This park contains one of Alaska’s true oddities, the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes
A 1.7-million-acre park in northwest Alaska, Kobuk Valley National Park occupies a broad valley where the middle section of the Kobuk River is encircled by the Baird and Waring mountain ranges. Located 75 miles east of Kotzebue, this semi-enclosed bowl protects several unique features, including the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes.
Kobuk Valley National Park is named after the Kobuk River valley, which runs through its center; "Kobuk" is an Inupiaq Eskimo word meaning "big river."
Kobuk Valley National Park is home to the famous Onion Portage archaeological site, a National Historic Landmark, but more importantly the cradle of the Arctic Woodland Culture defined by pioneering archaeologist J. Louis Giddings. At the site, Giddings and his crew found evidence of humans dating back 10,000 years, when people gathered to harvest caribou as they forded the stream. Today, local Alaskan residents still feed their families with caribou from the river crossing in the fall.
The park was designated as National Park in 1980 to maintain the environmental integrity of the valley’s natural features in an undeveloped state and, in cooperation with local Natives, to protect and interpret archaeological sites associated with Native cultures.
Kobuk Valley sits astride the transition zone between the boreal forest and the treeless Arctic tundra that extends westward to the Chukchi Sea. At its northern limit, the boreal forest is open woodland with small trees in a mat of thick tundra.
The 25-square-mile Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, Little Kobuk Sand Dunes near Onion Portage and the Hunt River Dunes cover much of the southern Kobuk Valley and constitute the largest active sand dunes found in the Arctic. Formed by the grinding action of glaciers, these wind-sculpted dunes rise as high as 100 feet and are stabilized by the area's vegetation. The dunes, accessible by a strenuous hour-long hike along Kavet Creek from the Kobuk River, lie 40 miles above the Arctic Circle, yet summer temperatures can soar to 100 degrees.
A section of the Kobuk River also runs through the park. Its bluffs, some of which stand more than 150 feet high, hold permafrost ice wedges and Ice Age mammal fossils. The Salmon River in Kobuk Valley National Park was designated "wild" by the National Wild and Scenic River System.
The Western Arctic caribou herd, the largest in Alaska at 490,000 animals, travels through the park during its migration from its calving grounds on the northern slopes of the Brooks Range to where the herd winters south of the range.
The slow-moving Kobuk River offers extraordinary wilderness float trip opportunities through scenic boreal forests teeming with wildlife. Other activities include backpacking, fishing, dog sledding, hiking and boating. Boaters can access Salmon River by packing their boats from high mountain airstrips to the headwaters.