History & Culture
Come time travel with Noatak National Preserve as we explore a powerful river cutting through a vast wilderness, portions of which were unglaciated at times when migrations of people, plants, and animals crossed from eastern Asia into the New World via the Bering Land Bridge.
Noatak National Preserve was set aside by congress to protect the nation’s largest unaltered river basin and watershed, provide habitat for many species of flora and fauna, preserve the archeological sites within its boundaries, and provide opportunities for subsistence and scientific study. Most of what we know about the Preserve comes from the oral history of the Inupiat people and the work of scientists such as archeologists, geologists, and biologists. These diverse groups of people all care deeply for this special place.
Despite its wilderness status, Noatak National Preserve has been home to people for well over 11,000 years. These dramatic findings are the result of a recent five year investigation undertaken by National Park Service archeologists surveying the major tributaries of the Noatak River. Inupiaq Eskimo call this are area home. The Inupiaq peoples of the upper Noatak region were traditionally known as Nuataaqmiut.
Noatak National Preserve is more than just a river in the wilderness. Be transported as you explore some of our fascinating people, stories, and places in the following pages.
The Cultural Resource program at Noatak National Preserve documents people in the parks, past and present, and strives to preserve places with unique history.
Plan Your Visit
As one of North America’s largest mountain-ringed river basins with an intact, unaltered ecosystem, Noatak National Preserve features some of the Arctic’s finest arrays of plants and animals. The Noatak River offers spectacular wilderness float trip opportunities – from deep in the Brooks Range to the tidewater of the Chukchi Sea. The 400-mile river - a Wild and Scenic River – is virtually unchanged by the humans who have lived in the valley for the last 11,000 years.
The national preserve lies almost completely enclosed by the Baird and De Long mountains of the Brooks Range. In this transition zone, the northern coniferous forest thins out and gradually gives way to the tundra that stretches northward to the Beaufort Sea. The bulk of this land is designated wilderness.
Far from the hustle and bustle of other Alaskan destinations, the magnificent scenery and untamed nature of this preserve allows you to experience genuine “Wild Alaska” on its own terms. Your possibilities here are vast. Whether relaxing on a weeklong raft trip, photographing wildflowers, thrilling your senses on a scenic flight, camping, or charting your own backcountry trek, the country is ready for those willing and prepared to enter it. Whatever adventure you choose, please remember to leave cultural artifacts and natural features as you find them for others to enjoy.
Access and services here are limited when compared to traditional National Parks you may have visited elsewhere. What the area may lack in services, it more than makes up for in friendly people and an un-crowded wilderness experience.
You'll find no roads, no gift ships, and no parking facilities within the preserve. Trails don't exist; neither do campgrounds. Not even the park headquarters or visitor center are within the preserve. Both facilities are in Kotzebue, Alaska - an airplane ride away.
Noatak’s visitor isn’t your average tourist. They tend to be skilled backcountry explorers familiar with surviving potential high winds, rain, and snow — and that's in the summer months. Winter visits are recommended only to outdoorspeople experienced in arctic camping and survival techniques. The ranger staff can provide valuable information on conditions and logistics for first time travelers.
Licensed operators offer various services such as air taxi, guided rafting and hunting. Contact any service providers on the list of licensed operators to facilitate your trip. Flight shuttle services are available in Kotzebue and Bettles.
Noatak National Preserve is a very remote area. There are no roads that provide access.
Commercial airlines provide service from Anchorage to Kotzebue or Fairbanks to Bettles. Once in Kotzebue or Bettles, you must fly to the preserve with various air taxi operators. There are scheduled flights to villages and chartered flights to remote park areas. Summer access may include motorized/non-motorized watercraft, aircraft, or by foot. (Note: Traveling by foot in the summer would be an arduous, roundabout journey.) Winter access may include snowmobiles, aircraft or by foot.
Operating Hours & Seasons
Noatak National Preserve is open year around. The headquarters office - located in Kotzebue - is open 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday.
The Innaigvik Education and Information Center in Kotzebue is open only in the summer. Please call ahead for specific hours of operation. 907.442.3890.
Arctic winter conditions - snow, ice, wind, and below-freezing temperatures - exist in the preserve from October through April. Summer temperatures average 54° F, although some days in July may get up to 80° F. Snow or freezing temperatures may occur at any time.
Fees & Reservations
Currently, there are no fees charged to access Noatak National Preserve.
The National Park Service does not require reservations for any type of travel or camping within the preserve. Licensed guides and transporters should be contacted in advance to plan travel logistics.
Things To Do
Rafting, camping, hiking, backpacking, wildlife watching, photography, hunting and fishing opportunities abound three season of the year. With winter arctic survival skills and personal equipment, snow machining, skiing and dog mushing is also possible. Community programs are available in the summer at the Innaigvik Education and Information Center. Topics include natural and cultural history of the preserve, local research, local crafts and children’s activities. Schedules vary, so please call 907.442.3890 before your arrival to learn about upcoming programs.
There are no developed facilities in Noatak National Preserve. Access in summer is by plane or boat. Winter access is by plane or snow machine. Summer hikes in the Brooks Mountain Range are popular, especially along ridgelines where walking is easier than on the lower level tundra. Rafting the 400- mile Noatak River is a great way to experience the preserve. Private land can be found along the river, so please detour around areas that show any signs of ownership.Remember to pack warm clothing, as prevailing westerly winds may drop wind chill factors below freezing, even in summer.
Small planes may be chartered from Kotzebue or Bettles to land in the national preserve, or to fly over the area for a view of the mountains and wildlife.
Things To Know Before You Come
Visitors should be prepared to enjoy a non-traditional National Park Service experience. There are no roads, trails, campgrounds or regularly attended ranger stations in Noatak National Preserve. This is truly a wild area. Access is typically by small aircraft, which can cost several hundred dollars per flight hour. Licensed air transporters are available in Kotzebue and Bettles.
The number of National Park Service staff in Kotzebue is small and the acreage of the preserve is large. Visitors may not be able to contact a ranger if they have an emergency. Backcountry experience and self-sufficiency are vital. Your safety is your responsibility. Along with this come tremendous opportunities for peace and solitude on a vast landscape.
Visitors are not required to check in with staff at the headquarters office in Kotzebue or get a permit before starting a trip in the preserve. However, rangers are happy to document itineraries if travelers wish to provide that information.
Cell phones often do not work in the backcountry. Satellite phones do work, however, and some travelers choose to carry them for added safety.
Noatak National Preserve is bear country. It is important to keep human food and scented items away from bears or any wild animals. Animal - resistant food containers are available for loan from the rangers in Kotzebue. Please practice Leave No Trace skills to maintain the pristine and wild nature of this area.
Hunting is allowed in Noatak National Preserve. All hunters are required to follow state and federal regulations. Please respect all local subsistence hunting and gathering and give people a wide berth so they may finish their work without interruption.
Visitors who plan to fish need to have an Alaska state fishing license.