Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge


(907) 456-0250

Map Directions

Things To Do


Renowned for its wildlife, Arctic Refuge is inhabited by 45 species of land and marine mammals, ranging from the pygmy shrew to the bowhead whale. Best known are the polar, grizzly, and black bear; wolf, wolverine, Dall sheep, moose, muskox, and the animal that has come to symbolize the area's wildness, the free-roaming caribou. Thirty-six species of fish occur in Arctic Refuge waters, and 180 species of birds have been observed on the refuge. Eight million-acres of the Arctic Refuge are designated Wilderness, and three rivers (Sheenjek, Wind, and Ivishak) are designated Wild Rivers. Two areas of the refuge are designated Research Natural Areas. Because of distinctive scenic and scientific features, several rivers, valleys, canyons, lakes, and a rock mesa have been recommended as National Natural Landmarks. Perhaps the most unique feature of the refuge is that large-scale ecological and evolutionary processes continue here, free of human control or manipulation. A prominent reason for establishment of the Arctic Refuge was the fact that this single protected area encompasses an unbroken continuum of arctic and subarctic ecosystems. Here, one can traverse the boreal forest of the Porcupine River plateau, wander north up the rolling tiaga uplands, cross the rugged, glacier-capped Brooks Range, and follow any number of rivers across the tundra coastal plain to the lagoons, estuaries, and barrier islands of the Beaufort Seas coast, all without encountering an artifact of civilization. The refuge encompasses the traditional homelands and subsistence areas of Inupiaq Eskimos of the arctic coast and the Athabascan Indians of the interior.

Map of Arctic NWR

Latitude, Longitude: 69.099548, -143.377075



  • Boating

    Most refuge rivers are relatively swift with boulder-strewn or braided gravel beds, especially on the north side of the Brooks Range. Water quality is excellent, although rivers are high and turbid during breakup and after storms. Some rivers carry glacial silt in summer. Rivers must be evaluated and run according to conditions at the time. River ratings are subjective and can change with the stage of the river. Rivers are generally open June through September, but the safest water levels occur in July and early August. Floaters and hikers should be aware of above-average flows which can occur any time, especially after heavy rains upstream. Low water can occur in August, but is usually not a serious problem. It is generally possible to line through or portage around the most difficult sections. Breakup occurs during May and early June, depending on the location. Rivers are often at flood stage during this time with ice floes and "aufeis" that make floating hazardous.

  • Bird Watching

    Along the northern boundary of the Refuge, barrier islands, coastal lagoons, salt marshes, and river deltas provide habitat for migratory waterbirds including sea ducks, geese, swans, and shorebirds.

  • Fishing

    The fresh and marine waters of Arctic Refuge support at least 36 species of fish, and fishing provides an important subsistence resource to local residents. Visitors camping along or floating refuge rivers typically target Dolly Varden char and arctic grayling. East Fork of the Chandalar and Kongakut offer the best access to fishing in the Refuge. Follow Alaska state and federal regulations.

  • Hunting

    Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is rich in wildlife, especially during the brief, productive summer months. It supports sport hunting by visitors as well as subsistence hunting by local rural residents. Gwitch'in Athabascan Indians and Inupiaq Eskimos depend on hunting caribou and many other species both for subsistence and to preserve their traditional cultures. Visitors are also attracted to the refuge to hunt, primarily for caribou, Dall sheep and grizzly bear. Follow Alaska regulations.

  • Wildlife Watching

    A chance to see the migration of the 120,000-plus animal Porcupine Caribou Herd, one of the world's great wildlife spectacles, is the dream of many who visit the refuge for wildlife observation. Recreational guides, as well as refuge staff, can assist in planning trips that may provide opportunities to see this moving river of life. Neotropical migratory birds breed here in spring and summer, attracted by plentiful food and the variety of habitats. Caribou travel here from farther north to spend the winter. Year-round residents of the boreal forest include moose, lynx, marten, wolverines, black and grizzly bears, and wolves.


Open year-round. Be wary of the extreme weather changes possible and plan ahead.



Vast and wild, the Arctic Refuge remains roadless. Limited access is provided by the Dalton Highway (a gravel road) which passes the western tip of the refuge. The Arctic Refuge is a very remote area. Be prepared to handle any situation completely on your own.


Most of the refuge is accessible only by aircraft. From Fairbanks, many visitors take a commercial flight to Fort Yukon, Arctic Village, Deadhorse or Kaktovik, and charter a smaller bush plane into the refuge from there.

Phone Numbers


(907) 456-0250