What do you think of when you hear the words “Arctic Circle?” Most people probably visualize the North Pole, polar bears, and Santa Claus. And while the Arctic Circle is the northernmost part of the world, it’s much larger and more diverse than icebergs and cold weather.
In fact, visiting the Arctic Circle is not only much easier than you might think, it can make for one of the most memorable vacations of your life. The Arctic Circle’s wealth of natural beauty makes it one of the most unique places on Earth, and vacationing there is a surprisingly simple process. Here is why you should visit the Arctic Circle and how you can get there.
What is the Arctic Circle?
Broadly defined, the Arctic Circle is one of the most remote regions of the world, the northernmost of the five circles of latitude that Earth is divided into. The Arctic Circle formally begins at 66°33′47.6″ N, though this position is incrementally changing due to the fact that the Arctic Circle’s position depends on the tilt of the Earth’s axis.
The Arctic Circle is defined by extreme climate and weather conditions due to its relative distance from the Sun compared to other regions of the planet and the fact that the planet’s axial tilt causes much of the Sun’s rays to be redirected towards the equator. Temperatures tend to be cool at best during the summer and life-threateningly cold in the winter, with extreme shifts between the two in some locales. For example, the Russian city of Norilsk, located within the Arctic Circle, can see summer highs of 86 degrees Fahrenheit, while winter temperatures are as low as -58 degrees. Some coastal regions of the Arctic Circle have more moderate weather, however.
Additionally, the Arctic Circle is known for extreme shifts in the amount of daylight it receives throughout the year. On and around the summer solstice, the Arctic Circle experiences 24-hour daylight due to the fact that the Earth’s axial tilt does not allow the Sun to slip beneath the horizon. Similarly, around the winter solstice, the Arctic Circle experiences polar night, where the Sun does not rise at all, though the sky in some areas can be partially illuminated due to twilight.
Eight nations currently occupy territory within the Arctic Circle: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the U.S., Canada, Denmark, and Iceland. Due to the Arctic’s treacherous weather, remote location, and historic lack of resources, only four million people currently live there, the bulk of whom are in Russia, Sweden, and Norway. Murmansk, Russia, the largest city within the Arctic Circle, has a population of less than 300,000. Sisimiut in Greenland, the largest Arctic settlement in North America, only has 5,000 residents.
In recent years, the Arctic Circle has attracted attention from world governments due to potential resources such as oil being located there. In the case of North America, rising global temperatures have resulted in many glaciers in the Arctic Ocean shrinking or melting, potentially opening up the Arctic as a route for shipping cargo between Canada and Asia. The Northwest Passage, a hypothesized river route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, was a fixation of early American and Canadian colonists, and future climate developments may finally make it a reality.
Why Should You Visit the Arctic Circle?
As one of the most isolated regions of the world, the Arctic Circle has developed a unique ecosystem that can’t be found anywhere else. The Arctic Circle boasts animals such as polar bears, moose, and other creatures that are not found in warmer climates. Additionally, due to the limited level of human settlement, the Arctic Circle lacks the pollution and environmental destruction that has taken its toll on other parts of the globe, meaning that it is one of the few regions of unspoiled natural beauty left in the world. Fans of hunting and fishing will get a lot of mileage out of their trip to the arctic.
Speaking of natural beauty, if you’re a fan of mountains and other gorgeous natural sights, the Arctic Circle has them in spades. From hills and glaciers to frozen rivers and wide-open bays, the Arctic Circle offers some of the most picturesque scenery you’ll find anywhere. For example, the Northern Lights/aurora borealis, a gorgeous natural phenomenon in the sky, can only be reliably witnessed in the Arctic Circle.
Finally, the few manmade attractions that exist within the Arctic Circle are also worth a visit. For those who travel to the Alaskan portion of the Arctic Circle—the easiest for most travelers to reach—you can enjoy sights such as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, one of the largest oil pipelines in the world. Travelers along the Dalton Highway in Alaska can visit the Arctic Circle Sign, officially marking their entrance into the Arctic Circle and conferring bragging rights on those who reach it.
Getting to the Arctic Circle
As you would expect, visiting the Arctic Circle isn’t easy. Despite modern technology making the journey easier, the extreme weather conditions and rugged terrain of the arctic make any form of transportation difficult. Even in the summer, reaching the Arctic Circle requires careful preparation.
If you want to take a trip to the Arctic Circle, consider booking a tour with an Alaska-based tour company. Most visitors to the Arctic Circle typically head to Alaska because it is the easiest part of the arctic to reach due to logistical and immigration reasons. Fairbanks, while not located within the Arctic Circle itself, is a common jumping-off point for arctic adventures due to its large size, proximity to the Arctic Circle, and well-developed transportation links.
In particular, Fairbanks is the southern terminus of the Dalton Highway, a 400-mile long highway that connects the Alaskan interior with the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay in the Arctic Circle. The Dalton Highway is home to many of Alaska’s most memorable sights, including the Yukon River Bridge, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and the aforementioned Arctic Circle Sign.
However, traveling the Dalton Highway is considered risky due to its remoteness and primitive condition. Much of the road is unpaved and consists of gravel and it traverses dangerous, high-grade terrain. Additionally, the constantly shifting weather in that part of the globe brings with it its own risks. As the only medical facilities on the highway are located at its northern and southern termini, travelers are encouraged to bring survival equipment and are required to drive with their headlights on at all times, even during the day.
Because of this, many tour companies have begun offering day-long excursions along the Dalton Highway during the summer. These tours are administered by professionals who know both the history of this part of Alaska as well as how to stay safe on the road. Dalton Highway tours typically take tourists from Fairbanks to Deadhorse on the northern end of the highway, stopping at various points of interest such as the Yukon River Bridge.
Tours typically begin early in the morning in order to ensure that tourists can be returned to Fairbanks at a reasonable time in the evening. Many tour operators offer lunch as part of their package, while others give riders the opportunity to purchase food at a supermarket on the way, as there are few facilities located along the Dalton Highway itself. During the trip, the tour will stop at notable landmarks and other lookout points, giving tourists plenty of opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery and observe wildlife. The tour ends at the Arctic Circle Sign in Deadhorse, allowing tourists to claim bragging rights before they embark on the journey back to Fairbanks.
While it is possible to tour the Arctic Circle in other countries, Alaskan tours are the simplest, easiest, and most popular way to visit the arctic without much effort. Touring the Dalton Highway with a qualified tour company is the simplest way to experience the Arctic Circle, with the added bonus that you’ll be home in time for dinner.
The arctic holds a special mystique for many people due to its remoteness. Due to its cold weather and isolation, it remains in many ways one of the last frontiers for the human race. However, technological advances combined with changes in the climate have made the Arctic Circle a point of interest for the countries who control parts of it.
If you enjoy nature and want to experience an unforgettable trip, visiting the Arctic Circle is the way to go. While risky and remote, the Arctic Circle’s breathtaking views and unique wildlife will make for one of the most gorgeous vacations of your life. Not only that, you’ll be able to claim bragging rights as one of the few people who’s ever gone to the ends of the earth. Visiting the Arctic Circle isn’t just easier than you think, it’s a trip you should strongly consider if you enjoy unusual travel destinations.