Explore the Unalakleet National Wild River!
The clear, smooth waters of the Unalakleet National Wild River meander gently among the rolling Nulato Hills and across broad expanses of arctic tundra to the seaside village of Unalakleet, Alaska, at the rocky shores of the Norton Sound. Located 400 miles from Anchorage, the village of Unalakleet has approximately 800 people and is accessible only by plane.
The headwaters of the Unalakleet River originate in the Nulato Hills. These rolling hills divide rainfall and snow melt between the Norton Sound and the Yukon River basin. At this point, the river is swift and channelized, once it reaches the valley floor it begins to meander. For most of its length, the river has a varying pool/riffle nature, which offers a great diversity of river characteristics, boating skills, and fishing opportunities.
The name Unalakleet is an Inupiaq word meaning "place where the east wind blows." Summer temperatures average from 40° to 60° F. Rain is common throughout the summer and varies between a light mist and a heavy downpour. Weather conditions can change quickly and summer storms can cause water levels to rise rapidly, creating potential floating hazards.
A Traditional Way to Travel
Early settlements in Alaska were often located on rivers or along the coast because fishing and hunting opportunities were abundant and rivers provided an excellent way to travel between distant villages. The Unalakleet River was a major avenue of trade in the 19th century, connecting coastal Inupiaq, Yukon River interior peoples and Russian merchants.
The Iditarod National Historic Trail runs alongside the Unalakleet River to Bering Sea coast. The trail was once used by Alaska Native hunters, Russian explorers and gold seekers.
Resource Management on the Unalakleet National Wild River
The upper 81 river miles of the Unalakleet are designated a National Wild River and administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). A "wild river" is free of impoundments, generally inaccessible except by trail, with primitive watersheds and shorelines, and has unpolluted waters. The BLM manages the Unalakleet National Wild River to provide high-quality primitive recreation opportunities, protect water quality, protect historic and archaeological values, and preserve the remarkable resources for which the river was designated.
BLM photos by Jake Schlapfer and Melissa Blair