Noatak National Preserve Alaska
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Noatak National Preserve

Noatak National Preserve

This preserve protects the largest undisturbed river system remaining in the United States..

Far above the Arctic Circle and almost completely enclosed by the Baird and De Long Mountains of the Brooks Range, the Noatak National Preserve extends more than 6.6 million acres, protecting one of the largest undisturbed mountain-ringed river basins in North America. Located 16 miles northeast of Kotzebue, the preserve, along with the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, contains almost the entire watershed of the Noatak River. In this transition zone, the northern coniferous forest thins out and gradually gives way to the tundra that stretches northward to the Beaufort Sea. The bulk of this land, 5.8 million acres, is designated wilderness.


Noatak National Preserve is a remote jewel in Alaska’s parklands: no roads enter the preserve, and access is solely by air, boat, or snowmobile. The preserve is home to the the Noatak River, a designated Wild and Scenic River. As one of the least disturbed ecosystems in the world, it provides a unique opportunity for canoe and kayak trips.

Although this wilderness river can be floated from its headwaters in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve to its outlet at Kotzebue Sound, it is possible to arrange for an aircraft pick-up at various locations in between. Most of the Noatak is characterized by gentle, slow-moving waters, but challenging stretches and rapids exist in the headwaters area. Paddlers should expect high winds throughout the year and short summers with cool, sunny weather.

Most visitors who float the Noatak River begin in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and end at Lake Matcherak, the village of Noatak, or Kotzebue. Float trips in this wild area feature views of the Brooks Range, expansive tundra, abundant wildlife, and class I – II rapids. The best time to float is from July to September. The river also offers opportunities to fish for salmon, pike, grayling, Dolly Varden, and sheefish.

For those with wilderness experience, Noatak offers endless opportunities for backcountry camping and hiking. Adventurous travelers can charter a plane for a drop-off in the heart of the preserve and then make their own route across the preserve’s tundra and mountains. Air charter operators in Kotzebue and Bettles also offer flightseeing trips over the preserve for a bird’s eye view of the vast, wild landscape.


The terrain along much of the Noatak River is vast and open, providing ample opportunities for viewing the preserve's wildlife. The Western Arctic caribou herd, numbering approximately 500,000 animals, migrates through the broad expanse of the preserve. Other large mammals include brown bears, moose, Arctic fox, wolves, lynx, and Dall sheep. A variety of birds also call the preserve home. Larger birds include geese, swans, and loons. Predatory birds include rough-legged hawks, gyrfalcons, and eagles.


The 396-mile-long Noatak River is contained within this broad and gently sloping valley, which stretches more than 150 miles east to west. The river, from its source in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve to its confluence with the Kelly River in Noatak National Preserve, is part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

The Noatak River passes through six regions on its way to the sea: headwaters at the base of Igikpal Mountain; the great Noatak Basin with its rounded mountains and plentiful wildlife; the 65-mile-long Grand Canyon of the Noatak and the much steeper 7-mile Noatak Canyon; plains dotted with spruce, balsam, and poplar; the rolling Igichuk Hills; and finally, the flat coastal delta.


Archaeological research has revealed the Noatak National Preserve has been home to the Inupiat people for well over 11,000 years.

The Noatak National Monument was proclaimed on December 1, 1978 by President Jimmy Carter using his authority under the Antiquities Act. Carter took the action after the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act was held up in Congress. When the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act passed in 1980, the monument became a national preserve.


The Noatak National Preserve is one of the finest wilderness areas in the world and is devoid of any roads, visitor facilities, or administrative offices within the park. Backcountry camping is permitted. The Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Kotzebue provides information on Noatak National Preserve.


Access to the preserve is from Bettles or Kotzebue. In the summer, visitors may access the park by chartered flight or boat. In the winter, access is by plane, snowmobile, or dogsled. There is no road access to Noatak National Preserve. In the summer, scheduled air service is available from Anchorage to Kotzebue and Fairbanks to Bettles.

Learn more about nearby Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.

For more information, visit the Noatak National Preserve website.

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