This refuge is the third largest conservation area in the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge is an 11.1 million acre preserve straddling the Arctic Circle in eastern Interior Alaska. This is the land of the midnight sun, with 24 hours of daylight in summer and none in winter, resulting in great seasonal extremes in temperature.
Things to Do
The refuge is open to a variety of activities including boating, camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, gold panning, wildlife viewing, and photography. Float trips are one of the most popular ways to explore Yukon Flats. Canoers, kayakers, and rafters can access the refuge via the Yukon River, Porcupine River, Sheenjek River, and Beaver Creek.
One of the most common routes is to put in at Upper Beaver Creek, reached from Nome Creek Road off of the Steese Highway northeast of Fairbanks, and float to a pick-up spot at the refuge boundary, typically at Victoria Creek, for a 110 mile float that takes 7 – 10 days. To extend the trip, boaters can connect with the Yukon River and take out at the Dalton Highway Bridge, adding another 268 river miles and 8 – 14 days of floating.
Fishing is another popular activity in the refuge’s rivers and streams, with good fishing opportunities for all five species of Pacific salmon, northern pike, and whitefish.
The refuge is home to 147 species of migratory and resident birds. Over one million ducks arrive annually from all over the world. There are 13 resident bird species in the refuge, including chickadees, great gray owls, spruce grouse, and three-toed woodpeckers.
The refuge’s rivers and lakes are home to 18 species of fish. Chinook, chum, and coho salmon travel 2,000 miles from the sea to their spawning areas in the refuge, traveling farther by river than any other salmon in the world. Other fish in the Yukon Flats include Arctic grayling, burbot, northern pike, and whitefish.
Other wildlife species include brown bears, black bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, beavers, lynx, martens, minks, muskrats, and river otters.
About half of the refuge - 6.5 million acres - consists of the Yukon Flats, a vast floodplain bisected by 300 miles of the Yukon River. The basin is made up of tens of thousands of lakes and ponds, sloughs, and meandering streams.
The area is characterized by mixed forests dominated by spruce, birch, and aspen. The Yukon Flats has a continental subarctic climate, with great seasonal extremes in temperature and daylight. Summer temperatures can reach 100 degrees F, warmer than any other comparable latitude in North America. Winter temperatures can drop to -70 degrees F.
The area has been home to Alaska Native people for thousands of years. In 1847, the Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Yukon as a fur trading post to export furs from the area. By the 1920s the outpost had become the most important fur exporter in Alaska.
The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to preserve fish and wildlife habitats and protect continued subsistence uses.
Facilities and Camping
Yukon Flats has no visitor facilities or public use cabins. Backcountry camping is permitted. The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center in Fairbanks and the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot provide information on Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge is located about 100 miles north of Fairbanks but is not accessible by road. Most visitors take commercial flights to one of six villages within the refuge, with Fort Yukon being the largest by far and most centrally located. Charter air services to remote areas of the refuge are available from Fairbanks and Fort Yukon. Boaters can also access the refuge by water via the Yukon River, Porcupine River, Sheenjek River, and Beaver Creek.
For more information, visit the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge website.