Located on the Arctic Ocean, Utqiaġvik (Barrow) is one of the largest Iñupiaq settlements in Alaska. It’s also the northernmost community in the United States. Its extreme location means Utqiaġvik receives 24 hour daylight from May 12 - August 2 and 24 hour darkness from November 18 – January 23.
About Utqiaġvik (Iñupiaq)
Utqiaġvik is one of the oldest inhabited town sites in the United States, and archaeological evidence of human habitation in the area goes back to 800 AD. In the Inupiaq language, Utqiaġvik means “the place where we hunt snowy owls,” but that’s just one of the species that have provided nourishment to local people for thousands of years. Hunting and gathering is still a big part of life in Arctic Alaska, and seasonal hunts for whales, seals, walrus, caribou, and ducks remain important for both traditional and economic reasons. Today, Utqiaġvik serves as a hub community for smaller outlying villages, and its population of about 4,300 residents makes it one of Alaska’s larger villages.
Formerly known as Barrow, the official name of the village changed to Utqiaġvik in 2016. Village residents voted to change the name back to its traditional Inupiaq name.
Things to do
During the summer months, tour operators offer package tours of the area that can include viewing polar bears, photographing snowy owls, or learning about the area's traditional culture. History and Alaska Native culture are a highlight of the area, which features several sites on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Iñupiat Heritage Center is the best place to visit to learn more about the area’s rich culture. Exhibits and artifacts tell the story of Iñupiat history, language, and culture and foster awareness, understanding, and appreciation for the Iñupiat way of life. Elders-in-residence and artists-in-residence programs are held in a traditional room where people can learn about arts, language, history, and more. The gift shop offers visitors the opportunity to purchase arts and crafts such as baleen boats, etched baleen, carved ivory, masks, parkas, and fur mittens.
Several nearby sites are on the National Register of Historic Places: the Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Station, the Will Rogers and Wiley Post Monument, and the Birnirk Archaeological Site. The Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Station was built in 1893 and is the oldest frame building in the Arctic. The iconic Whale Bone Arch beside the building is a photographer’s delight, located right on the edge of the Arctic Ocean.
The Will Rogers and Wiley Post Monument, dedicated in 1982, is located across from the airport. The six-sided monument honors pioneer Wiley Post and comedian and homespun philosopher Will Rogers who died in 1935 when their plane went down 15 miles southwest of Utqiaġvik during a flight to Seberia. Approximately two miles north of the Utqiaġvik airfield is the Birnirk Archaeological Site. The Birnirk culture, which existed about 500 - 900 AD, is represented by a group of 16 dwelling mounds and is considered a key link between the prehistoric cultures of Alaska and Canada.
The majority of visitors come to Utqiaġvik in the summer, when the daylight hours are endless and the temperatures get up in the 40s. Hearty travelers do visit in the winter, when the village sees no sunlight for 67 days and temperatures regularly dip below freezing. Winter activities include northern lights viewing, dog mushing, and some winter tour packages. If you time your visit right, you may get to witness the local men embark on their annual whale hunt. A whaling captain directs crews of hunters, and if the whalers are successful, there is a festival called Nalukataq when the season ends in May. Hunters share whale meat and sections of skin and blubber known as muktuk with the entire community.
Getting to Utqiaġvik (Barrow)
Utqiaġvik is not accessible by road. The only way to get there is by plane. Alaska Airlines and other regional carriers offer regular flight service from Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Lodging & Dining
There are a few places to stay in Utqiaġvik including a hotel, inns, and bed & breakfasts. Despite its remote location, Utqiaġvik offers diverse dining options from several restaurants including Mexican food, Chinese food, Japanese food, pizza, and American.