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Fodor's Alaska 2014
Noatak River Review
Adjacent to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, the 6.5-million-acre Noatak National Preserve encompasses much of the basin of the Noatak River. This is the largest mountain-ringed river basin in the United States; part of it is designated by the National Park Service as a Wild and Scenic River. Along its 425-mi course this river carves out the "Grand Canyon of the Noatak," and serves as a migration route between arctic and subarctic ecosystems. Its importance to wildlife and plants has resulted in this parkland's designation as an International Biosphere Reserve.
The Noatak River also serves as a natural highway for humans, and offers particular pleasures to river runners, with inviting tundra to camp on and the Poktovik Mountains and the Igichuk Hills nearby for good hiking. Birding can be exceptional: horned grebes, gyrfalcons, golden eagles, parasitic jaegers, owls, terns, and loons are among the species you may see. You may also spot grizzly bears, Dall sheep, wolves, caribou, or lynx, as well as the occasional musk ox. The most frequently run part of the river, ending at Lake Machurak, is mostly an easy Class I–III paddle, worth the trip just for the chance to hunt freshwater snail shells as delicate as origami along the shores of the take-out lake (where the river trip ends). The mountains around the river make for excellent hiking, and along the way the geology goes wild a couple of times, including with a massive pingo—kind of a glacial bubble. As with other parks and preserves in this northwest corner of Alaska, no visitor facilities are available and you are expected to be self-sufficient. Do not neglect the bear precautions. Most trips on the Noatak use the inland town of Bettles as a gateway.
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