The largest community in the Northwest Arctic Borough of Alaska, the City of Kotzebue offers a wide range of activities for visitors, both in town and in the surrounding wilderness. A crossroads of local culture and natural wonders, it has something to offer to anyone with a spirit for adventure and an appreciation of the people and wilds of the 49th state.
History of Kotzebue Alaska
Named for Otto von Kotzebue, a Baltic German who explored the neighboring sound in search of the northwest passage in 1818, Kotzebue Alaska is the borough seat of the Northwest Arctic Borough. It was incorporated on October 14, 1958, But has existed for much longer. Kotzebue was founded as a Reindeer Station in 1897, and the site has been the home of the local Inupiat people and their center of trade in furs, seal oil, fish, and other valuables for nearly 10,000 years. In 1958, it became home to the Kotzebue Air Force Station, which was operational until 1983.
In Town in Kotzebue
Places to Stay in Kotzebue
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Kotzebue, Alaska for an overnight stay before and after you are out in the field, we suggest making your reservations prior to your trip. There is one hotel in town and a few B&B’s.
Restaurants in Town
Considering the remote location, Kotzebue Alaska has a variety of places to eat. Uutuku is a local favourite, with famous Chinese spicy chicken that some say is the best in the state. There’s no seating, so order ahead and prepare for a delicious dinner in your hotel room. For a dine-in Chinese restaurant, try the Empress. If you’d prefer pizza, Little Louie’s renowned in the area.
Kotzebue is a “Damp Village”
In a “Damp” Village, alcohol is sold and available in town through the City run Liquor Store (that happens to be attached to the City Jail). However, the amount of alcohol any one person can purchase on a daily basis (with a permit that must pre-purchased) is strictly regulated. They also limit the amount of alcohol that you can bring into town with you.
As with most things in the remote areas of Alaska, things can be quite pricey – the Liquor Store in Kotzebue is NO exception to that rule. Temporary Permits for visitors are available at the Package Store. Prices vary by length of stay. Learn more.
Despite being a relatively small town, Kotzebue Alaska is by no means a boring city. For those interested in natural history, the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center is a fantastic place to spend a couple of hours. The detailed exhibits illustrate the birds, fish, and other wildlife of the region, as well as the history of the native Inupiat people as well as other Native Alaskan populations.
For the traveler more interested in artistic pursuits, the Sulianich Art Gallery hosts a wide array of pieces; crafted from whale bone, baleen, and even mammoth ivory; created by local craftspeople.
The center of town is home to Cemetery Hill, a cemetery consisting mostly of crosses and unique Spirit Houses, which are left to house the souls of loved ones until they transition into heaven.
In early April, the Kobuk 440 starts right in town. The last sled dog race of the mushing season, the mushers travel 220 miles east along the Kobuk River before turning back and returning to Kotzebue, usually taking 3-4 days.
Between July and August, the Keta Salmon, also known as Chum Salmon run up from the Kotzebue sound and into the hooks, nets, and spears of waiting fishermen.