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Northern Alaska First Week of May

New York City, New...
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Northern Alaska First Week of May

I have traveled to the Arctic before (Greenland in late March, Northern Finland in January) and will be going to Alaska -for a second visit- the first week of May (next year). Seems to me too early for bears in Kodiak, Glacier Bay near Juneau, Denali (have been there before) so thinking instead to go to Barrow and maybe also Nome & Kotzebue. Any tips there at that time of the year. Any chance of seeing (safely) polar bears near Barrow? Interested in Inuit culture but not in touristy and expensive trips dog sledding (did it in Greenland anyway). Hesitating to go as a little early in the season. Please advise (asap) as frequent flyers tickets that must be redeemed tomorrow. Many thanks for reading and answering.

Adirondack, New York
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1. Re: Northern Alaska First Week of May

I don't know about seeing polar bears in Barrow in May but I can tell you that the beginning of May there is still winter in Kotzebue and Nome. You will need to stay in towns which means one day in each is enough time. If you decide to go to Kotze make certain to go to a beautiful but almost non-visited Kobuk Vally National Park and to sand dunes there but such trip won't be possible in early May. Barrow would be the best place to experience the most authentic native culture.

Bristol, Connecticut
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2. Re: Northern Alaska First Week of May

I think I would go later or earlier. Break up can be quite ugly in the villages and depending on your timing you will probably show up right in the middle of mud season. It may also be difficult to fly into some places as the lakes will not be frozen but they will also not be free of ice. Kotz has a new Inupiat visitor center. Just so you know the Inupiat people prefer to be referred to as Inupiat and not Inuit, or at least that has been my experience when working in Diomede and Kotz.

Anchorage, Alaska
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3. Re: Northern Alaska First Week of May

I'd contact someone in Barrow (perhaps the museum or library up there); but there's a "whaling season" near May (& another around October). We were there for 3 days during the October season and they harvested 3 whales then. It was amazing (no bears resulted though).

In the fall season they process the whale on land. I'm not sure if the same happens during the spring season (they may be harvested out on the ice). Again, timing & details could be learned from contacting someone in Barrow.

Good luck,


Chugiak, Alaska
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4. Re: Northern Alaska First Week of May

I've heard that the Fall is the time to try to see polar bears from some friends who know folks in Barrow and have done research on it. I agree about Break-up (known as Spring in the lower 48) not being a great time of the year to visit up north. I'd go in October.

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5. Re: Northern Alaska First Week of May

I too have heard that fall is best for polar bears near Barrow but it really does vary with the conditions. No way to know.

I would also not write off Denali NP in early May. That is a great time to visit. The road into the park is almost always open to mile 29 by then. You can pick up a cheap bicycle in Fairbanks, drive to Denali, drive to mile 29 then bike further into the park to your heart's content. I biked to Sable Pass (about 10 miles) a couple of years ago when the road was only open to Tek.

If you are using Delta or Alaska Air miles you get a free stop en route that you can use to your advantage. I do that with pretty much every one of my Delta frequent flyer tickets. It really maximizes the value of the miles.

Atlanta, Georgia
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6. Re: Northern Alaska First Week of May

May is the start of Spring whaling season in Barrow. According to what they told me when I visited there in December, they are able to use more traditional methods for hunting the whales and carving them into maktak, since there is still substantial ice in the ocean and on the ground.

Polar bears are more common in October, as several people have mentioned already. In the colder months they hunt out on the pack ice and rarely come ashore.

I would give Barrow a shot in May - you might get lucky and witness a whale harvest. It's a very community oriented event - doesn't get much more "cultural" than that.


7. Re: Northern Alaska First Week of May

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Cadiz, Kentucky
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8. Re: Northern Alaska First Week of May

We were in Barrow May 26th and were lucky enough to see a polar bear. (Definitely a highlight of this year's AK trip as we definitely were NOT expecting that treat!) Mud was definitely NOT a problem as everything was still very very frozen! The people were extremely welcoming, and very proud of their village. We really really enjoyed Barrow!

9. Re: Northern Alaska First Week of May

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