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.