At 20 million acres, this is the nation's second largest wildlife refuge (the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge is just barely bigger), and nearly one-third of it is water, in the form of lakes, sloughs, bogs, creeks, and rivers—including the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, Alaska's largest. Both are broad and slow by the time they get this close to the sea, and they carry huge amounts of sediment; over the millennia the sediments have formed an immense delta
that serves as critical breeding and rearing grounds for an estimated 100 million shorebirds and waterfowl.
But not all of the refuge is wetlands. North of the Yukon River are the Nulato Hills, site of the 1.3-million-acre Andreafsky Wilderness area, which includes both forks of the Andreafsky River, one of Alaska's specially designated Wild and Scenic Rivers. Rainbow trout, arctic char, and grayling flourish in upland rivers and creeks; pike, sheefish, and burbot thrive in lowland waters. These abundant waters are also spawning grounds for five species of Pacific salmon. Black and grizzly bears, moose, beavers, mink, and Arctic foxes also call this refuge home. Occasionally, wolves venture into the delta's flats from neighboring uplands.
Given the abundance of fish and wildlife, it's not surprising that the delta holds special importance to surrounding residents. The Yup'ik have lived here for thousands of years; despite modern encroachment, they continue to practice many features of their centuries-old subsistence lifestyle. Access is by boat or aircraft only, and, as in most of Alaska's other remote wildlands, visitor facilities are minimal. Refuge staff can provide tips on recreational opportunities as well as recommend guides and outfitters who operate in the refuge.