Selawik Wild River

Rainbow scene

This refuge is named for the Selawik River which meanders through the heart of the refuge, creating a succession of rich habitats.  The upper 155-mile reach of the the Selawik River, which is entirely within the refuge boundary, has been designated by Congress as a National Wild River.

In northwest Alaska, rivers provide vital habitat and serve as important travel corridors for people and animals. Rivers support a variety of subsistence activities and attract recreational users interested in fishing, hunting, boating, and paddling. Wildlife and fish travel and feed in and along rivers and rear young in associated terrestrial habitats, ponds, and wetlands.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 provides for protection of the nation's rivers that possess at least one unique, rare, or exemplary feature that is significant at a regional or national scale.

Selawik Wild RiverThe Selawik River, from its headwaters to its confluence with the Kugarak (Kuugruaq) River, was designated by Congress as a National Wild River in 1980 in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The upper Selawik River is free-flowing with high water quality and undeveloped shorelines. It is accessible only by snowmachine, airplane, or small non-motorized boat. The lower stretches of the Wild River can be navigated by small motor boats, especially ones with jet outboards. With upland terrain and relatively swift, clear water, the upper Selawik River is one of the refuge’s most attractive rivers to float for backcountry hunting and other types of recreation.  For more, see our fact sheet about planning a float trip on the Selawik River.

The upper stretches of the Wild River lie in a low basin surrounded on three sides by ranges of hills: the Purcell Mountains, Zane Hills, and Sheklukshuk Range. The low continental divide (800 feet) separating the Purcell Mountains from the Zane Hills makes a natural trail between the Selawik River of the arctic and the Koyukuk River of the interior, the former Iñupiaq country and the latter Athabascan country. This route was historically used for trade and exchange between the two cultures and continues to serve as a winter travel route today.

Upper Selawik boatingThe upper Selawik River harbors one of two spawning areas for sheefish in northwest Alaska, making this an area of critical habitat. As of 2009, the spawning area had been roughly delineated as an eight-mile stretch of river near Ingruksukruk Creek. As a trust species, sheefish is of special interest to the refuge and is one of the most important subsistence resources in the northwest Arctic region.

A special feature of the upper Selawik River is the hot springs located in a headwaters tributary. One of the two springs in this area is hot enough to brew tea or to cook a ptarmigan simply by dipping it into the water. The springs have been developed by local residents into rustic therapeutic baths accessed primarily by snowmachine in late winter.

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