With pristine boreal ecosystem and protected wildlife, this refuge delivers the ultimate Alaskan wilderness experience
Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge is a 1.6 million acre preserve south of Bettles in central Alaska that extends over the rolling forested plain of the Kanuti and Koyukuk rivers. The Athabascan translation of Kanuti means "well traveled river by both man and animals.”
Along with 15 other refuges in Alaska, the Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1980 with the passage of The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
The refuge is a prime example of Alaska's boreal ecosystem, an area dominated by black and white spruce with some white birch and poplars and interspersed by rivers, lakes, ponds wetlands and open spaces. The wetlands and open water provide nesting habitat for large populations of migratory waterfowl, including Alaska's greatest nesting density of white-fronted geese.
Kanuti is also home to 130 species of other birds, including four species of loons, 12 species of raptors ranging from ospreys and bald eagles to Peregrine falcons and 20 species of waterfowl that nest in the area. The refuge also provides space and isolation for moose, wolves, black and brown bears and wolverines while the Western Arctic caribou herd uses part of the refuge as its winter grounds. Seasonally flooded streams and rivers are home to salmon, Arctic grayling and whitefish.
For many, visiting Kanuti is the ultimate Alaskan wilderness experience as the refuge is an area slightly larger than the state of Delaware totally absence of roads. Visitors have opportunities that include camping, fishing, hunting, river floating, wildlife viewing and photography.
Traveling by river is the most popular way to experience the refuge. The refuge can be accessed by several rivers intersecting the Dalton Highway or by plane. Backpackers can also explore the Kanuti on foot by staying on uplands or on river corridors where firm gravel bars can be found, versus tromping across the vast acres of wetlands, tussocks and lakes. The easiest way to see the refuge and get a sense of its size and remoteness is through a flightseeing tour.
Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge is a remote, totally undeveloped park. There are no roads or villages within its boundaries nor designated trails, campgrounds, public use cabins or visitor facilities. Visitors must be well-equipped and totally self-sufficient and expect little or no human contact outside of the villages near the refuge.
The Arctic Interagency Visitor Center (907-678-5209) at Mile 175 of the Dalton Highway in Coldfoot provides information for visitors to Kanuti as well as Arctic and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuges and Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Opened in 2003, the impressive center features exhibits about life in the Arctic, wilderness travel, and the circumpolar region while dioramas depict the boreal forest, Brooks Range, and North Slope ecosystems.
There are no fees nor are permits require to visit Kanuti.
Most visitors arrive in the refuge from the community of Bettles. There is scheduled air service between Fairbanks and in Bettles air charter operators are available for drop-offs at lakes, rivers and gravel bars. Visitors can then access the remaining parts of the refuge on foot or by boat. In winter, the refuge can be reached from the Dalton Highway using non-motorized transportation such as skis or dog teams.
For more information contact the Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters (907-456-0329; 877-220-1853; kanuti.fws.gov) in Fairbanks.