The Northwest Arctic's authentic Iñupiaq center of Kotzebue (Kotz-eh-biew) isn't our first choice for most visitors. Those interested in Iñupiaq culture should go to Barrow, while those looking for bird-watching or self-guided outdoor sightseeing should go to Nome. Kotzebue lacks activities or attractions geared to the typical tourist, and it doesn't make sense to go there just to walk around.
On the other hand, intrepid travelers seeking real adventure can use Kotzebue as a hub for a vast, spectacular area of Arctic wilderness. The National Park Service (P.O. Box 1029), Kotzebue, AK 99752 (tel. 907/442-3760 or 442-3890), manages an immense area of protected land in the region, including Kobuk Valley National Park, Cape Krusenstern National Monument, and Noatak and Bering Land Bridge national preserves (find websites to each through www.nps.gov). The Northwest Arctic Heritage Center offers classes on traditional Native crafts and medicinal plants, and employees will answer questions about the town as well as the public lands. The center is open June to September Monday to Saturday 8:30am to 6:30pm, the rest of the year Monday to Friday 8am to 12pm and 1 to 5pm. The Park Service is the best source of visitor information for Kotzebue and the region, especially since outdoor activities are essentially the only thing to do if you go there.
There are several remote rivers near Kotzebue with easy self-guided floating for experienced outdoors people. This is the best chance to get deep into the Arctic on your own. The great Noatak River originates in the Brooks Range and flows 450 miles through America's largest undisturbed wilderness in the impressive scenery of the Noatak National Preserve. The Selawik, Squirrel, and Kobuk rivers all have long sections of easy water. Equinox Wilderness Expeditions offers float trips in the area, although not necessarily every year. Expect to pay $4,500 per person. Most river running in the region is self-guided. Get details from The Alaska River Guide, by Karen Jettmar, director of Equinox (Menasha Ridge Press). Obviously, you should be experienced in the outdoors and in river floating before heading out for a multiday trip in the Arctic. And plan ahead, arranging details well in advance with the Park Service and your pilot. Bering Air (tel. 800/478-5422 in Alaska only, or 907/443-5464; www.beringair.com) is one good operator in Kotzebue. A popular way to take a float trip is to use scheduled service into a riverside village.
Kotzebue also offers curious travelers a chance to dig deep into the Iñupiaq way of life with Arctic Circle Educational Adventures (tel. 907/442-6013 in summer, or 907/276-0976 in winter; www.fishcamp.org). The adventure takes place at a fish camp similar to those where Native people spend the summer gathering food for the winter -- you can participate in set-net fishing, fish cutting, food gathering, and other traditional subsistence activities, as well as hiking, town tours, and bird-watching. You are a participant rather than an observer and spend real, unmediated time with Native people. The camp on the beach 5 miles south of town is as simple as Bush life, but with a modern kitchen, dining room, shower, and sauna. Guests sleep in plywood cabins without plumbing. Rates are $150 per person per day for lodging, meals, and transfer from the airport, and an additional $100 per day for tour activities. The season is from late June to mid-August.
Alaska Airlines (tel. 800/252-7522; www.alaskaair.com) offers daily jet service to Kotzebue. Lodging is at the Nullagvik Hotel (www.nullagvik.com; tel. 907/442-3331), a comfortable, modern hotel on the beachfront owned by the NANA regional Native corporation. High-season rates are $219 double.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.