The Arctic Circle is one of the most remote regions of the world, difficult to cross due to extreme climate and rocky terrain. Combined with the fact that few people live there, it is often seen as hard to travel on land. Indeed, in Alaska, many locals are reliant on bush pilots or snowmobiles to traverse the region due to poor road links.
However, it is possible, depending on where you are, to reach the Arctic Circle in your car or other motor vehicle. Here’s how you can enjoy a scenic road trip to the Arctic.
Because of the Arctic’s extremely cold climate, lack of human habitation, and underdeveloped infrastructure, you will need to take special precautions before traveling via car, regardless of where you are or what time of year it is. In general, modifications to your car such as snow tires and other cold-weather adaptations are necessary in order to ensure your safety. Because of the remoteness of many Arctic roads, you will also want to carry a survival kit in case you run into trouble on your trip.
In addition to this, you will need to observe traffic laws very carefully in order to avoid car crashes. Always wear your seatbelt and obey speed limits, as breaking the law in these instances can very well get you killed. Also be sure to look up local traffic ordinances, many of which are unique to Arctic driving. For example, travelers on the Dalton Highway, which connects Fairbanks, Alaska to the Arctic Circle, are required to keep their headlights on at all times, even during the day.
Driving to the Arctic Circle
For many Americans and Canadians, Alaska is the easiest way to reach the Arctic Circle because it has the best-developed roads and highways. Reaching Alaska itself by car is possible by multiple means, but to reach the Arctic Circle proper, you will need to travel the Alaska Highway, which connects British Columbia to Delta Junction, Alaska, outside of Fairbanks. Fairbanks is the southern terminus of the Dalton Highway, which leads directly to the Arctic Circle and Alaska’s North Slope.
Constructed during World War II as a military supply route, the Alaska Highway was the first land connection between the continental U.S. and Alaska. Beginning in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, the Alaska Highway is 1,387 miles (2,232 kilometers) long and traverses the northern part of British Columbia as well as the territory of Yukon, passing through the territorial capital of Whitehorse.
Once known for being a dangerous and treacherous route, the Alaska Highway is now paved throughout its entire length. Additionally, various re-routings over the decade has shortened its length, allowing motorists to traverse it more quickly. It has become a tourist attraction in its own right, with many historic landmarks along its route and numerous businesses catering to passersby.
From Fairbanks, you can drive to the Arctic Circle via the Dalton Highway. Completed in 1974, the Dalton Highway was intended to facilitate travel between interior Alaska and the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay, and its construction was spurred by the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Notable landmarks along the highway include the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, Finger Mountain, the Yukon River Bridge, and the Arctic Circle Monument.
The Dalton Highway is largely gravel road and extremely remote, with little human habitation outside of its termini at Fairbanks and Deadhorse. Motorists can purchase fuel at the Yukon River Bridge as well as the town of Coldfoot. Travelers are highly encouraged to bring survival gear in case they run into trouble. As mentioned above, Alaskan law requires that motorists keep their headlights on at all times. Despite its remoteness, the Dalton Highway is a popular route for truckers.
An alternate route to the Arctic Circle in Yukon is the Dempster Highway, which connects the famous Klondike Highway to the Inuit village of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, on Canada’s Arctic coast. The Klondike Highway begins in Skagway, Alaska, located in the state’s southeastern panhandle, and passes through Whitehorse. While previously reliant on ice bridges, the completion of the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway in 2017 now allows year-round use of the road. As with the Dalton Highway, travelers are advised to prepare adequately and exercise caution when driving on the Dempster Highway.
It is also possible to drive to the Arctic Circle in Europe and Asia. The Norwegian city of Tromsø is located on the Arctic Ocean and is easily accessible by road. In addition to this, the Russian port city of Murmansk is well-served by road links from St. Petersburg, Norway, and Finland. A number of other Arctic cities in Russia, such as Norilsk, can also be easily reached by road. Due to the larger population in the Eurasian part of the Arctic Circle, transportation infrastructure is generally more developed there.
Traveling to the Arctic Circle by road is not a light endeavor. You need expert driving skills, adequate supplies, and a strong knowledge of the terrain in order to ensure your safety. Always err on the side of caution and prepare adequately before you set out on your trip. If you’re willing to make the effort, a road trip to the Arctic can be one of the most memorable experiences of your life, allowing you to see gorgeous mountains and beautiful wildlife in a way that few travelers to this region of the world ever experience.