Gates of the Arctic and Kobuk Valley National Parks

Gates of the Arctic and Kobuk Valley National Parks

From Wrangell St Elias, we headed up north to check out the Arctic parks; Gates of the Arctic and Kobuk Valley. The first thing you should know about these parks… they are ridiculously hard to get to. For both parks, the majority of people fly into the parks. And most of those people just do a flightseeing tour and that’s about it. It is so so so expensive. 

Gates of the Arctic was a tiny bit easier for us to visit. From the town of Fairbanks, we could head north and drive up the Dalton Highway; a 500 mile highway that is directly east of the park and drives up to the Arctic Ocean. The small “town,” Coldfoot is where one of the Visitor Centers is for this park. This is the only section of the park that you can hike into the park, without any flights. 

The drive was pretty amazing. We saw bears, moose, elk, a WOLF, and we’re pretty confident we saw a small mountain lion. We had thought about backpacking for a day or so into the park; there are no trails in this park so you just start hiking and be as prepared as possible. However, I’ve never done anything quite like that and once we started to see the actual park, it was much more intimidating. This isn’t a nice meadow or nice grass to walk through. It was thick tree and brush and you couldn’t see more than 5 feet in front of you. If I walked even a half mile, was spun three times, I would have absolutely no idea which direction I had come from. So, needless to say, Mike wasn’t exactly comfortable making this trip my cherry popping backcountry adventure. Instead we drove up a fire road that the ranger told us about that was actually in the park and we looked at a lake. And lots of mosquitos. 

So, besides the wildlife, this wasn’t the best experience. We drove a gravel road to the mountain pass that was pretty scary and we only ever saw truckers. However, compared to my next Arctic park experience, this was paradise…..

Oh Kobuk Valley. Even harder to get to. There are no roads into this park, or even coming close to it. To get to this park, you have to fly to Kotzebue and then fly in from there. I called every single flightseeing company and the lowest price I found was $2500. Let me repeat that…. twenty. five. hundred. dollars. And that doesn’t include the price to get to Kotzebue. Or the hotel you have to get because weather is inclement and the flightseeing trips might bump you a day or so. 

I was pretty disappointed because we couldn’t afford that. But then I called Arctic Backcountry Flying and they were so great about me being on a budget. They called this couple that was scheduled to do the tour I wanted to do, and they said they would love to let me come along and then I’d pay a third of the price, around $750. Still hurt my frugal heart, but when would I be back up here, right?

I fly up to Kotzebue a week later, without Mike. We decided I would do this without him so we could save money. I walk to the office… and they had no idea who I was. They forgot to write me down and they took the couple out early. Never called me to let me know. They didn’t make any sort of offer to make it right except saying they could take me out if I’d pay full price… which I definitely couldn’t afford. They halfheartedly tried to get me on another flight with their partner company, Golden Eagle (whose slogan is “trust us with your life, not your daughter or wife.” Vomit), but to no avail. So, I paid money to fly up there, look at this tiny, garbage filled Alaskan port town and feel like the lowest of lows on the human ranking. You can read my full review on their yelp page now…. The NPS Visitor Center was nice at least. But this is definitely my most expensive Junior Ranger badge to date. 

Overall, I’m disappointed in my time with these parks, but if you have money and are prepared, it could be great. 

Recommendations

  • BE RICH. 
  • If you’re planning on spending actual time in the park, go with a guided tour or know what the heck you’re doing. It is super overwhelming if you’re not experienced with backcountry. 
  • Whatever amount of time you think you’ll need to visit, plan for double. With weather and Alaskan living, expect delays. 

 

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