This 9-million acre refuge is third largest conservation area in the National Wildlife Refuge System
Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge is a 9 million-acre preserve straddling the Arctic Circle in eastern Interior Alaska. This is the land of the midnight sun where during the summer there is 24 hours of daylight and in the winter none, resulting in great seasonal extremes in temperature.
In 1847, upon discovery of the rich furbearer resources found throughout the area, Hudson's Bay Company established Fort Yukon within what is now the refuge. By the 1920s the outpost had become the most important fur center in Alaska.
The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to preserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats, fulfill international treaty obligations, provide for continued subsistence uses and ensure necessary water quality and quantity.
The vast majority of the refuge - 6.5 million acres - consists of the Yukon Flats, a vast floodplain bisected by 300 miles of the Yukon River. The basin is underlain by permafrost and includes a complex network of shallow lakes, sloughs, and meandering and braided streams. This makes Yukon Flats one of North America's most productive wildlife habitats.
The area is characterized by mixed forests dominated by spruce, birch and aspen. The Yukon Flats has a continental subarctic climate, with great seasonal extremes in temperature and daylight. Summer temperatures can reach 100 degrees F, warmer than any other comparable latitude in North America. Winter temperatures can drop to -70 degrees F.
The refuge has the greatest overall nesting density of ducks in Alaska, hosting as many as 2 million ducks annually that arrive from 11 countries, eight Canadian provinces, and 43 of the 50 states. Most of the canvasback ducks that nest in Alaska do so on the Yukon Flats. Most of Yukon Flats' birds are seasonal residents, fleeing south before the hard grip of winter closes over the land. Some 13 species, however (including boreal chickadees, great gray owls, spruce grouse, three-toed woodpeckers and ravens), remain on the refuge year around.
The Yukon River provides habitat for 18 species of fish on the refuge. The Chinook, chum and coho salmon travel farther from the sea (as much as 2,000 miles!) to their spawning areas in the refuge than do the salmon of any other river system in the world. Important spawning grounds for salmon and inconnu (sheefish) occur within the refuge. Resident fish in the Yukon Flats include Arctic grayling, burbot, northern pike, and several species of whitefish.
Other wildlife species include an abundance of furbearers, such as beaver, lynx, marten, mink, muskrat and river otter. Moose and black bear are also common while the larger grizzly is found in lower concentrations. Wolves are found throughout the refuge and caribou and Dall sheep can be spotted in the upland regions and on the alpine tundra of the White Mountains and Hodzana Highlands.
The refuge is open to a variety of activities including boating, camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, gold panning and wildlife viewing and photography. Float trips in particular are a common way to experience Yukon Flats. Canoers, kayakers and rafters can access the refuge via the Yukon, Porcupine, Sheenjek and other rivers. Some canoers put in at Upper Beaver Creek reached via Nome Creek Road and the Steese Highway northeast of Fairbanks and either float to a pick-up spot at the refuge boundary or continue on the Yukon River to the Dalton Highway Bridge.