This preserve protects the largest mountain-ringed river basin with an intact ecosystem in America
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 the one of the largest untouched mountain-ringed river basin 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.
Archaeological research has revealed the Noatak National Preserve has been home to the Inupiat people for well over 11,000 years. Today, it stands as remote jewel in Alaska’s parklands; no roads enter the preserve, and access is solely by air, boat or walking. The area is thought to be the last remaining complete river system in the United States that has not been altered by human activities.
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 (ANILCA) was held up in Congress. When the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act passed in 1980, the monument became a national preserve.
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 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.
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 490,000 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 Noatak River has been designated as a Wild and Scenic River. As one of the least disturbed ecosystems in the world, it provides a unique opportunity for canoe and kayak trips. The Noatak River offers excellent fishing, canoeing and kayaking. Opportunities for wilderness backpacking and photography are plentiful.
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. Most visitors arrive to float the Noatak River. Although this wilderness river can be floated from its headwaters in Gates of the Arctic National Park 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, mild, cool sunny summers with 24 hours of daylight for most of June.
There are no entry fees for Noatak National Preserve nor are permits required for camping or floating the Noatak River.
Access to the preserve is from Nome or Kotzebue, both of which are served by commercial airlines. The visitor center is located in Kotzebue. In the summer, visitors may access the park by charter 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 there is scheduled air service from Anchorage to Kotzebue or Fairbanks to Bettles. Once in Kotzebue or Bettles, visitors fly to the park with various air taxi operators. In the winter, access is by plane, snowmobile or dogsled.
For a list of air taxi operators or outfitters contact the Noatak National Preserve Headquarters (907-442-3890; www.nps.gov/noat) or the Innaigvik Education and Information Center (907-442-3760) in Kotzebue.