15 Best Things to Do in Utqiaġvik (Alaska)

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Also known as Barrow, Utqiaġvik is the northern most settlement in US Alaska. The traditional name was voted back in 2016 to support the preservation of the Inupiaq language.

A gateway to the Arctic ocean, the history in this part of the world dates back to 500 AD with whaling and fishing being the livelihood of its ancestors.

Tours often visit Utqiaġvik to take the plunge into the Arctic and travel to Point Barrow the most northern part of the US.

Take a look into the bleak and beautiful Artic are by visiting this remote part of the world. Here are some of the best things to do in Utqiaġvik.

1. Inupiat Heritage Center

Inupiat Heritage CenterSource: www.nps.gov
Inupiat Heritage Center

The museum and cultural center offer an amazing insight into a people that have lived and whaled in this area for over a thousand years. Here you will find exhibits, artefacts and art as well as a library and gift shop.

There is also a traditional room where demonstrations and teachings of traditional crafts. You may even catch a traditional dance show by native dancers.

It shows just how the natives helped the commercial whaling effort. Helping the crews with food and clothing to battle against the elements. A real insight to the history ad the people of Utqiaġvik.

2. Barrow Beach

Barrow BeachSource: Michelle Holihan / shutterstock
Barrow Beach

This beach is a frozen paradise within Utqiaġvik. You cannot miss a visit to the are without taking a stroll on this magical beach. A top tip is to visit in the early hours of the morning during the almost 24-hour sunlight in the summer.

You can see ice boulders on the beach, dark sands and beautiful views. Some people visit to take part in the artic plunge. Jumping into the ice-cold ocean, a tale to tell for the rest of your life. Not many people can say they have taken the plunge into the arctic sea.

Be wary about when you visit, there are no real high or low tides but at certain times of the year you may encounter polar bears frequenting the area.

3. Emaiksoun Lake

This freshwater lake is within a moderate hiking distance from the town. It is a lovely place to visit and will feel quite secluded and peaceful during your walk to the lake.

There are amazing views and stunning scenery to explore, not to mention a wealth of wildlife to spot. Most notably the sea birds which are found in the area so a great place for birders to visit.

Choose a trail and explore, but make sure you wrap up and bring plenty of supplies. You don’t want to get caught out in the cold.

4. Tundra Tours

Tundra Tours, BarrowSource: www.tundratoursinc.com
Tundra Tours

Sometimes called top of the world tours, you will enjoy a complete guided tour of the area. This kind of tour means you don’t have to worry about planning your own excursions as it is all done for you.

Visit the arctic circle and learn about the local way of life visiting the top sights all within one tour. You can book tours in advance which is a great idea, especially if you are here for just a short time.

5. St. Patrick’s Catholic Church

St. Patrick's Catholic Church, BarrowSource: facebook.com
St. Patrick’s Catholic Church

This church is the most northerly located catholic church in the world. The original church was built in 1954 from abandoned military buildings.

The last mass in the old church took place on Easter Sunday 1992, then it was torn down and the new St. Patrick Church began. This included living quarters for priests too. The first mass celebrated in the new church was on Christmas day 1992 for Midnight Mass although it was not fully completed.

Today the church is visited as somewhat of a pilgrimage for Alaskans and priests from Fairbanks. But it is an interesting place to see whilst in the area.

6. Nalukataq festival

Nalukataq Festival (Blanket Toss)Source: Floyd Davidson / Wikimedia
Nalukataq Festival (Blanket Toss)

Held in late June, the Nalukataq festival is a celebration of the end of the whaling season and the bigger its success the longer the festival lasts.

The most notable event of the festival is the blanket toss, which is where people are tossed as high as possible into the air by way of sealskin tarp held by other local people. It is not a safe sport, but it is fun to watch and be part of the atmosphere.

Although whaling is not a practice that is well liked by some in the US, traditional use of whale meat is regulated by Alaskan state law.

7. End of the Road

 Looking North to Point BarrowSource: Wildnerdpix / shutterstock
Looking North to Point Barrow

Point Barrow or the end of the road is the northernmost extremity of the United States. You can take a tour to almost the end of the road, however the last few miles are a little trickier and not very safe. Many tourists come to the area just to visit this point

Polar bears often frequent the area, so it is not advised to hike on the soft cold sand in case of an encounter and to prevent running into a sinkhole and getting stuck.

You may wish to hire a local who knows the area to take you out. But it is just as good to drive to end of the proper drivable road and enjoy the remote scenery and bizarre atmosphere.

8. North Slope Borough Offices

Although a working administrative office, the building is home to some interesting indigenous artefacts. Although it is not a tourist attraction per se, you are able to enter the lobby area to view the art and historic objects.

You can visit at anytime during the day, you will just need to ask permission of the security officer to enter, explaining why you want to visit.

9. Northern Lights Restaurant

Northern Lights Restaurant, UtqiagvikSource: Chad Cook / Facebook.com
Northern Lights Restaurant, Utqiagvik

If you are looking for a quick bite to eat where locals recommend, then you should consider a stop at the Northern Lights Restaurant.

They are open for lunch and dinner, offering a diverse menu, large potions and a family friendly atmosphere. You’ll find the restaurant on Herman Street north of the town. Favourite dishes include the regular American burgers and pizzas, but they also do some great Korean and Chinese dishes too.

10. Polar Bear Spotting

Polar Bear, AlaskaSource: Nagel Photography / shutterstock
Polar Bear, Alaska

Due to its northern location you have the chance to spot Polar Bears in their natural habitat. You shouldn’t go off exploring on your own if you are new to the area, as it can be dangerous. However, there are local guides and tours you can book.

Going out with a tour will give you the best chance to see the bears from a safe distance and learn about the habitat too.

11. Take a Walking Tour

Barrow, AlaskaSource: sunsinger / shutterstock
Barrow, Alaska

Book a walk around this northernmost town and you can be led by knowledgeable guides who will show you the best bits.

Choose to be part of a small group or perhaps book a private guide who will expertly tell you about the history culture and interesting local trivia.

If you would prefer to explore by yourself, you can always download a walking tour guide or pick up a map at the information centre. This way you can choose where to visit and learn about.

12. Birnirk Archaeological site

Birnirk Archaeological SiteSource: Floyd davidson / Wikimedia
Birnirk Archaeological Site

This historic site is designated as a National Historic Landmark for its archaeological importance for learning more about the prehistoric arctic culture. The site consists of sixteen mounds which have been studied to understand early Birnirk and Thule culture.

Artefacts that have been discovered here include ancient hunting and fishing equipment, engraving tools and bird darts. This area has been essential to learning what life was like in ancient Alaska.

13. Niggivikut Restaurant

Top of The World Hotel, BarrowSource: www.tundratoursinc.com
Top of The World Hotel, Barrow

If you are fond of a meal with a view, then this restaurant will not disappoint. Located at the top of the “Top of the world” hotel, the restaurant faces the Arctic Ocean. You can sit an eat your food in a booth which over looks the icebergs bobbing in the sea.

The menu is American, and you can book a table in advance, a tip would be to take a look and specify which table you will like before you book to make sure you have a great view.

14. Ukpiagvik village

Ukpiagvik villageSource: AlaskanLibrarian / Flickr
Ukpiagvik Village

Although there is not much to see here today, in the south west of the town is where this ancient village once stood. If you look closely you can see the remains of the sod huts as small mounds on the otherwise flat landscape.

If you take a walking tour, your guide will tell you more about the history of the area.

15. Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Station

The old wooden building was originally used as shelter for the whalers who came to work here but was later and more notably used as a trading station.

Built in 1893 this is the oldest frame building in the Arctic and is worth visiting to see both the building and the bowhead whale jaw bone standing outside.

Also called the gateway to the Arctic, many visitors take the opportunity to dip their toes or just touch the icy waters.

15 Best Things to Do in Utqiaġvik (Alaska):

  • Inupiat Heritage Center
  • Barrow Beach
  • Emaiksoun Lake
  • Tundra Tours
  • St. Patrick's Catholic Church
  • Nalukataq festival
  • End of the Road
  • North Slope Borough Offices
  • Northern Lights Restaurant
  • Polar Bear Spotting
  • Take a Walking Tour
  • Birnirk Archaeological site
  • Niggivikut Restaurant
  • Ukpiagvik village
  • Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Station