Did you ever find an answer? I have the same question. I am planning a CruiseTour with Princess or Holland to Alaska July 2008. There are two options...One to Prudhoe Bay/Coldfoot and the other to Barrow. I am having difficulty deciding on which one to visit. The Barrow trip is more expensive with a one night stay. Prudhoe Bay/Coldfoot is a two night stay (one night in each). I wouldn't mind paying the extra money if it is worth it. Any help...pro/cons for each? Any information/opinions would be greatly appreciated! I am interested in the Arctic Ocean, possibly a swim(?), and wildlife.
What are you hoping to get out of your visit to the far north? Neither Prudhoe Bay nor Barrow are really tourist orientated. If you are looking to see Polar Bears the very early spring (May) and the fall (Aug/Sep) you would have a higher chance but they are mostly prevalent in the winter when the sea ice meets the land, that's when they often come into the towns. There are tours in Barrow in the summer that you can go on to Point Barrow but they rarely see them (normally just foot prints). I have been there many times in the summer and have yet to see one. You can get "lucky" though - I know people that were just sitting in their apartment and looked up over the ocean and saw one on a piece of the floating ice. (Inside your apartment is a really good place to be when you see one.)
There are millions of birds up on the tundra in June (only) but in Barrow, you can't just go and walk on the tundra and do some birding. You need to go and buy a permit from UIC, and they normally only issue permits to research groups - sometimes. The "tundra tours" that are offerred out of one of the hotels, are pretty lame to say the least.
Even if you could go hiking on your own, you would never even get far enough onto the tundra to be out of view of the town. Trust me, I've tried. It is so flat you can always look behind you and see the power lines and radar discs etc, except at the times when the tundra fog decides to come down at a moments notice and that's when you start praying that a GPS would magically fall from the sky because you can't see two feet in front of you.
I would seriously recommend Nome as an Arctic Ocean visit. You can beach comb along a fairly attractive beach (you may even stub your toe on a hunk of gold) and the town has a lot of history to it. Not sure if you can hire a car there but there are some long drives that you can take to see wildlife (I saw plenty of bird species there and muskox.) Nome is also more "independant traveller" friendly.
Prudhoe Bay is mostly oil fields with plenty of birds breeding around there and the caribou move through there often (not as much in the summer though). The Arctic Ocean Adventure you're looking at should give you some wildlife viewing opportunities on the drive up there. The road is pretty rough but should be comfortable in a coach. So if you want the guided tour, I'd go with the Prudhoe Bay one, if you want to travel independantly, go to Nome.
I have not been to Prudhoe Bay.
According to my Moon Handbook to Alaska the only way to get access to the Arctic Ocean is through a tour. The book recommends visiting
I have been to Barrow, and it is easy to self-tour. The beach is accessible to the public. Going out to Point Barrow (which I have not done) does require paying for a tour out to it, which can be arranged in Barrow.
If you are visiting during the summer, and have the time and the money, one possibility could be to take a bus tour from Fairbanks up the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay. From there you could fly back to Fairbanks or Anchorage, or you could fly over to Barrow first.
As has been mentiond, Prudhoe Bay isn't much more than oil fields and tundra. Of course, everything that far north is tundra. You pass the tree line quite a bit farther south.
Coldfoot isn't much more than a wide spot in the road. It's got a cafe and a couple of ATCO (trailer) units for sleeping in. It's served as a gold camp, construction camp and truck stop over the years. I've been there and saw it as nothing more than a far north truck stop.
As an Alaskan, my choice would be Barrow. Primarily because you have more of an opportunity to visit with the locals and understand some of the native culture that is part of living in that far north. Visiting this part of Alaska isn't like the rest. It's cold, barren and remote. But it has it's own special beauty, and part of that beauty is in understanding what it takes to make a life in that harsh country.
Also, it would be my assumption that the reason you aren't allowed out on the tundra by yourself is because it would be very easy for the tundra and the abundant bird nesting sites to be destroyed of tourist were allowed to wander out on their own. The nesting birds and their eggs are very important to the subsistence lifestyle of the people that live there.
Best of luck in your decision.
Barrow by far. I have been to both many(6? 8?) times and Prudhoe is an industrial field with greatly restricted movement and NO access to the sea. Even walking along the roads is actively discouraged as they don't want to worry about people being eated by grizzley bears. Yes, greiz followed the pipeline and food chain north and are now well established on the north slope.
Barrow is an Eskimo village with their ancient hisotry and culture along with much else to learn and experience, tours to take and GENUINE handcrafted arts to purchase from the artist. You can jump in to the Arctic Ocean and get a certificate and a photo on your camera if you wish. I highly recommend the local tours, led by local natives, who are proud of their history and culture and happy to share. There is no other way to gain a great experience in a short time without the tour.
Now as for Nome of Kotzebue as alternatives, I rank Kotzebue - despite my love for the great place - after Barrow for 'exotic'. WHile still north of hte Arctic Circle Kotzebue is not the northernmost point of Norht America, as Barrow is. Nome comes in a far third place, as to me it is just a histoic white man mining town, primarily occupied by Eskimo today, but wiht the GOld Rush flavor. I far prefer Kotzebue and Barrow.
Barrow gets my vote!
I have never been to Prudhoe Bay but our family did make a one day trip to Barrow from Fairbanks after an Alaska cruise and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Barrow is not very much to look at at first but it is a fascinating place, full of interesting stories, unique experiences (including dipping your toes or your whole body if you so desire in the Arctic Ocean), a fascinating cultural center and some very engaging and interesting tour guides. I wish we could have stayed longer. I would definitely urge you to consider a trip there.
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