Welcome to midsummer in Alaska: long days, no night. And while many of us love the extended sunsets, there's nothing quite like exploring the high Arctic, where the sun spins in circles overhead for a couple of months!
Whether it's a trip to the North Slope or an adventure to the western Alaska communities of Nome and Kotzebue, there are several options for travelers.
Many folks want to enjoy a "Day at the Top of the World" in Barrow. Fly with Alaska Airlines from Fairbanks up to Barrow, with a day tour of Barrow and the surrounding area. Walk the beach. Take a snapshot underneath the whale bone arch. Learn about the commuity -- visit the local grocery store and check out how much things cost at the Top of the World.
Your daytrip includes admission to the Inupiat Heritage Center. Depending on when you arrive at the center--you may see local artists at work, polishing and carving baleen, ivory, or both.
From Fairbanks, rates start at $699 per person. Learn more here.
Anthony Giliam, an agent at Explore Tours in Anchorage, indicated that travelers can elect to start the tour in Anchorage--or spend the night in Barrow at the Top of the World Hotel. And adjacent to the Top of the World is "Pepe's North of the Border" Mexican restaurant. Great food, and great personality! The cost from Anchorage is additional, as is the overnight option. You can call 800-523-7405 for details.
You can also fly on Alaska Airlines up to Kotzebue and Nome from Anchorage. Explore Tours offers a two-day, one-night trip. The first stop is in Kotzebue, 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Stay at the newly-renovated Nullagvik Hotel, which looks out over Arctic Sound. Your trip includes a five-hour tour of the area, including a visit to the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center, the White Alice Communication Station, Devil's Lake and a local gift shop. I visited the gift shop across from the heritage center last summer and got some great local art. I also blew my budget -- but pay special attention to the small baskets (made of grass and baleen) and the ivory carvings!
After spending the long, unending twilight -- also known as "night" -- in Kotzebue, board your Alaska Airlines flight for the short hop to Nome. As part of your tour, drive 70 miles from Nome up to Teller. Along the way, watch for moose, fox and musk ox. Check out the old gold mining dredge, and learn about the modern-day gold rush taking place now.
The cost from Anchorage is $1,399 per person, double occupancy (add $100 for a single room). Learn more.
For travel to Nome on your own, take advantage of the fantastic Alaska Airlines airfare of just $206 roundtrip between Anchorage and Nome. The rate is available between June 26 and July 24, 2012.
Travel up the Dalton Highway between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay is the specialty of Northern Alaska Tour Company in Fairbanks. The company also has a lodge at Coldfoot (about half way up the highway).
If you want to get up above the Arctic Circle, you can fly in Northern Alaska's twin-engine aircraft up to Coldfoot. From there, take a leisurely drive south along the highway in a tour coach or van. Lunch is not included. You're welcome to brown-bag it or purchase lunch at the Yukon River. The cost for the daytrip is $359-$389 per person.
Check out the oil fields on the North Slope as part of the three-day, two-night Arctic Ocean Adventure. On the first day, fly north from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay. Check out the oil fields and dip your toe in the Arctic Ocean. Go ahead; I did it. It's warm! I swear! You'll overnight in Prudhoe Bay.
The next day, get aboard Northern Alaska's coach for the drive through the Brooks Range to Coldfoot. After spending the night at Coldfoot, continue south to Fairbanks. You'll stop at the Yukon River crossing for lunch. These trips depart on Wednesdays, Fridays and Mondays. Cost is $989 per person, double occupancy from Fairbanks. Add $200 for a single room.
Northern Alaska also offers side trips to Anaktuvuk Pass for travelers who want an up-close look at an off-the-road rural Alaska community.
Check with the various operators for your specialized gear list, including sunscreen, sunglasses, comfy walking shoes and a hat. Yes, it's summer in Alaska: all night long!!
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based travel marketing consultant who has lived in Alaska for three decades, spending much of that time traveling the far-flung corners of the state. Visit his website at www.alaskatravelgram.com. And follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/alaskatravelgrm for breaking updates.