The refuge is very large and is not accessible by road. Visitors travel to the refuge by boat, snowmobile, dogsled, cross-country skis, or small aircraft. Environmental conditions can be challenging to those unfamiliar with the Arctic. Advance planning for a visit is essential. Most public use on the Selawik Refuge is in the form of subsistence activities by local, predominantly Iñupiaq residents. Caribou and moose hunting, fishing, furbearer trapping, and berry picking continue on as they have for centuries. Local residents still depend on the wildlife and natural resources of the refuge for much of their food and for cultural, social, and spiritual sustenance.
For those from outside the region, visiting the Selawik Refuge can require considerable time, effort, and expense, but rich rewards can be found in the scenery, wildlife, and wilderness character of the area. The ice-free months for traveling by water are usually June through September. The majority of public use by "visitors" occurs during the fall hunting season, typically late August to late September, when non-local hunters come here to pursue caribou, moose and brown bear.A trip to the Selawik Refuge usually begins by traveling via daily jet service from Anchorage to Kotzebue, Alaska. Kotzebue is not accessible by road from other parts of Alaska. It is the location of the refuge headquarters and the aircraft hub for the many smaller villages in the Northwest Arctic Borough. From Kotzebue, it is possible to take a chartered flight into the refuge or a scheduled flight into a nearby village. Air taxi operators in Kotzebue fly visitors to remote locations for hunting or fishing trips, hiking, and other backcountry activities.Because of its remoteness, visitors need to be well prepared and self-sufficient to visit the refuge. Camping and hiking conditions can be challenging with adverse weather, seasonally abundant mosquitoes, extensive wetlands, and areas of dense vegetation. Depending on your location, help can be several hours to many days away. Weather often takes unexpected turns and can necessitate changes in travel plans. Grizzly bears can be encountered anywhere on the refuge from spring through fall. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game has compiled information on trip planning, gear lists, meat care, and safety considerations for hunters. Much of this information is useful to non-hunters as well.Please take the time to inform yourself of the rules that apply to you. Be aware of issues of regional concern including trespass, meat care and salvage, and respecting local traditions. A special orientation relating to these issues has been put together for visitors hunting in Game Management Unit 23, which includes the Selawik Refuge. More information can be found on our rules and regulations page.Upland terrain appealing to hikers can be found within the Selawik Wilderness Area. A few visitors float the Selawik River, although low summer water levels can make transport on the upper part of the river difficult. View the following fact sheet for more information about planning a float trip on the Selawik River. Late winter or early spring are good times to visit the Selawik Hot Springs.
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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.