With approximately 4,500 residents, the Barrow area has probably the harshest weather in Alaska. It is one of the world's largest Inupiat Eskimo settlement where traditional culture and modern life are blended. While many modern conveniences are available, the subsistence life style is still very much in evidence, and fishing, hunting, and whaling are a way of life. North Slope oil discovery has brought wealth to the area, including modern influences such as snowmobiles, but it has been continuously occupied for 5,000 years by people who have learned how to live in the harsh arctic climate. A new Heritage Center, opened in 1999, is a "must see" for every visitor.
The sun shines and never sets for 82 days from early May to early August and it is dark for 51 - 67 days (the sun never rises) between November and January. On clear nights this is a good time to view the northern lights and go dog sledding. Spring whaling occurs in May, and villagers celebrate Nalukataq in June and early July (it celebrates the end of whaling season.) If you are interested in birding, polar bears, or dogsledding October through May, this is the place to come.
Birding in the Arctic
Barrow is one of the top 100 birding spots in America. Although the diversity of birds is somewhat small, the annual visitors are spectacular. All four species of Eider ducks migrate along the coast and nest in the tundra around Barrow. Numerous other ducks and waterfowl also nest in the millions of small puddles and lakes across the tundra. Barrow is also prime habitat for many shorebirds. Perhaps the most spectacular summer visitor and breeder is the snowy owl, from which comes the Inupiat name for Barrow, Ukpeagvik, which translates to "place to hunt snowy owls". Now, of course, the owls are observed and studied. Barrow is the only spot in America one can reliably expect to see the elusive Ross's gull, which shows up, sometimes in great numbers during the last week of September through the first couple of weeks of October.
Polar Bears & Whales
According to the local tour operators, the very best time to see polar bears is after the fall whaling season. Although it is possible to see them at the Point anytime of the year, October and November allow for the most likely viewing opportunities. In late May and early October, the Eskimo natives go Bowhead whaling. During whaling season there is an opportunity to photograph a whale being brought in on the beach and butchered. Whaling season tends to encourage the polar bears to feast on the remains that are left at Point Barrow. The bears seldom ever make it into town so you would need a tour to see them. The King Eider Inn, in Barrow, has set up a page with a list of the tours available:
The Inn is located across from the Alaska Airlines Barrow terminal, and you can check out their web site for more information. The also offer a page on rental cars for Barrow.
Northern Lights in Barrow
Your chances of seeing the northern lights will be much greater in Barrow if you come late in the winter. The best environment for viewing the northern lights is when it is at its darkest, coldest and clearest - late in the evening. There would be little chance of seeing them with the amount of daylight from early April through early October. The sun does not rise between the end of November and the end of January. On the other end of the spectrum the amount of sun will increase until the sun stops setting for 82 days (in 2001) from May through August.
Dog Sledding in Barrow
Dog sledding tours hinge on the amount of snow cover, so October through May, will be the best period. Their coldest month (-30 to -50 degrees some days) tends to be February, which would be to cold for dog sledding, but great for viewing northern lights provided there is a clear sky. We're located across from the Alaska Airlines Barrow terminal and within walking distance of local sites and attractions. For all hotel and local tour information visit our website: