Sand Dunes in Alaska?

Daniel Ganninger
November 19, 2022

Sand dunes are usually associated with the desert, but there is one place far from the heat that has them, and of all places, it’s in Alaska.

These sand dunes occupy Kobuk Valley National Park in Northern Alaska. The park covers over 1.7-million-acres and is 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It is only accessible by air, foot, snowmobile, or dogsled, making it one of the least visited parks in the U.S National Park system.

The park’s most curious feature is its sand dunes, which look like they’ve been transported from some desert location. Sand dunes cover a 25-square-mile area of the park in the southern portion, which consists of the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, Little Kobuk Sand Dunes, and Hunt River Dunes.

They were formed by glaciers as they moved and scoured the ground, leaving sand behind. The dunes rise 100 feet and are the largest active sand dunes in the Arctic. Because of the lack of rainfall and desert-like conditions, summer temperatures here can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes

But getting to the dunes is no easy task. Since there are no marked trails in the park, few people actually make the trek to the dunes from the Kobuk River, and there are no roads into the park. That makes it hard enough to get to the park itself.

Humans were found to have been in the area 10,000 years ago, and Alaskan residents continue to hunt caribou there as the Western Arctic caribou herd, which consists of 490,000 caribou, move through the area during their yearly migration. While the southern portion holds the huge dunes, the rest of the park consists of boreal forests and tundra.

In 2019, the number of recreational visits to U.S. National Parks, according to the National Park Service, was 327.5 million visits. Kobuk Valley National Park had an estimated 15,500 visitors in 2015 (the latest National Park Service estimates). This is a significant rise from the number of people that visited the park in 2007, only 847 people.

Sources: National Geographic, Travel Alaska, Anchorage Museum, NPS Stats, NPS News Release