Visitor Activities

Children Playing in a Lake

The heart of Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge is a lowland basin of forests and wetlands that forms the floodplain of the meandering Nowitna River. The Refuge's climate is typically marked by light precipitation, mild winds, long, hard winters and short, relatively warm, summers. The hills that circle the refuge lowlands are capped by alpine tundra.
It takes a week in a canoe, or more than an hour in a small plane, to traverse the Refuge's 2.1 million acres of pristine wildlife habitat. Approximately 223 miles of the Nowitna River's 283-mile length flow within the boundaries of the Refuge. Fish species inhabiting the river and its related lakes and streams include sheefish, burbot, whitefish, sucker, king and chum salmon, northern pike and arctic grayling.
The slow, meandering lower reaches of the Nowitna wander through one of Alaska's many productive waterfowl nurseries. The grassy margins of the river, surrounding lakes, and waterways provide breeding habitat for trumpeter swans, white-fronted geese, canvasback ducks, cranes, and many other migratory species. More than 120 bird species have been sighted on the Refuge during summer months, but only a few dozen hardy species remain through winters.
Mature white spruce in the forested lowlands provide cover and den sites for marten, and trapping these and other furbearers remains important to the economy of people in the region. In fact, refuge lands have been used for centuries by Koyukon Athabascans for hunting, fishing, trapping and other subsistence activities. Moose, wolves, lynx, wolverine and both black and grizzly bears might be encountered anywhere on the refuge.

  • Hunting

    Athabascan people of the area have hunted on lands of Nowitna Refuge for centuries, and subsistence hunting is still important to the livelihoods and culture of many local residents. Refuge lands are open to sport hunting as well, subject to Alaska state regulations. Most hunters visiting Nowitna travel the lower sections of the Nowitna river in search of moose. The region is also home to wolves, black and grizzly bears, and smaller game including snowshoe hares, grouse and ptarmigan.

  • Fishing

    Salmon from several runs on the Yukon and its tributaries provide a valuable source of food for people living near the refuge. The most popular sport fish in Nowitna Refuge waters is the northern pike. This voracious predator can weigh more than 20 pounds, and is present in mid-to-lower sections of rivers and streams, as well as larger lakes. Sheefish are also present in refuge streams, and may be caught near the mouth of the Nowitna River. Arctic grayling are present in the clear waters of the upper Nowitna River and smaller streams.

  • Wildlife Viewing

    Given the generally gentle nature of the Nowitna River, it's not surprising that float trips are among the most popular recreational uses of the refuge. The lush riverbanks provide an important corridor for wildlife. In addition to the species mentioned above, lynx, beaver and wolverines might be spotted by sharp-eyed wildlife watchers. More than 120 species of birds are found on the refuge during summer months, including such raptors as bald eagles, peregrine falcons, northern harriers and both rough-legged and red-tailed hawks, as well as colorful migratory songbirds and waterfowl.  

  • Interpretation

    The Nowitna Refuge office offers interpretive displays, books, maps, videos and other resources related to wildlife, plants, and ecosystems of the region. Naturalist-led activities, such as bird walks, plant identification field trips, and nature/art workshops are conducted periodically. Contact the refuge office for schedules.

  • Environmental Education

    School programs and summer activities related to refuge wildlife and habitats are conducted in Galena and Ruby by refuge staff. The Nowitna Refuge office in Galena has an extensive library of teaching materials, including curricula, videos, posters, reference books and teaching kits. A catalog of items which may be borrowed from the library is available from the refuge office. 

  • Photography

    With its abundant wildlife, Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge has much to offer the adventurous photographer. Those who float the Nowitna River with camera in hand will have the benefit of the often breathtaking backdrop provided by the wild, free-flowing river and low rolling hills. The vivid light of summer and the long northern twilight delight photographers. The region is particularly stunning when autumn colors peak in late August or early September, and when northern lights shimmer and dance in the winter skies.