Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska.

America's largest and northernmost refuge covers a huge swath of remote lands and waters in the northeast corner of Alaska, including the homelands of the Iñupiat people of the north coast and the Gwich'in people of interior Alaska and northwest Canada. It contains the largest area of designated Wilderness in the National Wildlife Refuge System and three of its rivers (Sheenjek, Ivishak, and Wind) are designated Wild and Scenic Rivers. 


Stretching 200 miles from the Arctic Ocean south over the Brooks Range and into the boreal forest of the Yukon River basin, this 19.64-million acre refuge encompasses five different ecological regions: coastal marine, coastal plain tundra, alpine tundra, forest-tundra transition, and boreal forest. These lands and waters are home to some of the most diverse and spectacular fish and wildlife in the arctic, from polar bears to caribou, Dall sheep, muskox, salmon-sized Dolly Varden char, and Arctic Grayling. Birds from all over the world come here to breed, feed, and rear their young. Conserving these populations and their habitats in their natural diversity is a purpose of the refuge.

The Eisenhower administration established the 9-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960 to preserve unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) re-designated the range as part of the larger Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with nearly 40 percent of the refuge designated as Wilderness.

Two of the most active and influential proponents for creating a northern refuge were Olaus Murie, long-time Alaska biologist and director of The Wilderness Society, and his wife Mardy. While they worked toward establishment of the refuge, they also worked with Olaus’s partner at The Wilderness Society, Howard Zahniser, to enact new legislation that would eventually become the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Nearby Activities


Although the Dalton Highway passes close to one small section of Arctic Refuge, most visitors arrive by air. Kaktovik, Deadhorse, Arctic Village and Fort Yukon are the communities located nearest to Arctic Refuge. These remote communities receive regularly scheduled air service from Fairbanks. From there, you may charter authorized commercial air operators to fly into and out of the Refuge based on trip arrangements made with the air operators. There are no constructed landing strips or facilities within the Refuge.  

Additional Information

Photo Gallery