Barrow, Alaska: a glimpse into America’s Northernmost city in the winter and to see what it really looks like.
After four stunning days in Fairbanks, I was ready to explore other distinct parts of Alaska. I had discovered on my first trip to Alaska that it is impossible to cross out Barrow, the northernmost city of America, on my destination list, especially when had I come this far. Therefore, when my friends back in Hawaii told me that Barrow was extremely cold and dark in March, it piqued my curiosity of what the winter in Arctic Circle really looks like.
The plane took off at 8:00 am when Fairbanks was still snoozing. It plunged me out from the modern buildings and snow-capped hills and to the arid landscape of snow-covered fields. This monotonous view continued for an hour before I arrived in Barrow. I stepped into the airport, geared up with all my winter clothes to confront with the frigid arctic climate.
I finally caught a glimpse of Barrow outside the airport. It was morning in mid- winter. The city had already made it through its winter solstice and was bright enough to greet its new arrivals. It is a small Eskimo village down in the northernmost corner of America. My first impression of Barrow comes down to a dirt road, several one story buildings and pure white snow.
I gazed over a half a foot snow, and enjoyed watching a snowmobile team ride their snowmobile in this northern territory. This is the land where the snowmobiles ruled the snow as the transportation of choice. Today snowmobiling is a spectacular sport in the polar region, but for me, simply watching the Eskimos conquer the snowy and icy roads with their advanced snowmobiling technique was already thrilling enough.
The snowmobiles hit the snow and made it turned into a white mist. About half an hour into our tour, the bus pulled over in front of a local store. We hurried into the land of wilderness and saw a mountain of snow in front of a local store. This was a perfect base for playing in the snow. We darting down the icy road and searched for a vintage point for a snowball fight. The tour guide did not rush us into the bus in order to stick with our travel schedule. Instead, he initiated the fight by tossing a humongous chunk of snow towards us. As we laughed, screamed and ran away from the ball of snow, I thought how wonderful it was to be away from reality.
We made it to Pepe’s North of the Border to stuff our tummy with yummy Mexican food. I had ever imagined that a Mexican restaurant could be that far north, but Pepe serves many types of Mexican food, from fried beans to salsa to fish and so on. For every course we ordered, it came with a plate of nachos and salsa. Although it is a northerly restaurant with a northerly price, the owner and their team made some really scrumptious seafood to satisfy our taste buds.
After a restorative lunch, we made it to the Point Barrow, with a landmark (sign) showing “Welcome to Barrow, Top of the World”. The landmark told us that we had reached the northernmost city of the United States. I meandered around the sign for a small stint and felt the excitement of arriving at Point Barrow. The sign was surrounded by skeleton of a bow-head whale, piles and mounts of white snow and cloud -free skies. The airplane flew overhead; we waved and cheered for the passengers wishing them a blessed trip to the south. The scene was a winter wonderland on earth; a fantasy land of pure white snow made for a blissful winter trip. Far from the pressure of 9 to 5 grind, tuition payments, and daily routines, this place was a refuge for me.
Along the way, we passed an ice-cream shop and ended up eating ice cream in the Arctic Circle. It was the first time I do not have to rush to eat the ice-cream as it does not melt.
I spent the remaining afternoon at the northernmost point of North America, trekked through the snow, spotted out wolf tracks, and chatted with the tour guide. It is a disoriented place – secluded, fearsome, and otherworldly – under the gloomy skies, with seemly endless snow and nothing else. I could clearly feel I am on the edge of the world the moment I set my feet on the northernmost point. I took a deep breath and a few steps forward, a walk on the edge of the world is brought into reality. I wonder where I would end up if I continued strolling northwards; maybe to the northernmost point of the world, or maybe I would disappear without trace.
The power of snow finally frightened me. Having no idea of the length and the time that it took to reach the point of extremes, I hesitated to step forward. Looking back to the starting point, my tour guide waved to me and patiently waited for my return.
Irrespective of my unrealistic thoughts, it was a fantastic walk in one of the most remote places that I have ever come across. I departed Barrow eager to experience the rest of my trip in Alaska and was completely in love with the winter season in this American northernmost city.
Summer in Barrow, Alaska
From May 10 to August 2, it is summer in Barrow; a time when Eskimos carry on major hunting and cultural activities: blanket toss, native dance performances, and polar bear club. There are 24 hours of daylight, as the sun never fully sets. With the continuous daylight, even at midnight, visitors have sufficient time to explore the town and learn the local tradition of this remote Eskimo village.
Planning to visit Barrow, Alaska? Here’s what you need to know prior to your departure.
- Dress warmly and in layers. The weather can be unpredictable and extraordinarily cold and windy even during the summer season, but it will be warm indoors. For what to wear in Barrow, check out the Complete Parking Guide for Alaska Winter Trip.
- Barrow is an expensive place to visit. The round-trip airfare from Fairbanks usually costs between $300- $575 per person. The only hotel in Barrow, Top of the World Hotel, is more than $200 nightly.
- If you are flexible on time but tight on budget, drive to the Arctic Circle via Dalton Highway, the northernmost highway in the United States; it can give you a taste of the frozen tundra, Arctic Ocean, and various wildlife: bears, Dall sheep, and caribous. Be sure you have your own car insurance covered for the entire road trip, as the Dalton Highway is a restricted area for all the car-rental companies in Alaska.
- Cell-phone services will likely not be available in Barrow, so prepare accordingly. Leave a message to your family and dear friends letting them know your itinerary in the Arctic Circle for safety purposes.
- The weather impacts your itinerary, so be prepared for delays, changes, and cancellations of your flights because of the inclement weather.
- Wear sunglasses to prevent symptoms of snow blindness.
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