Barrow, Alaska, also known as Utqiaġvik, is the northernmost city in the United States and North America. It boasts a unique location and cultural experiences that attract visitors from all over the world. This guide will focus on the interests and needs of visitors, providing an updated account of what to expect during a visit to Barrow.
Location and Coordinates
Barrow is part of the North Slope Borough and the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation. Situated on the coast of the Chukchi Sea on the Arctic Ocean, it is only 10 miles south of Point Barrow. The city is 725 air miles north of Anchorage and 340 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Its coordinates are 71.2906° N, 156.7886° W
Population and Elevation
Barrow is home to over 4,000 residents, many of whom are of Inupiat ancestry. This makes it one of the largest Eskimo populations in the world. The city sits at sea level, offering expansive views in all directions.
Climate and Natural Setting
Barrow experiences extreme climate conditions, with long, dark winters and short, cool summers. The sun does not set between May 10th and August 2nd, and it does not rise between November 18th and January 24th. The landscape is characterized by treeless, windswept tundra, and a coastline dotted with ice and snow. Visitors can expect to witness the stunning Northern Lights during the winter season and vibrant blue skies in the summer.
Visitors can immerse themselves in the rich Inupiat culture, which dates back thousands of years. Traditional foods, art, and customs can be experienced throughout the city. Be sure to show respect for their way of life and the environment.
Attractions and Activities
– Will Rogers and Wiley Post Monument: This monument, located near the airport, commemorates the 1935 airplane crash that killed the famous humorist and the pilot.
– Whaling Seasons and Celebrations: The Fall Whaling Season begins in October, while the Spring Whaling Season starts in May. The Nalukataq celebrations take place in June and early July, showcasing traditional Inupiat festivities.
– Bird Watching: Barrow is a prime birding destination, with over 150 species spotted during the summer season.
Barrow has a long history of Inupiat habitation, with archaeological evidence dating back to around 5000 to 900 A.D. The city’s name is borrowed from Point Barrow, named after Sir John Barrow of the British Admiralty. Barrow has seen significant development through the years, including the establishment of the Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Station, the U.S. Army’s meteorological and magnetic research station, and the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory.
The discovery of oil in nearby Prudhoe Bay and the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline brought economic growth and job opportunities to the region. Traditional marine mammal hunts and subsistence practices remain an essential part of daily life in Barrow.
Regularly scheduled air services from Anchorage and Fairbanks provide year-round connections to Barrow. Seasonal land and sea transportation options are limited.
Barrow has a hospital, health clinics, and a state-certified Medivac Service. The King Eider Inn is considered the best hotel in Barrow, and there are several dining options available, including pizza, Mexican, and American cuisine.
Thing to Do in Barrow Alaska
Inupiat Heritage Center
The Inupiat Heritage Center, located in Barrow, is a must-visit for anyone interested in learning more about the region’s culture and history. The center preserves and showcases Inupiat history, language, art, and traditions. It also serves as a gathering place for the community to celebrate their heritage. Exhibits include traditional clothing, tools, and artifacts, as well as contemporary art and multimedia presentations. Educational programs and workshops are also available for visitors to deepen their understanding of the Inupiat way of life.
Barrow offers unique opportunities to observe Arctic wildlife in their natural habitat. Polar bears, seals, walrus, and Arctic foxes can all be spotted in the area. Guided tours with experienced local guides are the best way to safely observe these magnificent creatures. Remember to keep a safe distance and respect the wildlife to ensure a sustainable environment for them to thrive.
Arctic Ocean Excursions
Visitors can embark on boat tours to explore the Arctic Ocean and the Chukchi Sea. These excursions provide an unparalleled experience of the Arctic waters and often include encounters with marine mammals such as whales, seals, and walrus. It’s also an excellent opportunity to learn about traditional subsistence hunting practices and the importance of marine resources to the Inupiat people.
Ilisagvik College is a two-year tribal college located in Barrow, offering academic and vocational programs that cater to the needs of the North Slope Inupiat. Visitors interested in learning more about the educational opportunities and community programs can tour the campus and attend cultural events organized by the college.
Barrow lies within the continuous permafrost zone, making it an ideal place to study the effects of climate change on the Arctic landscape. Visitors can arrange a guided tour of permafrost tunnels, where they can observe the frozen ground and learn about the ongoing research on climate change and its impact on the Arctic environment.
Traditional Inupiat Cuisine
During your stay in Barrow, don’t miss the opportunity to taste traditional Inupiat cuisine. Local dishes often include seafood, such as fish, seal, and whale, as well as caribou and other game. Many local restaurants and cafes offer these traditional dishes, providing visitors with an authentic culinary experience.
Barrow’s unique landscape and wildlife, combined with the stunning light conditions during different seasons, make it an ideal destination for photography enthusiasts. From capturing the Northern Lights to documenting the daily life of the Inupiat people, Barrow offers countless opportunities for unforgettable photographs.
When planning a visit to Barrow, Alaska, it’s essential to prepare for the extreme weather conditions and the remote location. Pack warm, layered clothing, and ensure you have access to emergency supplies and communication equipment. Respecting the local culture, wildlife, and environment is crucial to ensure a memorable and enriching experience in this incredible Arctic destination.
Exploring the vast, treeless tundra is an unforgettable experience for visitors to Barrow. Guided tours led by knowledgeable locals will take you through the unique landscape, offering insights into the flora and fauna of the region, as well as the challenges faced by the Inupiat people living in such a harsh environment.
Midnight Sun Marathon and Festival
Barrow’s Midnight Sun Marathon and Festival is a unique event that takes place during the summer solstice when the sun doesn’t set for several weeks. This event includes a marathon, half-marathon, and other races, as well as cultural performances, games, and food. It’s an excellent opportunity to experience the local community’s spirit and embrace the extended daylight.
Iñupiaq Language and Cultural Immersion
For those interested in deepening their understanding of the Iñupiaq language and culture, immersion programs and workshops are available. These programs usually involve language lessons, traditional arts and crafts, storytelling, and other cultural activities, offering an authentic connection with the Iñupiaq people and their way of life.
Dog sledding is a traditional mode of transportation in Barrow and other parts of the Arctic. Visitors can arrange dog sledding tours, where experienced mushers will guide you through the snow-covered landscape on a sled pulled by a team of energetic Alaskan huskies. This exhilarating experience provides a glimpse into the importance of dog sledding in the region’s history and culture.
Fishing and Ice Fishing
The waters around Barrow are home to a variety of fish species, making it an ideal destination for fishing enthusiasts. Depending on the season, you can try your hand at traditional open water fishing or ice fishing. Local guides can help you find the best fishing spots and provide insights into the techniques used by the Iñupiaq people for centuries.
Visiting Nearby Communities
Visiting nearby Iñupiaq communities, such as Nuiqsut, Kaktovik, and Anaktuvuk Pass, can provide a broader perspective on life in the Arctic. These communities, each with their own unique character, offer additional opportunities to learn about the Iñupiaq culture, history, and subsistence way of life.
Climate Change Research Facilities
Barrow is home to several climate change research facilities, including the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium and the Barrow Environmental Observatory. These institutions conduct vital research on the impacts of climate change on the Arctic environment and its ecosystems. Visitors can arrange tours of these facilities to learn more about the ongoing research and the challenges faced by the Arctic region due to climate change.
When planning your visit to Barrow, Alaska, remember that the remote location and extreme weather conditions require thorough preparation. Consult with local tour operators and accommodation providers for the latest information on available services and any seasonal considerations that may affect your trip. By respecting the local culture, environment, and wildlife, you will have a truly meaningful and unforgettable Arctic adventure.