Kotzebue or Kikiktagruk in Iñupiaq meaning ‘almost an island’ can be found on the gravel spit at the Baldwin Peninsula. This three-mile stretch of town is located 26 miles north of the Arctic Circle and most of the population here is of Native descent.
Daily passenger jets arrive here from Anchorage and Nome and there is also a sea plane landing point in the town. Tourism is not big business here, but the area does draw visitors for the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, the Noatak National Preserve and the Kobuk Valley National Park.
You can really feel the solitude and silence of Alaska in and around Kotzebue and take in all the natural beauty this part of Alaska has to offer. In addition, there is a fascinatingly rich history which is highlighted in the museums and art shops of the town.
If you are visiting Kotzebue or staying for a while, here are some of the top things to do during your trip.
1. Northwest Arctic Heritage Centre
An excellent museum that shows its visitors all about the natural history of the local area. There are animal and wildlife exhibits showing how the land is home to some hardy creatures.
You can learn about the protected Arctic circle and the culture of the Native people who have called this place home for centuries. The staff are very knowledgeable and are happy to share their stories with you. There are also films about Eskimo life to enjoy.
The center is located only two minutes from the airport, so it is easy to get to and a great place to visit just after getting off your flight.
2. Sulianich Art Center
Here you can find some amazing locally crafted items. Whether you want to buy a beautiful souvenir or just browse the lovely crafts. This is definitely a place to visit during your time in Kotzebue.
Expect to see handmade jewellery, baskets, paintings and artwork all created by local artists. There is also a selection of mammoth fossils and carvings too.
On some occasions you may even have the chance to meet the artists themselves. You can find the Sulianich Art Center on Third Avenue in Kotzebue.
3. Noatak National Preserve
The intensely beautiful landscape of the Noatak National Preserve draws visitors year upon year. There are no roads to this park, so you must take a small plane to get you to the area.
You can camp on the gravel embankments and explore to enjoy the scenery. Or you can take a day trip to the most beautiful places, including Tulugak Lake and along the Noatak River.
It is also a place you can spot numerous native wildlife including moose, caribou, musk ox, and black and brown bears.
4. Cape Krusenstern National Monument
Here you have the chance to walk on the tundra and observe the local wildlife including herds of musk ox. The area consists of lagoons, limestone hills and ridged beaches which give the landscape its unique look.
The place is also full of fascinating history with many research projects ongoing today. Artefacts and items over five thousand years old have been discovered here and it is a wonderful sight to see and explore in Alaska.
Like most places near Kotzebue you can only get here by way of small plane and this can be done as part of a tour or privately organised.
5. Serpentine Hot Springs
The hot springs has been a special place to visit for hundreds of years and a welcome break from the cold harsh weather. The waters have been well known for their health benefits, being a gathering place for Eskimo shamans and later Native healers.
Today visitors can get to the springs by hiking, by dog sled, snow machine or by plane to the small landing strip nearby. However you decide to get here though, you should take the opportunity to sample the healing water for yourself.
6. Fishing Tours
If you are looking for a remote place to fish in complete silence, you can find it here in Kotzebue. There is the opportunity to enjoy fly in fishing adventures in a number of beautiful ad remote locations.
Types of fish you can choose to fish for include Dolly Varden, Northern Pike and Sheefish fishing. There are also destinations for Arctic Grayling and Chum Salmon fishing too.
Talk to your guides and tell them what you are after and they will find the perfect place for you. Remember to bring along your own gear and equipment though. Whether that is your own or hired locally. The tour companies here wont usually follow them.
7. Bayside Restaurant
If you are looking for a hearty local meal you can’t go wrong with Bayside restaurant. You can enjoy fresh seafood, American and Asian cuisine. A laid-back family friendly restaurant, you are sure to enjoy a relaxed atmosphere.
You can find the Bayside at Shore Avenue in Kotzebue and it is also an inn with rooms to stay in too.
8. Indigenous Cemetery
It may seem morbid to visit a cemetery but actually this place is a celebration of life and interesting to see. In the centre of town this large cemetery contains many decorated spirit houses which have been built over many of the graves here.
Another example of the cultural diversity and Native influence in the town. Make sure you see the whale bone fences surrounding some of the marked graves.
9. Kayaking in Kobuk National Wild River
The slow-moving river is perfect for boating and kayaking around Kotzebue. There are 61 miles of river that flows through this National Park area, and many other miles beyond.
You can take a fly in tour with your own gear if you are capable on your own. Or you can book a guided kayaking or floating tour with local people who know the river.
There are parts of the river that become fast flowing, so you should be wary of this and if you are inexperienced make sure you have someone with you who knows what they are doing.
10. Kobuk Valley National Park
People have been residing in the Kobuk Valley since prehistoric times. Local Inupiaq Eskimos still hunt the caribou here, but they have swapped their canoes and spears for motor boats and rifles.
The area is covered with wetlands, sand dunes and mountains which offer amazing scenery and perfect conditions to explore.
Whether you are looking for some excellent photo opportunities, to observe the migrating caribou or to try some remote fishing. This is a great place to visit in Kotzebue.
11. Enjoy the Midnight Sun
From the beginning of June, the sun will never set for siz weeks, bringing a never-ending summer to the town. It is a strange experience and it does cause problems with both local and visitors’ internal clocks.
It is bizarre to see the area lit up at all hours of the day and for there to be no designated night time. Often at the time of the summer solstice, both tourists and residents will climb to the highest point to see in the longest brightest day.
12. Wildlife tours
After reading about the National Parks above you can see that there are many opportunities to spot wildlife here. There are many different species of birds to view including Eagles, Falcons and Osprey as well as the rare and elusive Siberian Tit Parus Cinctus.
Larger mammals that can be spotted whilst on a wildlife tour include Dall sheep, Moose, Musk ox, Black bears, grizzly bears and wolf packs too. Another great sight to see on a wildlife tour is the magnificent migration of the Alaskan Caribou.
13. Flight-seeing tours
As a follow on to the wildlife tours, you can see most of what the amazing landscape and natural environment has to offer by taking a flight-seeing tour.
It is the only way to get most of the remote destinations near to the town and a great way to observe the vast stretching scenery from above. You can take in a few parks all in one day trip or you can be dropped off at different locations to explore further.
Flight-seeing day trips are not cheap, but they are definitely worth the expense if you are already visiting Kotzebue.
14. Jump into the Arctic Ocean
It is a bucket-list item for some, jumping into the Arctic Sea. In Kotzebue the most popular place to do so is from the bridge, locally known as bridge jumping.
Make sure you do this with a tour or a local that knows what they are doing because it can be dangerous if you are not prepared.
15. Uutuku Restaurant and Takeaway
Easy and convenient Asian fast food restaurant. It is great for visitors and workers who are coming back to the town late as it is open until 3am.
Favourites from the menu include hot and spicy chicken served with rice. Uutuku can be found on Friends Way, but they also offer delivery too.