In 1980, with the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), 1.35 million acres of the 1.92 million acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was designated as federal wilderness.  The majority of Refuge lands are now managed to protect wilderness values such as healthy watersheds for spawning salmon and large areas of wilderness habitat for sensitive species such as trumpeter swans, wolves, wolverine, lynx, and brown bears.  Wilderness lands also provide spectacular scenic and wildlife related recreation for local residents and visitors from throughout the world.  

  • Cabins in Wilderness

    Have you ever wanted to experience a rustic, cabin stay in wilderness?  Six (6) restored, historic public use cabins are located in Refuge wilderness and five (5) of them can be reserved through www.recreation.gov or call 1-877-444-6777.  These include Vogel Lake cabin in the northern Refuge, Doroshin Bay Cabin on Skilak Lake, and three cabins on Tustumena Lake – Caribou Island, Pipe Creek, and Big Bay.  The sixth cabin is available on a first-come, first-serve basis at Emma Lake and can be accessed by hiking the 3+ mile Emma Lake Trail from the southeast side of Tustumena Lake to Emma Lake.

    Refuge Cabin Program 

  • Canoeing in Wilderness

    The Dave Spencer Wilderness Unit includes the nationally recognized Swan Lake and Swanson River Canoe Routes.  These routes cover over 100 miles of lakes, portage trails, and small rivers.  They offer excellent opportunities for bird watching and rainbow trout fishing.

    Group size is limited to 15 people.  Intermediate canoeing capabilities are necessary to handle windy conditions on lakes and safe maneuvering on small, narrow rivers.  Good stamina is required for paddling and portaging, since you portage as much as you paddle.

    Refuge Canoe Routes

    Backcountry Camping

  • Hiking in Wilderness

    The following trails and routes are located in Refuge wilderness.

    Mystery Creek Unit (North of the Sterling Highway from mile 55 - 61) – Skyline Trail and Fuller Lakes Trail

    Andrew Simons Unit (between Skilak and Tustumena Lakes) – Surprise Creek Trail, Cottonwood Trail, eastern half of the Funny River Horse Trail, Hanson Horse Trail, Bear Creek Trail, Moose Creek Trail, and Lake Emma Trail


     For updates on route and trail conditions, contact the Refuge at kenai@fws.gov or call 907-262-7021. 

    Refuge Trail Maps

    Backcountry Camping

  • Horses in Wilderness

    Use of horses is allowed on the majority of Refuge wilderness, routes, and trails. Horses are prohibited on Fuller Lakes Trail, all trails within the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, and the Refuge Headquarters area. Skyline Trail is not recommended for horse use due to its steep grade.  


    For updates on wilderness route and trail conditions to help plan your back country horse trip, contact the Refuge at kenai@fws.gov or call 907-262-7021.    

  • Motorized Access in Wilderness

    In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) provided for specific types of motorized access to Kenai NWR wilderness units.  These include aircraft, motorboats, and snowmobiles.  Refuge specific regulations were established in 1986 to designate these authorized areas. 

    Refuge SpecificRegulations

    Visit our Maps page for aircraft and snowmobile maps. 

  • Mechanized & Motorized Uses Prohibited in Wilderness

    The following mechanized and motorized uses are prohibited in Kenai NWR wilderness – carts, wheel barrows, bicycles, ATV’s, ORV’s, motorcycles, dirt bikes, Argos and other power equipment such as chain saws, generators, and motorized ice augers.  The purpose of prohibiting these uses is to protect the land from scarring and habitat degradation caused by wheeled equipment and to promote quiet and solitude enhancing the wilderness experience for all visitors.