Official State of Alaska Vacation and Travel Information
"The Dalton Highway through Atigun Pass " - submitted by Danielle Watson
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Imagine wilderness as far as the eye can see. A treeless landscape full of life. A place where the sun doesn’t set (in summer) and northern lights dance (in winter). If you’re above 66⁰ north latitude, you’re above the Arctic Circle. And Alaska is the only place to experience the Arctic in the United States. Whether you have a day or a week, a trip to the Arctic is an unforgettable experience.
As an introduction to the Arctic, try a flightseeing tour out of Fairbanks or drive up the Dalton Highway (aka the Haul Road) to the old mining town of Wiseman in the Brooks Range. Or, travel further north to the terminus of the Pan-American Highway and the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay. Once here, you’ll need a reservation and valid photo ID to dip your toes in the Arctic Ocean outside of Deadhorse, an oil company town that supports the state’s largest industry.
Alternatively, take a small plane from Fairbanks to the small community of Bettles, a former U.S. Navy support base, and the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Often called “Alaska’s Ultimate Wilderness,” the 8.4 million-acre Gates is home to magnificent landscapes, steeped in history and wildlife. Mountains drift into tundra, and wild rivers provide access to some of the most remote areas of the state. Tour operators support day trips or overnight camping trips in Gates of the Arctic, as well as the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge farther north and east.
Northwestern Alaska, along the Bering Strait and the Chukchi Sea, takes you off the beaten track. Cruise through the Northwest Passage by ship, or fly to an Alaska Native community for a land-based adventure. In Northwestern Alaska, you can visit one of the many national parks north of the Arctic Circle for a true wilderness experience and world-class river trips. Kotzebue, Northwest Alaska’s largest community and regional hub, is a short, commercial flight away from Fairbanks. Spend a day walking the town, including a stop at the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center. Kotzebue is the jumping off point for Kobuk Valley National Park and the Kobuk National Wild and Scenic River, the Noatak National Preserve and the Noatak River, Selawik National Wildlife Refuge and the Selawik River, Cape Krusenstern National Monument, and the Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge. The Iñupiaq people still traverse these lands and waterways as they have for 10,000 years, living a subsistence lifestyle dependent on marine and terrestrial animals. Commercial operators can provide guided multi-day raft trips down some of the most amazing wild and scenic rivers in the country.
Winter visitors may be a little more intrepid, but the Arctic in winter has a special beauty all its own. On clear nights, the northern lights drift across the sky and the short daylight hours include an opportunity for dog sledding adventures. At this time of year, tour operators provide warm coats and warm hospitality to visitors seeking a distinctly Alaskan experience.
In the know: Sand dunes in Alaska? Sure! Kobuk Valley National Park, 35 miles above the Arctic Circle, has more then 30 square miles of sand dunes. Glaciers retreating 14,000 years ago ground rocks to sand, which blew into the Kobuk Valley. Today, dunes at the largest dune field—Great Kobuk Sand Dunes—tower more than 100 feet into the air. Bring plenty of water when you visit, too: temperatures can be almost Saharan, topping 100 degrees at times during the long summer days.
Keep Reading to learn more about Alaska’s Arctic.
Utqiaġvik (oot-kay-ahg-vik), the city formerly known as Barrow, is the northernmost community in Alaska. Utqiaġvik, on the Chukchi Sea, is only accessible by plane from Fairbanks or Anchorage; no roads connect this coastal community to the rest of the state.
If you visit Utqiaġvik in summer, plan on long days. Technically, just one long day! This far above the Arctic Circle, the sun rises on May 10 and doesn’t set until August 2. Conversely, during the winter, the sun doesn’t peek above the horizon for 51 days between November and January.
After arriving in Utqiaġvik, visit the Iñupiat Heritage Center for an introduction to Iñupiat culture and their strong relationship to the land and sea. The Center also hosts local artisans and has a gift shop with locally made art available for sale. In the afternoon, walk to Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Station, the oldest frame building in the Arctic, or visit the Birnirk Archaeological Site, a National Historic Landmark. Here, dwelling mounds dating to 500-900 A.D. reveal the earliest instance of modern Iñupiat culture. Artifacts found at the Birnirk site serve as the defining reference collection for Iñupiat-related archaeological sites across the Arctic.
Stay overnight at a local hotel before taking a day trip to explore for snowy owls (the traditional name of the community is Ukpeaġvik, “place where snowy owls are hunted”) or polar bears. Depending on the time of year, you may get to participate in a nalukataq, the celebration of a successful traditional whaling hunt. This is a special time for the community, where whale meat and muktuk (strips of blubber) are shared with everyone in the community.
While the day is long in Utqiaġvik, pack accordingly. Temperatures remain below freezing most days of the year.
This seven-day tour highlights the best of Fairbanks festivals and winter events, combined with the adventures of dog mushing, a small plane flight, and unrivaled northern lights viewing above the Arctic Circle. Read More
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