Nestled on the coast of the Chukchi Sea, Kotzebue, Alaska, offers a captivating blend of natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and exciting outdoor activities. This remote town serves as the gateway to the Arctic, providing visitors with an extraordinary opportunity to explore the vast wilderness and immerse themselves in the local Inupiat culture. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, adventure seeker, or history buff, Kotzebue has something special to offer. Join us as we uncover the top things to do in Kotzebue, Alaska.
1. Explore the Kobuk Valley National Park
One of the must-visit attractions near Kotzebue is the Kobuk Valley National Park. A hidden gem, this park spans over 1.7 million acres and boasts mesmerizing sand dunes, pristine rivers, and diverse wildlife. Take a guided tour or embark on a multi-day backpacking adventure through the park’s unspoiled wilderness. Capture breathtaking photographs of the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, which are among the largest active dune fields in North America.
2. Experience Traditional Inupiat Culture
Immerse yourself in the vibrant cultural heritage of the Inupiat people, who have called Kotzebue home for centuries. Visit the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center, where you can explore exhibits showcasing Inupiat artifacts, traditional crafts, and insightful displays about their history and traditions. Engage with local artists, listen to traditional stories, and learn about subsistence hunting and fishing practices that sustain the community to this day.
3. Witness the Northern Lights
Kotzebue is located within the Arctic Circle, making it an ideal destination for witnessing the captivating dance of the Northern Lights. Plan your visit during the winter months, when the night sky becomes a canvas for the enchanting colors of the Aurora Borealis. Bundle up in warm clothing, venture outside the town’s limits, and experience the awe-inspiring beauty of the celestial spectacle.
4. Enjoy Outdoor Adventures
Adventure awaits in Kotzebue’s stunning natural surroundings. Engage in thrilling activities such as dog sledding, snowmobiling, and ice fishing during the winter months. In the summer, embark on wildlife viewing excursions to spot majestic creatures like caribou, muskoxen, and migratory birds. Fishing enthusiasts can cast their lines in the nearby rivers and lakes, home to salmon, trout, and arctic char.
5. Attend the Nalukataq Festival
If you’re fortunate to visit Kotzebue in late June, immerse yourself in the lively Nalukataq Festival. This traditional gathering celebrates the successful whaling season and brings the community together for music, dancing, and feasting. Experience the warm hospitality of the locals, indulge in delicious native foods, and witness traditional blanket tosses—a highlight of the festival that allows participants to soar high in the air.
6. Discover Cultural and Historical Sites
Take a stroll through Kotzebue and explore its historical and cultural landmarks. Visit the Kotzebue Sound Side Historic District, which encompasses several historic buildings that offer insight into the town’s past. The Old Onion Portage archaeological site is another fascinating spot, where ancient artifacts and remains tell the story of early human occupation in the region. Don’t miss the opportunity to appreciate the stunning Kotzebue Sound and its surrounding landscapes.
7. Take a Flightseeing Tour
Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of the Alaskan Arctic from above by taking a flightseeing tour. Hop on a small plane or helicopter and soar over the vast tundra, snow-capped mountains, and rugged coastlines. Marvel at the breathtaking panoramic views, spot wildlife from the air, and gain a unique perspective on the Arctic landscape.
8. Visit the Qikiqtaġruk Inupiat Corporation (QIC) Cultural Center
Learn more about the Inupiat culture and way of life at the Qikiqtaġruk Inupiat Corporation Cultural Center. Discover exhibits that highlight the traditions, history, and contemporary life of the Inupiat people. Engage in interactive displays, view traditional artwork, and attend cultural events and performances that showcase the talents of the local community.
9. Attend a Traditional Blanket Toss
In addition to the Nalukataq Festival, you may have the opportunity to witness a traditional blanket toss during special celebrations or gatherings. Participants stand on a large, walrus-hide blanket and are tossed high into the air by a group of people holding onto the edges. It’s an exhilarating experience that symbolizes good luck and unity within the community.
10. Go Birdwatching
Kotzebue is a haven for birdwatchers, as it lies along the migration routes of various bird species. Grab your binoculars and head out to spot a variety of avian visitors, including tundra swans, sandhill cranes, gyrfalcons, and a wide array of shorebirds. Visit the nearby bird sanctuaries or take a guided tour to maximize your birdwatching experience.
11. Explore the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge
Located just east of Kotzebue, the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge offers another opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural wonders of the Arctic. Discover its diverse ecosystems, including tundra, wetlands, and boreal forest. Take a hike along the refuge’s trails, go fishing in the lakes and rivers, or simply enjoy the tranquility of this untouched wilderness.
12. Learn Traditional Crafts and Skills
Engage in hands-on experiences that allow you to learn traditional crafts and skills from local artisans. Participate in workshops where you can try your hand at ivory carving, traditional drum-making, or crafting Inupiat-style clothing. Gain a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship and artistry that is deeply embedded in the Inupiat culture.
13. Volunteer and Support Local Initiatives
Consider giving back to the community by volunteering for local initiatives or participating in cultural exchange programs. Opportunities may include assisting with environmental conservation projects, supporting educational initiatives, or engaging in community-led events and programs. Not only will you make a positive impact, but you’ll also forge meaningful connections with the locals.
Kotzebue, Alaska, offers a plethora of activities and experiences that showcase the natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and warm community spirit of the region. From flightseeing tours to birdwatching, cultural immersion, and outdoor adventures, Kotzebue provides a gateway to Arctic wonders and unforgettable memories. Embrace the unique opportunities that this remote Alaskan town presents, and prepare for an extraordinary journey into the heart of the Arctic.