History Behind the Parks: Kobuk Valley National Park


By Carla Charter

In the northwest part of Alaska sits a remote national park created on December 2, 1980. This remote wilderness offers a diversity of landscape including sand dunes and Tundra where up to a half a million of Caribou migrate twice a year.

The Great Kobuk, Little Kobuk and Hunt River Sand Dunes, all located at the park, are the largest active sand dunes in the arctic. They span over 30 miles and are a relic of the last ice age 28,000 years ago.

The Onion Portage, a long narrow peninsula jutting into the water at a wide bend of the Kobuk River is a National Historic Landmark.  The portage is so named for the wild onions and chives that grow along the banks of the river. The Caribou cross the valley here twice a year migrating to and from the Brooks Range. These animals have been harvested there as they forded the stream for centuries. Among the other animals that inhabit the park include Gray Wolves, Brown Bears, Dali Sheep and Wolverines.

The portage’s purpose as an archeological site was first discovered by J. Louis Giddings in 1961.  Archeologists have been able to excavate nine cultural complexes at this site confirming that people have lived in the Kobuk Valley for 12,500 years from the Akmak period (ca. 8,000-6,500 BC) to the Arctic Woodland Period (ca. 1000-1700 AD). Inupiat and Athabascan people are two of the prominent indigenous groups that have historically occupied the park area.

The Northwest Arctic Heritage Center in Kotzebue, Alaska, 98.5 miles away from the park offers community and park programs highlighting the park’s cultural and environmental history as well as information about the research performed at the archeological sites. The museum also houses displays highlighting the animal life of Northwest Alaska as well as traditional tools used by the native peoples for thousands of years.

The park is a remote wilderness area and there are no roads, trails, campgrounds or services calculated mileages or specialized maps of the Kobuk Valley area. Virtually all access to the park is through aircraft, according to Linda Jeschke Interpretation and Education Property Manager. During the winter months the park is only accessible by snowmobile.

Summer activities at Kobuk can include boating, camping, hiking, backpacking, flightseeing, wildlife watching, photography and fishing. For those with appropriate arctic winter survival skills, winter activities include snow machining, skiing and dog mushing.

More information on Kobuk Valley national park can be found at https://www.nps.gov/kova/