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Main Activities: Rafting or kayaking the Noatak, backpacking, wilderness exploration.
Gateway Towns/Getting There: Kotzebue/scheduled air service from Nome and Anchorage. Park access: charter air access to drop-offs, ridge walking, river running.
Facilities, Camping, Lodging: No facilities. Primitive camping only.
Headquarters and Information: Northwest Alaska Areas, P.O. Box 1029, Kotzebue, AK 99752, 442-8300; Kotzebue Public Lands Information Center, 442-3890, www.nps.gov/noat.
The Noatak River flows 430 miles from its source high in the Brooks Range to Kotzebue Sound and the Chukchi Sea. The headwaters are protected in Gates of the Arctic National Park, while all but the final miles flow through the Noatak National Preserve. Park protection extends from the crest of the Baird Mountains and Schwatka Mountains to the south, to that of the De Long Mountains to the north. The preserve is virtually treeless, in marked contrast to the Kobuk valley immediately to the south.
River running is the activity of choice on the Noatak. Most of the river within the preserve is a very manageable Class I to Class II, though flash flooding from sudden rains can raise the stakes a notch. Its not uncommon to be dropped off at the first navigable stretch, then to float and paddle 400 miles to the village of Noatak (population 418, 97 percent Inupiat Eskimo), or perhaps another 80 miles to Kotzebue. Shorter trips are more common. The river cuts the 65-mile Grand Canyon of the Noatak, which should be included somewhere in a float itinerary.
Backpacking is also an activity of choice in the preserve, as is a combination float/hike trip. On several stretches, riverside terrain is walkable and close to the high country. Loop routes from and to a river camp can take you to the ridge tops. Kotzebue and Bettles are good bases for trips. Consult the preserve headquarters, outfitters, or pilots for recommendations (see the Appendix).