising abruptly from a flat, tundra-covered plain. Numerous braided rivers and streams cut through this treeless expanse. South of the continental divide, rivers wind serpentine courses through broad, spruce-covered valleys dotted with lakes and sloughs.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to some of the most diverse and spectacular wildlife in the circumpolar north. The refuge's rich pageant of wildlife includes 36 fish species, 36 land mammals, nine marine mammals, and more than 160 migratory and resident bird species that come from four continents to breed, rest or feed from April to July. The refuge is also the most important polar bear denning area in the country and a critical calving area for the Porcupine caribou herd, the second largest at 130,000 animals. Dall sheep roam the mountains, moose and musk oxen graze the plains, and grizzly and black bear forage for food along streams, the rivers support grayling and char.

The climate in the refuge is almost as diverse as the wildlife. Snow usually blankets the ground from September through May, but freezing temperatures can occur any month, especially north of the mountains. Summers last from June through August. Strong winds, cool temperatures, clouds and fog are typical near the coast. Blue skies, variable winds and moderate temperatures are more common inland. Areas south of the mountains have more rainfall, greater temperature extremes and lighter winds.

The movement to protect the area began in the 1950s out of concerned for the loss of wild places to development and the destructive potential of the atomic bomb that was displayed during World War II. Led by Olaus and Margaret Murie, conservationists launched a seven-year, hard-fought campaign to establish the Nation's first ecosystem-scale conservation area. In 1960, the Eisenhower administration established the 8.9 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Range and in 1980 it was expanded 18 million acres and renamed. Today the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is 19.6 million acres or the size of South Carolina.

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