- The Selawik River and Refuge take their name from the Inupiaq word "siilivik", which means "place of" (vik) "sheefish" (sii). The Selawik NWR is a showcase of estuaries, river deltas, and tundra hills. It includes a large designated wilderness area and part of the Selawik is a National Wild River.
Two Inupiaq Eskimo villages, Selawik and Noorvik, are within the refuge boundary. Four other Inupiaq villages, Kiana, Ambler, Shungnak and Kobuk, and the city of Kotzebue, are located within 25 miles of the refuge.
Many of the people of these villages, and from the more distant villages of Deering, Buckland, Shishmaref, and the interior Athabascan Indian Village of Huslia, have traditionally used refuge resources for their subsistence lifestyle.
The northern boundary follows the divide of the east-west oriented Waring Mountains. Here the refuge shares a common boundary with the Kobuk Valley National Park. The Waring Mountains contain the 240,000 acre Selawik Wilderness.
The southern refuge boundary is formed by the Selawik Hills and the Purcell Mountains. For a while this boundary follows the continental divide and shares a common boundary with the Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge.
Between these mountain boundaries lies the long, broad, westward flowing Selawik River valley. The Selawik River flows into Selawik Lake, which is actually a slightly brackish estuary.
The larger Kobuk River delta forms the western edge of the refuge. The Selawik River valley and the river deltas contain most of the refuge's 22,000 lakes and wetlands.
Located in Northwest Alaska, approximately 350 miles northwest of Fairbanks. The refuge is bisected by the Arctic Circle and lies mostly within the Northwest Arctic Borough, which is analogous to a lower 48 county but is the size of the state of Indiana.