In contrast to the low, broad Selawik Valley, the Waring Mountains rise gradually from rolling foothills of alpine tundra to a bare spine of low ridges that arc across the northern boundary of the refuge.The grinding action of ancient glaciers created sand, which was carried by wind and water to produce the scattered sand dunes still visible on the refuge. These dunes are the remnant of a much larger system, which at one time stretched as far as the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes in the Kobuk Valley National Park, 24 miles to the north. These mountains and dunes provide some of the best summer hiking terrain on or near the refuge, and spectacular summer and winter scenery. In fall, the vivid changing colors of the birch and low shrubs contrast with the dark green spruce forests to enhance the beauty of the area.The Selawik Wilderness Area has no trails or public facilities. Summer access is difficult due to the area’s remoteness and rough topography.The refuge's Wilderness adjoins the 190,000-acre Kobuk Valley Wilderness in the Kobuk Valley National Park, which offers the best hiking access to the Selawik Wilderness Area. Photo: Hikers take a break overlooking the Kobuk Valley on their way to the Selawik Wilderness Area.
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"Siilvik" is the Inupiaq name for Selawik, meaning "place of sheefish." One of two sheefish spawning areas in the region is in the upper Selawik River.