Know Before You Go

Visiting the Steese NCA means making your own adventure. There are no established campgrounds and only two emergency trail shelters cabins in the more than one million acres of public lands comprising the Steese NCA. For those willing to explore on their own, the Steese NCA offers a unique opportunity to see a landscape little altered by humankind. However, careful planning is required for a safe trip.

Access to the Steese NCA

The Steese Highway leads northeast from Fairbanks and passes between the South and North units of the Steese NCA before ending in Circle at the Yukon River. Only a handful of primitive roads actually enter the edges of the Steese NCA, so most visitors gain access via trails or Birch Creek Wild and Scenic River, which flows through the middle of the South Unit. At Nome Creek, Faith Creek, Montana Creek/Bachelor Creek, and Porcupine Creek, roads will bring you close to the North Unit boundary. Roads following Bottom Dollar Creek and Harrison Creek enter the northern portion of the South Unit. All of these roads are unmaintained, and most are suitable only for high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles or off-highway vehicles.

Except for the Pinnell Mountain National Recreation Trail, both winter and summer routes within the Steese NCA are unmaintained and unmarked. Restrictions on off-highway vehicles apply to some areas. (See "Off Highway Vehicles Use" on the Recreation Opportunities page). The BLM does not maintain any winter trails in the SNCA, so visitors must be prepared for challenging trail conditions that may include drifted snow, poor visibility, extreme cold, and thin ice on frozen rivers and streams.

Topographic Maps

The following U.S. Geological Survey 1:250,000 maps cover the Steese NCA:

  • Circle
  • Charley River

The following U.S. Geological Survey inch-to-the-mile (1:63,360) maps show the SNCA in greater detail: 

North Unit 
Circle B-4, B-5, C-3, C-4, C-5, C-6, D-3, D-4, D-5 

South Unit
Circle A-1, A-2, A-3, A-4, B-1, B-2, B-3, B-4 
Charley River A-6

Special Restrictions

In the Steese NCA, all uses must be compatible with conserving wildlife habitat and maintaining water quality in Birch Creek Wild and Scenic River. Allowable uses include:

  • canoeing and rafting on Birch Creek Wild and Scenic River
  • hiking and backpacking, especially on the Pinnell Mountain National Recreation Trail
  • hunting, fishing and trapping
  • Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) use, subject to restrictions in some areas
  • climbing
  • backcountry camping, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling 
  • viewing the midnight sun, wildflowers, birds, and wildlife

The following activities are prohibited in the Steese NCA:

  • use of motorized equipment for mineral collection for personal use
  • camping at one site for a period longer than 10 days in any calendar year
  • discharging of firearms within one-quarter mile of public recreation cabins, as well as across or along roads and trails
  • leaving burning or smoldering campfires unattended
  • constructing permanent or semi-permanent structures, including cabins, caches, water dams or diversions without written authorization from the BLM authorized officer (subject to valid existing rights)


Bear Safety

It's best to understand what bears need and avoid bears whenever possible. You can do this by keeping a clean camp and home, and by following bear safety advice when recreating or working in bear country.

Never Approach Bears—Give Them Space

Every bear has a “personal space”– the distance within which the bear feels threatened. If you enter that space, the bear may become aggressive. Give female bears extra space. Female bears are especially fierce defenders of their young and may respond aggressively if they perceive a threat to their cubs. When photographing bears, use your zoom; getting close could put you in danger. Bears, like humans, use trails and roads. Don’t set up camp close to a trail they might use. Avoid areas where you see or smell carcasses of fish or other animals, or see scavengers congregated. A bear’s food may be near. If the bear is around, it may defend its cache aggressively.



Bear deterrents, including firearms and bear spray, can be helpful but should never be used as an alternative to common-sense approaches to bear encounters.

Surprise Encounters

If you surprise a bear at close distance, it may feel threatened and act defensively, especially if it has cubs or food. Continue to stand your ground. If the bear moves away, walk away slowly, keeping your eyes on the bear. Increase your distance.

Never Run!

You can’t outrun a bear. Bears can run much faster than a sprinter and, like dogs, they will chase fleeing animals. A charging bear might come within a few feet before running off. It’s important to stand your ground.

In the Rare Event of an Attack

If a bear makes contact, you have two choices: play dead or fight back. The best choice depends on whether the bear is acting defensively or is seeking food.

Most brown bear attacks are a defensive response. Play dead in defensive situations: Hit the ground and lie still if a brown bear you have surprised or any female bear protecting cubs makes contact. Lie flat on your stomach, legs spread apart for stability, with your hands protecting the back of your neck. A defensive bear usually ends its attack if it feels you are not a threat. Remain motionless for as long as possible. If you move, and the bear sees or hears you, it may return and renew its attack. In a prolonged attack, fight back. Fight back in other situations: Rarely, lone black bears or brown bears may perceive a person as potential food. Fight any bear that has been calmly focused on you and makes contact or that breaks into a tent or building. In almost all situations, your best defense against an attacking black bear is to fight back. Concentrate on the bear’s face or muzzle with anything you have on hand.

Dealing with Close Encounters

If you see a bear, avoid it and give the bear every opportunity to avoid you. If you do encounter a bear, remain calm and try to observe what the bear is doing. Chances are good you are not in danger. Most bears are interested only in protecting food, cubs or their “personal space.” Once they feel there is no threat, they will move on. Remember the following:

If You See a Bear

If the bear appears not to have sensed you, move away without alerting it. Keep your eyes on the bear. If the bear does notice you, face the bear, stand your ground and talk to it calmly. Let the bear know you are human. Talk in a normal voice. Help the bear recognize you. Try to appear larger by standing close to others in your group or wave your arms slowly above your head. Try to back away slowly, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground. Prepare your deterrent if you have one. If a bear cannot tell what you are, it may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening. If you take the above actions and the bear continues to focus on you or approach, you should become more assertive: raise your voice, beat on pans, use noisemakers, throw rocks or sticks. Use your deterrent if you have one. Drive a bear off rather than let it follow you. If you are with others, group together to look big and stand your ground.
  • If a bear approaches and you have a fish on your line, give the line slack so the fish doesn’t splash—or if need be, cut your line.

Don't Fish for Bears

If a bear learns it can obtain fish just by approaching anglers, it will return for more. If a bear approaches you while you are fishing, stop fishing.

Don’t Feed Bears

Bears have only a few months to build up fat reserves for a long winter in dens and are always looking for something to eat. Don’t let them learn that human food or garbage is an easy meal. It is foolish and illegal to feed bears, either on purpose or by not securing food or garbage away from bears. Keep a clean camp. Wash your dishes. Avoid smelly and greasy foods such as bacon or smoked fish. Keep food smells off your clothing. Cook away from your tent. Store all food away from your campsite. Hang food out of reach of bears. If no trees are available, store your food in airtight or specially designed bear-resistant containers. Burn food waste completely in a hot fire. Pack everything else out. Food and garbage are equally attractive to a bear so treat them with equal care. Remember, pets and their food may also attract bears. Odorous items such as toothpaste, toiletry items and even gasoline should be stored away from your campsite and out of reach of bears.

Don't Surprise a Bear

Make noise, sing or talk loudly. Always let bears know you are there. Avoid thick brush whenever possible. When the terrain or vegetation makes it hard to see, make extra noise. Hike in a group; groups are easier for bears to detect. Walk with the wind at your back, if possible. Bears can see almost as well as people, but trust their noses more than their eyes or ears.
Think before you drink - Giardia

Only water from developed maintained systems at recreation sites is safe to drink. Open water sources are easily contaminated by human or animal waste. All water should be treated to prevent giardiasis. This intestinal parasite can leave you feeling miserable for weeks. Boiling your drinking water for 5 min is the best way to kill the organism.

Cell phone coverage

While a cell phone may help in an emergency, do not rely on your cell phone. Cell coverage outside established towns may be poor or unavailable. Be prepared to follow other recommendations to ensure a safe trip.