This dynamic refuge stretches along the “Tetlin Passage,” an important bird migration corridor
Tetlin Wildlife Refuge is part of the world’s largest contiguous conservation unit, sharing a border with Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve and Kluane National Park in Canada. The Alaska Highway borders the refuge for 65 miles providing unique opportunities to explore the area.
Along with 15 other refuges in Alaska, Tetlin was established in 1980 with the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The refuge spans of 700,000 acres and is one of the larger National Wildlife Refuges in the U.S., while also the second smallest of the 16 located in Alaska.
Located in the upper Tanana River valley, the refuge consists of diverse landscape, including forests, wetlands, tundra, lakes, glacial rivers and foothills that rise to the snowy peaks of the Alaska Range. Like the rest of Interior Alaska’s boreal forest, the Tetlin’s black spruce forest is an evolving masterpiece, reshaped each year by woodland fires. Plants and animals here have adapted to fire and often benefit from it.
The refuge is situated inside the 'Tetlin Passage,' a major migratory route for birds traveling to and from Canada, the Lower 48 and both Central and South America. While many of the birds move on to other breeding grounds, about 117 species remain in Tetlin to nest.
Tetlin Refuge also supports a variety of large mammals. Dall sheep dot the higher slopes while moose feed on the tender new growth that springs up in the wake of frequent lightning caused fires. Wolves, grizzly and black bears and members of three different caribou herds range over the refuge. Tetlin waters support whitefish, Arctic grayling, northern pike and burbot. Hidden Lake is stocked with rainbow trout.
Thanks to its proximity to the Alaska Highway - the refuge boundary is adjacent to the south side of the highway for almost 65 miles - Tetlin offers a wide range of activities and facilities, including hiking, birding, camping, fishing and hunting. Birding is best in spring and fall and easily done from pullouts along the Alaska Highway that overlook wetlands, ponds and lakes.
One of the best ways to explore Tetlin Refuge is by canoe. Lakes at both of the refuge's campgrounds offer easy paddling while others paddle Desper and Scottie Creeks. The clear, slow moving streams are accessed at Mile 1223 and Mile 1225 of the Alaska Highway and can be a one-day outing to overnight trips of up to 17 miles. Longer canoeing trips are possible on the Chisana River as are opportunities for backpacking.
Tetlin Refuge Visitor Center was built in 1989 in the style of a log trapper's cabin with a sod roof. The center was renovated in 2010 with new exhibits that allow visitors to "travel" through the ecosystems of the refuge and interact with the history of the area with hands-on displays. Outside is a large observation deck with spotting scopes.
The refuge's newest facility is the Tetlin Refuge Visitor Center located 8 miles from the Canada border at Mile 1229 of the Alaska Highway.
The refuge also has two campgrounds along the Alaska Highway. At Mile 1249.3 is Deadman Lake Campground with 15 campsites in the spruce forest along with fire rings, toilets, picnic tables and a boat ramp. Also at the campground is Taiga Trail, a quarter-mile interpretive walk to an observation deck on Deadman Lake and a photo blind that offers visitors an opportunity to photograph waterfowl and moose in a wetlands setting. At Mile 1256.7 is Lakeview Campground with 11 campsites along with tables, toilets, fire rings and a boat launch on Yarger Lake.
Located along the Alaska Highway that parallels the refuge are seven pullouts featuring interpretive panels while at Mile 1240 is Hidden Lake Trail. This mile-long trail uses boardwalks through deciduous and lowland forest to provide a dry hike to Hidden Lake. There is also a small boat launch at Hidden Lake and launches at the Chisana River just south of Mile 1264 and Desper Creek at Mile 1226.
Three public-use cabins are available on a reservation basis in the refuge. Wellesley Lake and Jatahmund Lake cabins are accessible only by float plane. Nabesna River cabin is accessible by boat on the Nabesna River.
Completed in the 2012 season, the Seaton Recreation Area is open to the public within the refuge. Visitor accommodations include a parking area, pavilion, toilet, and primitive camping sites at scenic overlooks near the end of two spur trails. Camping is only allowed on the designated areas along the trail. Guests are asked to register.
There are nightly fees for the campgrounds and the public-use cabins which can be reserved in advance by mail or phone through the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters (907-883-5312; P. O. Box 779 MS 529, Tok AK 99780).
The northern boundary of Tetlin Refuge extends 65 miles along the Alaska Highway, providing foot access from the Canada border at Mile 1221.5 to Mil 1242. The Tetlin Refuge headquarters is located in Tok while the refuge's visitor welcome station is located at Mile 1229 on the Alaska Highway, just east of the Canada border. Small boat and canoe access is available at Desper Creek at Mile 1225.4, the Chisana River Bridge in Northway at Mile 1264, the old Riverside airstrip at Mile 1281 and at the Tanana River Bridge at Mile 1303.6. Access to the interior of the refuge is by air charter service and snowmachine in the winter.
For more information contact the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge headquarters (907-883-5312; www.fws.gov/refuge/tetlin) in Tok.