Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Alaska
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Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

The heart of this refuge is Izembek Lagoon, which draws 140 species of migratory birds from all over the world.

At 310,000 acres, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge at the southern tip of the Alaska Peninsula in Southwest Alaska is the smallest wildlife refuge in the state. This diverse wilderness protects a wide variety of fish and wildlife species and their habitats.


Birding, wildlife viewing, and photography are the main activities for visitors to Izembek along with hunting and fishing. There are also opportunities for spectacular backpacking and remote camping, but visitors need to be prepared for the area's rapidly changing weather conditions. Even during the summer months, high winds and heavy rainstorms are common.

An 11-mile road connects the town of Cold Bay to the most popular facility in the refuge: Grant Point Wildlife Overlook on the edge of the lagoon. Here, visitors often see thousands of birds, sea otters, red fox, and possibly even brown bears. Within Cold Bay are lodging options, supplies, and outfitters for hunting and fishing trips. A Visitor Center in Cold Bay has displays, books, publications, and maps.  


Almost the entire Pacific black brant population of 135,000 birds arrives to feed on the large eelgrass beds in Izembek Lagoon during the annual 3,000-mile migration to or from wintering grounds in Mexico. More than 140 species of birds from all over the Arctic funnel through Izembek Refuge each fall on their way to winter destinations throughout the world. Dozens of other species remain within the North American Pacific Flyway, including mallards, rock sandpipers, and dunlins. Nesting in wetlands and wintering near hot springs, many tundra swans remain at Izembek throughout the year. Steller's eiders and emperor geese also stay throughout the winter.

The refuge not only protects birds, but also a wide variety of other wildlife and fish, including all five species of Pacific salmon, wolf, fox, wolverine, caribou, moose, brown bears, shorebirds, seabirds, and an incredible array of waterfowl.

Brown bears make their summer home along salmon-rich streams throughout the refuge. The steep slopes of the Joshua Green River Valley provide world-renowned brown bear habitat. When the salmon are running, brown-bear densities in the refuge can be among Alaska's highest: as many as six bears per mile along some streams. Caribou migrate to the refuge each fall and early winter from calving grounds to the north. Wolves follow the caribou. Seals, sea lions, and sea otters inhabit nearby coastal waters and lagoons. Orcas, grey whales, and minke whales can be seen as they migrate along the shoreline.


Beyond the lagoon, most of the refuge is low brush tundra, accented with tiny wildflowers and dotted with tangled alder thickets. Izembek is a diverse wilderness, characterized by hundreds of freshwater lakes, meandering streams, u-shaped valleys, ancient glaciers, hot springs, and smoking volcanoes.


Vehicle access is possible to a small part of the refuge via a gravel road system from the town of Cold Bay that leads to the shoreline of Izembek Lagoon, the shoreline of Cold Bay, Russell Creek, and the lower flanks of 6,600-foot Frosty Peak. Although backpacking and camping are allowed, no campgrounds exist in the refuge. There are also no maintained trails, but unimproved footpaths are often used by hunters and wildlife observers. A Visitor Center is located in Cold Bay.


Cold Bay is accessible via commercial aircraft from Anchorage and a once-a-month service by the Alaska Marine Highway from May through September. The US Fish & Wildlife Service organizes a bus tour to the lagoon whenever the Alaska Marine Highway ferry is in port. Several gravel roads lead from Cold Bay into the refuge.

For more information, visit the Izembeck National Wildlife Refuge website.

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