Innoko National Wildlife Refuge Alaska
Photo Credit: ATIA, Jocelyn Pride

Innoko National Wildlife Refuge

Innoko National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge provides important habitat for thousands of waterfowl on the border between Southwest and Interior Alaska.

Remote and isolated, even by Alaska standards, the 4.6-million-acre Innoko National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most important waterfowl areas in Interior Alaska. More than half of the refuge are wetlands that provide critical nesting and molting habitat for thousands of geese, ducks, loons, and swans.

The refuge is split between two units. The Northern Unit, also called Kaiyah Flats, is 751,000 acres located adjacent to the Yukon River, southwest of Galena. The much larger Southern Unit is 3.85 million acres surrounding the Innoko River.


Because there are no roads or vehicles allowed inside the refuge, visitors arrive primarily by plane. The most practical way to explore the vast Innoko Refuge is by floating down the Innoko, Iditarod, or Dishna Rivers. Visitors arrange to fly their boats and gear to the start of their trip and then arranged to be picked up somewhere downstream. Wildlife viewing opportunities abound with the possibility of sighting more than 124 bird species and 30 mammal species.

Adventurous anglers are also drawn to the refuge. The Innoko River and its vast number of connected lakes provide habitat for large and aggressive northern pike. These fish often grow to more than 45 inches in length. Additionally, whitefish, grayling and sometimes salmon are taken from the waters of the Innoko River. Hunting is also a popular activity in the refuge.


Frequent flooding of Innoko's many rivers and streams helps maintain the rich willow sandbar habitat that provides winter food for the refuge's moose population, as well as for beaver that are common along virtually all of Innoko's waterways. Barren ground caribou from the Beaver Mountain herd winter in Innoko when deep snows move them down from the uplands. Black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, martens, lynx, red foxes, river otters, and wolverines are present year round.


Innoko is located in a transition zone between the forested taiga interior of Alaska and the treeless tundra of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Approximately half of the refuge consists of black spruce muskeg, wet meadows, and sedge or horsetail marshes set with innumerable lakes and ponds of varying size. The rest of the terrain is marked by hills, most of which are less than 1,000 feet in elevation.


There are no roads, maintained trails, or visitor facilities in Innoko National Wildlife Refuge. Backcountry camping is permitted. 


Innoko National Wildlife Refuge is not accessible by car. The majority of visitors access the refuge by floatplane in the summer and ski plane or snowmobile in the winter. Due to its extremely remote and isolated location, access to the refuge by watercraft is, in most cases, not practical due to excessive distances and river conditions. Watercraft transportable by small aircraft, such as inflatable rafts and folding kayaks, can be used for transportation within the refuge.

Most visitors reach the refuge by air on a charter, guided trip, or personal plane. Most charters and guided trips depart from the village of McGrath, which is accessible by commercial airlines out of Anchorage.

For more information, visit the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge website.

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