Last Updated on January 18, 2023
When you think of Alaska, images of snow-covered mountains, glaciers, and icy tundra likely come to mind. However, did you know that Alaska is home to a hidden desert with sand dunes?
The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, located in the Kobuk Valley National Park, are the largest active sand dunes in the Arctic and offer a unique and unexpected experience for visitors to the Last Frontier.
Great Kobuk Sand Dunes
Located 35 miles above the Arctic Circle, the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are made up of three dune fields – the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, the Little Kobuk Sand Dunes, and the Hunt River Sand Dunes – that together comprise 30 square miles of towering, rippling sand.
These dunes were formed some 14,000 years ago from retreating glaciers and have been slowly advancing with new life and vegetation ever since.
The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes offer a truly unique and otherworldly experience. The dunes soar up to 100 feet high and, in the summer, temperatures can reach over 100 degrees. The dunes are surrounded by lush tundra, providing a stark contrast to the golden sands.
Despite being located in the Arctic, the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are surprisingly accessible. The park is open year-round and can be reached by either car or small plane. Visitors can take guided tours or go on their own hike, and camping is also available in the park.
The best time to visit is during the summer months, when the weather is milder and the days are longer. Hiking through these dunes is a one-of-a-kind adventure, and visitors can also take guided ATV tours to explore the dunes in a different way.
Plants and Wildlife
The park’s wildlife is also abundant, with caribou herds roaming the land, bears lumbering across the tundra in search of a berry patch, and foxes and wolves roaming the woods.
The Western Arctic Caribou Herd, the largest in the United States, passes through the park twice a year during its migration, leaving millions of hoof prints on the dunes as a sign of their passage.
In addition to the sand dunes, visitors can also explore the park’s other natural features, such as the Kobuk River and its tributaries, which are home to salmon and sheefish, and the park’s many lakes, which are frequented by ducks, loons, geese, and swans during breeding season.
The park is also home to the Kobuk Locoweed, a flowering herb that is only found on the slopes of the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes. The park also provides a glimpse into the ecosystem of Beringia, the thousand-mile-wide expanse of grassland that connected Asia and North America during the last Ice Age. 15,000 years ago, woolly mammoths and saber-tooth tigers once roamed the valley in place of today’s moose and grizzly bears.
Visiting Kobuk Valley National Park
The Kobuk Desert is a true hidden gem of Alaska and a must-see destination for those looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure. Reaching the Park is an adventure in itself, as the location is remote and there are no developed facilities, but the 1,795,280 acres of backcountry provide endless opportunities for outdoor activities.
In the summer, visitors can take advantage of boating and floating, backpacking and camping, flightseeing, and fishing. Winter activities include snow machining, skiing, and dog mushing, but they require arctic winter survival skills and personal equipment.
The nearest major cities are Fairbanks and Anchorage, both of which offer flights to nearby towns such as Kotzebue, Ambler, and Nome. From there, you’ll need to arrange for transportation to the park. The best way to access the park is by plane or boat.
While it is possible to backpack from the Dalton Highway, most trips begin by taking a plane to your starting point. During the summer, commercial businesses provide flights, but it’s important to plan extra days in case of bad weather.
When planning your visit to Kobuk Valley National Park, be sure to stop by the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center in Kotzebue to tour the museum and talk with a ranger.
Permits are not required for independent travelers, but organized recreational groups do need to get a permit from the Chief Ranger.
Your n°1 source of information on the world of sandsports and desert adventure travel. Our articles are the result of extensive research, personal experience, and knowledge-sharing within the global sandboarding community.
You must log in to post a comment.