Located on the southern side of the Seward Peninsula along the Bering Sea coast in Arctic Alaska, Nome is an interesting destination that combines Alaska’s gold rush history with rich Inupiat culture, great fishing, and plentiful wildlife. As the residents of the town say, “there’s no place like Nome.”
About Nome (Iñupiaq: Sitŋasuaq / Sitnasuaq)
The city is perhaps best known today as the finish line for the 1,049-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The race begins the first Saturday in March in Anchorage, and the first dog teams begin arriving in Nome as soon as eight days later. Nome's Iditarod Festival begins a week after the start and continues as all of the mushers make their way in.
Things to do
Nome may only be accessible by air or sea, but once there you can explore 350 miles of roads that connect to other communities on the Seward Peninsula and wind through tundra, mountains, and coastal plains along the way. You will see artifacts of the gold rush everywhere, including abandoned dredges, turn-of-the-century steam engines, old mining claims, and old railroad track and decaying trestles.
Abundant wildflowers and tundra plants blanket the landscape, while herds of musk ox and reindeer graze within sight of the road. Other resident critters include bears, moose, fox, beaver, wolves, wolverine, lemmings, voles, and shrews. The road system passes through a variety of habitats from beach to boreal forest, each boasting its own bird populations. Summer provides great fishing in one of the many streams and rivers or in the Bering Sea.
A stop off at the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum is worthwhile. Daughter of a prospector, Carrie McLain arrived in Nome when she was eight and grew to become the town historian and one of Nome's leading citizens. The museum showcases the lives of the gold prospectors and presents the art and lifestyle of the Inupiat people with rare artifacts and photos.
In March, one of the toughest sled dog races in the world finishes in Nome. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a 1,049-mile run from Anchorage that sees the winner pulling into Nome some as early as eight days later, with the rest of the mushers making their way in for days afterwards. During the finish of the race, Nome's population grows by approximately 1,000 people and turns Nome into what people warmly refer to as the "Mardi Gras of the North." Hundreds of events are staged during Nome's Iditarod Festival and range from the Nome-Golovin Snowmachine Race and dart tournaments to opportunities to meet the mushers and participate in the Bering Sea Ice Golf Classic.
Tour operators lead guided trips in summer and winter including city walking tours, history and cultural tours, hiking, birding, photography, wildlife viewing, flightseeing, ATV tours, and overnight backcountry trips. Independent travelers can take self-guided walking tours, pan for gold, walk the beaches of Nome, and rent a car to explore the area’s road system. In winter, visitors can visit sled dog kennels and go for a ride, go cross country skiing, and view the northern lights.
For some R&R, visit Pilgrim Hot Springs, located about 60 miles northeast of Nome along the road system. Surrounded by trees on a 320 acre property set against a mountain backdrop, Pilgrim Hot Springs features several natural hot springs soaking pools, cabins, campsites, and historic buildings. Inupiat people originally used the area for subsistence hunting, gathering, and soaking. The area was used by miners during the gold rush in the early 1900s and then became a Catholic mission and orphanage. The orphanage operated until 1941 and visitors can still see the some of the historic buildings, including the church and orphanage bunkhouse, now on the National Register of Historic Places.
There are plenty of lodging options in Nome including hotels, inns, B&Bs, and guest houses. Downtown Nome is home to gift shops featuring Alaska Native arts and crafts, plus restaurants, shops, outfitters, and grocery stores.
Getting to Nome
Nome is not on the Alaska road system and is only accessible by air or water. Alaska Airlines provides daily scheduled flight service from Anchorage to Nome. Several regional carriers operate scheduled service and air taxis to Nome from other villages and cities in Alaska.
Inupiat people have lived on the Seward Peninsula and the area surrounding Nome for centuries before gold was discovered at Anvil Creek in 1898. The city of Nome was established soon after, in 1901. The gold rush kicked off with the discovery of gold by the "Three Lucky Swedes" in 1898 and brought more than 20,000 people from all over the world to Nome through the early 1900s. By 1910, with the gold rush dwindling, the population fell to 2,600, and then down to less than 1,500 by 1934. Nome was also notable for the 1925 Serum Run, when a relay team of dog sleds transported life-saving diphtheria serum across harsh winter conditions 674 miles from Nenana to Nome.