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Koyukuk Wilderness

General Maps Contacts Area Management Wilderness Laws
Photograph taken in  the Koyukuk Wilderness


The United States Congress designated the Koyukuk Wilderness (map) in 1980 and it now has a total of 400,000 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Alaska and is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.


Think of Koyukuk Wilderness, and water comes to mind. Located on the Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge, there are many rivers, meandering creeks, and lakes, all forming the floodplain of the Koyukuk River. The lands in and around the Wilderness are still of great importance to the Alaskans who live in villages nearby. Local subsistence activities include gathering meat, fish and berries, trapping of furbearers, and cutting house logs and firewood. There are no roads and no maintained trails.

Moose are common within the Wilderness. Brown and black bears wade into the rivers in night-less summer to escape swarms of mosquitoes and other biting insects. Lynx, coyotes, red foxes, wolves, and wolverines might also be seen. Beavers abound, and thousands of migratory waterfowl nest and raise their young within the productive river basin. The rivers and wetlands are also habitat to salmon, sheefish, pike and grayling.

Four-hundred thousand acres of the Koyukuk Refuge are preserved as Wilderness. Miles of boreal forest surround a unique geological feature -- the Nogahabara Sand Dunes. The roughly circular active dune field spans about 6 miles in diameter, and was formed thousands of years ago when wind-blown glacial sand was deposited at the base of the Nulato Hills. The isolated dunes are lightly vegetated, and continue to shift with the wind. Closed needleleaf forests occur on moist to well drained sites from the lowlands to mountain slopes. The dominant tree species is white spruce, which may grow in excess of 80 feet tall. Understory species include northern toadflax, highbush cranberry, northern bedstraw, azalea, prickly rose, sweetvetch, and various species of feathermoss. Closed mixed deciduous forests are found mainly along the major water courses and on warm, dry, south-facing hillsides where drainage is good and permafrost is absent. This type consists of moderately tall (50 feet) to tall (80 feet) white paper birch, aspen, and cottonwood. Common understory species found in mixed deciduous forest include highbush cranberry, currant, bunchberrry, and prickly rose.

The Three-Day Slough area also lies within the Koyukuk Wilderness and receives some public use, primarily by moose-hunters in the fall. Fishing and hunting are allowed throughout the Wilderness and surrounding Refuge, subject to State and Federal regulations. Visitors should be respectful of private in-holdings within the Refuge, and hunters are asked to maintain the Native tradition of using all parts of the gifts from nature.

The Koyukuk Wilderness, like the rest of the Koyukuk Refuge, is very remote. Elevations here range from nearly 100 to 1,200 feet. When planning a trip, be prepared for minimal human contact outside of the villages, and consider that weather and other situations can create conditions that are life-threatening. The warmest temperatures come in July and average between 52 F to 69 F; the coldest come in January and average between -16 F to -1 F. Thirteen inches of precipitation falls, annually. Enjoy and respect the challenge, discovery and freedom of wildlands. Make demands on yourself, not on the environment, and leave little or no trace of your presence.

Planning to Visit the Koyukuk 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 Koyukuk 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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