Kobuk River to the Dunes

If floating the Kobuk River, you can take out and hike cross-country to the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes.

Hiking Moderate

Distance
6.3 km
Ascent
200 m
Descent
200 m
Duration
1-2 hrs
Low Point
5 m
High Point
49 m
Gradient
Kobuk River to the Dunes Map

Most visitors to Kobuk Valley come to see the sand dunes, and most of them arrive by plane. In this nearly trackless wilderness, the next best mode of transportation is not a road or trail, but the Kobuk River. The water serves as a highway between several Native villages, and park visitors can travel it too, on either private or guided trips. The upper section of the Kobuk, from Walker Lake to Kobuk Village, is more popular for float trips, but the mellow stretch below Ambler is where the Great Dunes are located. Where the river bends within a few miles of the dune field, determined boaters can take out and bushwhack to reach the sands. Note that floatplane or motorboat shuttles can be arranged to abbreviate this section of river, instead of going the full distance to the next village.

Description

There is no exact trail from the river to the dunes, and many viable routes exist. You’ll first have to find a suitable spot to land and possibly camp on the river. This can be easy or hard, depending on the water level and mud factor. Then you’ll negotiate a route from the river to the dunes, mostly likely finding game trails through tussocks, brush, and spruce forest. The one-way route mapped here loosely follows an elevated ridge then crosses Kavet Creek. The terrain on the ridge may be easier going than what you’ll find along the creek, but conditions vary. It will be up to you to find the best route.

Once on the dunes, you could stay for just an hour or spend a few nights. You might even pitch your tent out on the sand, trading the worst of the mosquitoes for potentially bad winds. Camping here requires the same bear precautions as elsewhere, of course. It’s not uncommon to see grizzly tracks crossing the dunes. You may see other wildlife here as well, especially around the time of caribou migration in the fall. Also note that this northern end of the dune field is not where most flightseeing trips land. They tend to go to the southern half, so you’re likely to see no one else around.

Sources: https://www.nps.gov/kova/learn/nature/great-kobuk-sand-dunes.htm https://www.alaska.org/detail/kobuk-river http://packrafting.blogspot.com/2017/05/kobuk-valley-national-park-june-2016.html

Difficulty

Moderate

Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

4 out of 4

In the high mountains or remote conditions, all individuals must be completely autonomous in every situation.

Best time to visit

June, July, August, September

Features

  • Wildlife
  • Historical
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Guidebooks in this area