McKay’s buntings, like this male, nest only on St. Matthew Island, one of the most remote areas of Alaska. Photo by Rachel Richardson, USGS, Alaska Science Center.

Sometimes the urge arises to just truly get away from it all. When that time comes, there’s literally no better place than St. Matthew Island. 

In 2003, science writer Ned Rozell and geographer Dorte Dissing set out to find the most remote areas of Alaska. Dissing used GIS technology to identify the most remote area on mainland Alaska as an upper branch of the Coleen River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that is 85 miles from any town or established trail. St. Matthew, she found, takes the overall crown. Buffered by the Bering Sea, the island is 209 miles away from the nearest village of Mekoryuk on Nunivak Island. 

A tiny cohort of soldiers operated a radar station on the island during World War II, but St. Matthew has been unhabituated since the station was closed. Now the island’s most frequent human visitors are biologists studying wildlife that live and breed there. 

St. Matthew is the only place on the planet where McKay’s buntings nest. Cornell ornithologists have called the bunting the least-studied endemic bird in North America. St. Matthew is also home to a subspecies of rock sandpiper that breeds only on St. Matthew and the Pribilof Islands to the south. 

As part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, St. Matthew is protected for conservation. It’s also open for the public to visit. Of course, it takes some formidable planning to get there. But once on St. Matthew, rest assured you’re in one of the most remote places in the United States. 

Video by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Alexander Deedy formerly worked as the assistant editor and digital content manager for Alaska magazine.

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