A predominately Athabascan village of fewer than 100 residents, Northway is nestled in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge just 42 miles from the Canadian border.
Northway is actually three dispersed settlements: Northway Junction at Milepost 1264 of the Alaska Highway; Northway, located nine miles down a spur road on the Nabesna Slough; and Northway Village, an Alaska Native community two miles south of Northway.
The nearby Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge area was long used for hunting by the semi-nomadic Athabascan people, while the permanent community was established during World War II with the construction of an airport for the Northwest Staging Route, a chain of air bases through Canada. The village also served as a supply point for the construction of the Alaska Highway and in 1942 was named after Chief Walter Northway, an Athabascan who adopted his name from a Tanana and Nabesna riverboat captain. Today, Northway is the aviation entry point into Alaska for most private planes. Some 700 planes clear customs each year in Northway, most arriving between May and September. Both the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Customs maintain offices at the Northway Airport.
Things to do
The Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge is a 730,000-acre preserve that features 8,000-foot snowcapped mountains, glacier-fed rivers, forests, treeless tundra and extensive wetlands. One of the coldest places in North America with winter temperatures that can dip colder than 70 degrees below zero, Tetlin is home to moose, caribou, bear, whitefish, trumpeter swans, bald eagles and numerous species of waterfowl.
The refuge has two campgrounds, at Mile 1249 and Mile 1256 of the Alaska Highway, as well as public-use cabins, canoeing, birding, sport fishing and wildlife viewing. The preserve’s most visited stop is the Tetlin Refuge Visitor Center at Mile 1229 of the Alaska Highway. Built in 1989 in the style of a log trapper's cabin – complete with a sod roof – the center is open during the summer and features wildlife exhibits, visitor information, an Alaska Geographic bookstore and a large observation deck with spotting scopes.
Birders are attracted to Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge as the preserve serves as a major migratory route for birds traveling to and from Canada, the Lower 48 and both Central and South America. While many of the birds move on to other breeding grounds, about 117 species remain in Tetlin to nest. Most birders arrive in spring and fall and and look for species from pullouts along the Alaska Highway that overlook wetlands, ponds and lakes.
One of the best ways to explore Tetlin Refuge is by canoe. Lakes at both of the refuge's campgrounds offer easy paddling while others paddle Desper and Scottie Creeks. The clear, slow moving streams are accessed at Mile 1223 and Mile 1225 of the with Alaska Highway access and can be the destination of day or overnight trips of up to 17 miles.
Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge has three public-use cabins that can be rented for overnight stays. Wellesley Lake and Jatahmund Lake cabins are accessible only by float plane. Nabesna River cabin is accessible by boat on the Nabesna River. The public-use cabins are reserved in advance by mail or phone through the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters (907-883-5312; P. O. Box 779 MS 529, Tok AK 99780).
There is good fishing in the Northway area and Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge with many rivers and lakes supporting whitefish, Arctic grayling, northern pike and burbot.
Tetlin Refuge Visitor Center
Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge's most popular stop is the Tetlin Refuge Visitor Center at Mile 1229 of the Alaska Highway. Built in 1989 in the style of a log trapper's cabin, complete with a sod roof, the center is open during the summer and features wildlife exhibits, visitor information, an Alaska Geographic bookstore, and a large observation deck with spotting scopes.