Mountains and glacial lake

Volcanism, glaciation, and marine deposition have sculpted the landscape of the Izembek Refuge.


The Refuge is treeless and generally restricted to low-growing species that can withstand cool temperatures, frequent strong winds, shallow acidic soils, and short growing season. Pacific coastal plants predominate, although arctic species are also common. Freshwater lakes and ponds punctuate the low tundra, while glaciers, snowfields, and active volcanos present a dramatic backdrop. The most prominent landforms in the Refuge include Izembek Lagoon, Pavlof Volcano (Pavlof Unit), the heavily-glaciated Shishaldin Volcano (Unimak Island), Frosty Peak and the jagged spires of the Aghileen Pinnacles. Topography varies from sea level to rugged volcanic peaks exceeding 9,000 feet. Habitat in the Refuge consists of berry-producing, low-growing bush tundra interspersed with numerous lakes, ponds and streams; thickets of alder brush in discrete zones and in riparian areas; coastal marshes; and barren glacier-topped mountains. Dominant plants include crowberry, grass, sedge, cottongrass, moss, alder, and willow. Eelgrass dominates lagoon habitats and is critical to staging waterfowl, especially the eelgrass-dependent Pacific black brant.  




Eel Grass Beds

Encompassing 150-square miles and protected from Bering Sea storms by 30 miles of barrier islands and sandy shoals, Izembek Lagoon is a sanctuary and the centerpiece of the State of Alaska Game Refuge and the surrounding federal Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The Lagoon contains one of the largest eelgrass beds in the world and has received global recognition for its importance to wetland and wildlife conservation. The eelgrass beds are not only a food factory for the myriad of waterfowl that find a safe haven there, but also provide the basis for a far reaching, dynamic ecosystem. These habitats have attracted global recognition by being the first site in the United States to be designated a "Wetland of International Importance" by the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (commonly referred to as the Ramsar Convention) in 1986. The goal of Ramsar (http://www.ramsar.org) is to reduce the global loss and degradation of wetlands and to protect their ecological character. 


In March 2001, the American Bird Conservancy recognized Izembek Refuge for its significance in the ongoing effort to conserve wild birds and their habitats. Izembek and Moffet Lagoons were designated as a Globally Important Bird Area. The Globally Important Bird Area program (http://www.abcbirds.org/iba) aims to identify and protect a network of key sites to further national and global bird conservation. Globally Important Bird Area programs have been initiated throughout the world, including Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Canada, Mexico, and Ecuador, as well as the United States.





 The United States Congress designated the Izembek Wilderness (map) in 1980 and it now has a total of 307,982 acres (307981.76 acres, technically). All of this wilderness is located in Alaska and is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Smoking volcanoes and glaciated mountains tower over lakes and meandering rivers that drain into lagoons opening on the Bering Sea. The castlelike Aghileen Pinnacles form a portion of the boundary between Izembek and the Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge.  No maintained trails exist, and the terrain can be rugged. All of the refuge has been designated Wilderness, except the land along a gravel road system and several private inholdings.


The Izembek Wilderness is part of the 110 million acre National Wilderness Preservation System. This System of lands provides clean air, water, and habitat critical for rare and endangered plants and animals. In wilderness, you can enjoy challenging recreational activities like hiking, backpacking, climbing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, horse packing, bird watching, stargazing, and extraordinary opportunities for solitude. You play an important role in helping to "secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness" as called for by the Congress of the United States through the Wilderness Act of 1964. Please follow the requirements outlined below and use Leave No Trace techniques when visiting the Izembek Wilderness to ensure protection of this unique area.

Unless otherwise specified, no motorized equipment or mechanical transport, with the exception of wheelchairs, is allowed. This is generally true for all federal lands managed as designated wilderness.