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Selawik Wilderness

General Area Management Wilderness Laws
Photograph taken in  the Selawik Wilderness
Arthur Carhart National
Wilderness Training Center


The United States Congress designated the Selawik Wilderness (map) in 1980 and it now has a total of 240,000 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Alaska and is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Selawik Wilderness is bordered by the Kobuk Valley Wilderness to the north.


The 2,150,000-acre Selawik National Wildlife Refuge begins at the east end of Kotzebue Bay where the Bering Land Bridge once connected North America to Asia. Here, on land that once felt the tread of the woolly mammoth, you'll find evidence of the migrations of people, wildlife, and plants that once crossed freely between the landmasses. An estimated 400,000 caribou winter here now, the Western Arctic herd feeding on the lichen-covered foothills. Moose, bears, and smaller furbearing animals are plentiful.

Selawik's most prominent feature is an extensive system of tundra wetlands lying between the Waring Mountains and the Selawik Hills, nesting ground for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl, including birds from six continents. Asiatic whooper swans nest in Selawik and nowhere else in North America. Eskimo curlews, now considered extinct, once flew here and, perhaps, still hide in the great open distances. Yes, this is a bird-watcher's paradise.

Straddling the Arctic Circle, the refuge holds thousands of lakes, ponds, rivers (including the Kobuk and Selawik Rivers), river deltas, streams, and estuaries. Rafters regularly float all 168 miles of the Wild and Scenic (but gentle) Selawik River, which runs from the Purcell Mountains in the far eastern portion of the refuge to broad, shallow Selawik Lake. Winds may be fierce on the lake. Fishermen can try for tons of fish (sheefish, char, grayling, pike, burbot) in the rivers. Although camping is generally unrestricted, approximately 2,000 native Alaskans reside on inholdings in the refuge, living primarily a subsistence lifestyle. Dry campsites are few and far between.

A "small" strip of land in the northeastern section of the refuge has been designated Wilderness. You'll find no trails, no roads, no assistance if you need help, millions of mosquitoes in summer, and severe cold in winter.

Planning to Visit the Selawik Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Selawik Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.

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