The 19-million-acres of this refuge (ANWR), which is wholly above the Arctic Circle, is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and contains one of the few protected Arctic coastal lands in the United States, as well as millions of acres of mountains and alpine tundra in the easternmost portion of the Brooks Range. The billions of barrels of oil underneath a small segment of this protected region make the entire refuge an area of much dispute between proponents of resource development and environmentalists. Currently, all of ANWR is closed to oil exploration and drilling.
The refuge's coastal areas also serve as critical denning grounds for polar bears, which spend much of their year on the Arctic Ocean's pack ice. Other residents here are grizzly bears, Dall sheep, wolves, musk ox, and dozens of varieties of birds, from snowy owls to geese and tiny songbirds. The refuge's northern areas host legions of breeding waterfowl and shorebirds each summer. As in many of Alaska's
more remote parks and refuges, there are no roads here, and no developed trails, campgrounds, or other visitor facilities. This is a place to experience true wilderness and have your survival skills put to the test. Counterintuitively, for such a notoriously brutal geography, ANWR's plants and permafrost are quite fragile. The ground can be soft and wet in summer months. Walk with care: footprints in tundra can last 100 years. You can expect snow to sift over the land in almost any season, and should anticipate subfreezing temperatures even in summer, particularly in the mountains. Many of the refuge's clear-flowing rivers are runnable, and tundra lakes are suitable for base camps (a Kaktovik or Fort Yukon air taxi can drop you off and pick you up). The hiking is worth it; scramble up a ridge to find wilderness vistas that seem to stretch forever.
Porcupine Caribou Herd. ANWR is the home of one of the greatest remaining groups of caribou in the world, the Porcupine Caribou Herd. The herd, its numbers exceeding 169,000, is unmindful of international boundaries and migrates back and forth across Arctic lands into Canada's adjacent Vuntut and Ivvavik National Parks, flowing like a wide river across the expansive coastal plain, through U-shape valleys and alpine meadows, and over high mountain passes.