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Selawik Lake is located on the Arctic Circle in the the northwestern part of Alaska. Covering an impressive 263,000 acres*, the lake is the third largest in the state.Selawik Lake's name comes from the Inupiaq word for "place of sheefish," and the lake and its tributaries are especially known for this variety of fish. The lake is about 7 miles from the town of Selawik, Alaska. Because of its remote location, the approximately 800 residents of Selawik live much as their ancestors did, subsisting on the abundant native wildlife.
The landscape surrounding Selawik Lake is both beautiful and foreboding. Temperatures range from an average low of about -12 degrees F in the winter to an average high of around 58 degrees F in the summer. Due to its location on the Arctic Circle, Selawik is light 24 hours a day for much of June and July, but receives only an hour and a half of sunlight each day during the month of December. Because of the rugged terrain surrounding Lake Selawik, locals still travel the area using traditional methods: by boat in the warmer months and by dogsled in the winter. Visitors usually access the area by plane, via commercial flights from Anchorage to the nearby city of Kotzebue. Despite the harsh climate, Selawik is home to beautiful vistas of untouched wilderness. The Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, a 2.15 million acre wilderness area that borders Selawik Lake, contains a variety of landscapes including mountains, tundra, wetlands, grassy meadows, and forests.
The Selawik National Wildlife Refuge is a prime destination for anglers. In addition to Lake Selawik, the refuge contains nearly 22,000 lakes and ponds, as well as the Selawik and Kobuk Rivers. The area offers the best sheefishing in the world, and catches of sheefish weighing 50 pounds or more are common. Anglers fish by boat in the warmer months, and visiting anglers can have the unique experience of fishing under "the midnight sun." Ice fishing Selawik Lake for sheefish is popular from March through May. In addition to sheefish, the area is also home to arctic char, burbot, whitefish, grayling, and northern pike. The Selawik Wildlife Refuge is also popular with hunters, especially during the fall season. The refuge is home to the largest herd of Western Arctic Caribou in Alaska. Hunters are also drawn to Selawik in search of moose and bear.
Wildlife observation is another activity that visitors enjoy at Selawik. The lake is a birdwatching paradise, being home to hundreds of thousands of migratory birds who use the area for breeding and as a place to rest before continuing their migration. Geese, tundra swans, and sandhill cranes all nest on the lake and its surrounding wetlands. Ducks, loons, and sandpipers can also be seen on the shores of the lake. The nearby woodlands are home to songbirds, including the yellow wagtail, yellow warbler, white-crowned sparrow, and Lapland larkspur. In addition to birds, many small mammals can be found in the woodlands near the lake, including wolves, arctic fox, red fox, lynx, wolverine, and beaver.
When the weather permits, visitors can enjoy scenic rafting trips down the Selawik River. Rafters can float all 168 miles of this gentle river from its beginnings in the Purcell Mountains at the eastern edge of the Selawik Wildlife Refuge to where it flows into Selawik Lake. The trip provides excellent views of the wild, undeveloped lands at the river's edge. In winter, local residents and visitors alike often enjoy a trip to the hot springs at the head waters of the Selawik River. The thermal springs prevent this area of the river from freezing and were once prized by native tribes for their medicinal value.
Selawik Lake offers adventurers many ways to experience the Alaskan wilderness. Visitors can get a rare glimpse of what life might have been like hundreds of years ago--from the untamed landscapes that surround Selawik Lake, to the hardy people who live off the land as generations before them have done. A visit to Selawik Lake is truly a step back in time.
*Acreage figures are from the Alaskan Dept of Hydrology. Shoreline lengths are not given as most of Alaska's large lakes have ill-defined shorelines: water collecting in the lakes does not pass thru the permafrost level and thus must either dissipate via evaporation or river drainage. Most shorelines are seasonal wetlands and their size depends on the amount of snow-melt and precipitation. Many lakes have no outlet so water simply continues to collect there, causing the lake to grow larger.
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