The heart of this refuge is Izembek Lagoon, which draws in 140 species of migratory birds from all over the world
At 417,533 acres Izembek National Wildlife Refuge at the southern tip of the Alaska Peninsula is the smallest Alaskan refuge in Alaska. This diverse wilderness protects a wide variety of fish and wildlife species and their habitats.
The heart of the refuge is Izembek Lagoon, spanning 150 square miles of brackish water containing some of the largest eelgrass beds in the world. The lagoon and its associated state-owned tidal lands have been protected by the State of Alaska since 1960 as the Izembek State Game Refuge. In 1980, it was designated as wilderness under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
Beyond the lagoon, most of the refuge is low brush tundra, accented with tiny wildflowers and dotted with tangled alder thickets. But Izembek is still diverse wilderness, a panorama of natural beauty characterized by hundreds of freshwater lakes, meandering streams, u-shaped valleys, ancient glaciers, hot springs and smoking volcanoes.
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. But the brant is not the only migratory bird--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 protects not only protects birds, but also a wide variety of other wildlife and fish as well, 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. Killer, grey and minke whales can be seen as they migrate along the shoreline. Salmon begin arriving in mid-summer.
Birding, wildlife observation and photography are the main activities for visitors to Izembek along with hunting and fishing to a lesser extent. There are also opportunities for spectacular backpacking and remote camping, but visitors need to keep in mind the area's rapidly changing weather conditions. Even during the summer months, high winds and heavy rainstorms are common.
Vehicle access is possible to a small part of the Refuge via a gravel road system 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.
An 11-mile road connects Cold Bay to the most popular facility in the refuge; Grant Point Wildlife Overlook on the edge of the lagoon where visitors often see thousands of birds, sea otters, red fox, possibly even brown bears. Within Cold Bay are lodging, supplies and outfitters for hunting and fishing trips. At the refuge headquarters in Cold Bay is a Mini-Visitor Center with a limited number of displays and books, publications and maps for sell.
There are no visitor fees at the refuge.
The refuge is accessible via commercial aircraft from Anchorage to Cold Bay and a once-a-month run by the Alaska Marine Highway (www.ferryalaska.com) 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.
For more information contact or a list of outfitters contact the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters (907-532-2445, 877-837-6332; fws.gov/refuge/izembek/) in Cold Bay.