Wanna Camp In Alaska? Try These USFWS Refuge System Options

 

The following appears in the August issue of Alaska Sporting Journal. Photos courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

BY MARTHA NUDEL, U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE  

Alaska has often been called America’s last wilderness. The concept is vividly real on the 16 national wildlife refuges in the state. While some of the refuges can only be accessed by boat or plane, others are more accessible.

Here’s a sampling of camping opportunities at each refuge, including one the size of a mid-Atlantic state, another with world-class fishing and one famous for its massive bears. 

KANUTI NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE 

Kanuti Refuge, at approximately 1.6 million acres, is about the size of the state of Delaware and is de facto wilderness. Visitors here can see the great wilds of remote Alaska, with, if visible, signs of human manipulation or a permanent human presence. Camping is permitted on the refuge; permission is not required, but there are no services or facilities offered. And getting to Kanuti Refuge is part of the adventure.

The best way for a visitor to experience Kanuti NWR is to float in an inflatable kayak or collapsible canoe on either the Middle Fork or the South Fork of the Koyukuk River from the Dalton Highway to the village of Allakaket. Visitors can access the Middle Fork from the Dalton Highway at the small community of Coldfoot, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management operate the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center, where visitors can get current information about river conditions and more.

 The South Fork Koyukuk can also be accessed from the Dalton Highway at the bridge crossing, about 30 miles south of Coldfoot. Each river takes about six days to float and they offer ideal camping and the likelihood of seeing very few, if any, other people. Air flights are available to return to Fairbanks. Visitors can and do float the Kanuti River, but it is a more technically challenging float and requires a more expensive air charter pickup by floatplane rather than commercially scheduled flights.

 Fishing is part of Alaska’s great recreation tradition, as is hunting. Both are permitted on Kanuti Refuge.

KENAI NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE 

Kenai Refuge is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. The small lakes and rivers in the refuge’s northern portion are great for canoeing. Fishing is a great angling challenge, as each body of water has its own fish ecology and regulations. Good areas for quiet fishing near the road system are found in small lakes such as Lower Ohmer, Watson, Kelly, Petersen, Forest, Dolly Varden, Rainbow, Paddle and many areas of the Swan Lake and Swanson River canoe systems.

Want to pack a tent into the wilderness, or perhaps stay in your RV?  Kenai Refuge has it all. The refuge has more than 120 RV and tent sites. Free camping is available year-round in the Skilak area and on Swanson and Swan Lake Roads. You can reserve one of the refuge’s 14 cabins, or you can try your luck for one of the two cabins available on a first-come, first-served basis.

KODIAK NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE 

Kodiak Refuge is often called the Island of the Great Bear. Kodiak brown bears, genetically distinct, live in the wild in the rugged Kodiak archipelago. Kodiak Refuge was established in 1941. The 1.9-million-acre refuge is filled with misty fjords, glacial valleys and mountains. Its diverse habitats include 117 salmon-filled streams, 16 lakes, riparian wetlands, spruce forest, tundra and alpine meadows. 

Some 3,000 bears roam the refuge. More than 400 breeding pairs of bald eagles have been counted on the refuge, which provides migration and breeding habitat for some 250 species of fish, birds and mammals. 

Popular fishing destinations such as the Karluk, Uganik and Ayakulik Rivers offer world-class fishing for salmon, steelhead and rainbow trout. 

CABIN FEVER  

Kodiak Refuge has nine cabins priced at $45 per night, each available for reservations in advance. Cabins are equipped with oil stoves for heating, pit-style toilets and separate meat caches. Cabins are only accessible via boat or floatplane, and some have less access in the winter due to ice. 

Summer and fall are high season for anglers, photographers and hunters who are looking for low-cost cabins and camping opportunities in Alaska. Bookings can be made months in advance.

Here’s just one journal entry from one visitor to the Uganik Lake Cabin at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge: 

“We have had the most wonderful time here at Uganik Bay. The wildlife and landscape have forever changed my life. It’s not very often that people nowadays can leave the busy lives they lead – filled with fast-paced technology and lifestyles – to come here where they must leave it all. Nothing but the sounds of birds, fish jumping out of the water, and the constant lookout for a hopeful spotting of a Kodiak bear.”  

TETLIN NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE 

Tetlin refuge has two campgrounds along the Alaska Highway that open once roads are cleared of snow (usually in April). The campgrounds stay open until late autumn, usually October, while roads are still passable. 

The refuge also has four public use/administrative cabins that are available year-round if they are not being used by staff for management activities. Contact the refuge at (907) 883-5312 to determine which cabins are available and get a permit. Stays can be no longer than 14 consecutive days during the nonhunting season and seven days during the moose hunting season. 

Reservations are on a first-come, first-served basis, but a lottery system has been instituted for the fall moose hunting season (generally late August to mid-September), when demand is especially high. Contact the refuges for specifics about the lottery. 

While the campgrounds and cabins are available for free use, the refuge asks that visitors leave them in the same good condition they found them. Keep in mind that access to the cabins requires a floatplane; the refuge suggests that visitors contact the two air charter businesses located in Tok for arrangements. And oh, just one more thing:

“Happy camping,” says Tetlin Refuge Manager Shawn Bayless. ASJ

Editor’s note: For more on Alaska’s national wildlife refuges, go to fws.gov/alaska. Like at facebook.com/USFWSAlaska. Follow on Twitter (@USFWSALASKA). 

Chris Cocoles <ccocoles@media-inc.com>

Aug 4 (6 days ago)

to me

FINDING MORE INFO

Helpful links for those interested in USFWS outdoor opportunities:

KANUTI NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

fws.gov/refuge/Kanuti/

KENAI NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

fws.gov/refuge/kenai

KODIAK NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE 

fws.gov/refuge/Kodiak/

TETLIN NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE 

fws.gov/refuge/tetlin/

FISHING ALASKA’S NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES

fws.gov/refuges/fishingguide/region_ALA.html#74530

HUNTING ALASKA’S NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES 

fws.gov/refuges/hunting/featured_articles.cfm?heid=1 ASJ

 

 

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