5 Great Reasons to Visit the Arctic Circle in Alaska

Published: December 1, 2023

Some Alaska travelers set their sights on a fascinating journey to a very distinct destination and a truly unique adventure in Alaska: visiting the Arctic Circle. For context, to be fair, most Alaska visitors rarely get north of Fairbanks, located in the heart of Alaska’s Interior. But about 400 rough road miles north of Fairbanks other intrepid folks will find the Arctic Circle. Getting there is an ambitious accomplishment (it takes time and logistical planning) but is an incredibly memorable and inspiring journey that transports you into the deepest of Alaska’s wilderness, remote landscapes, natural beauty, and history.

How to Travel to the Arctic Circle in Alaska

You can travel to the Arctic Circle on a day trip or overnight, by air, in a shuttle or bus, a balance of both, or with your own car. Note: You might find a rental vehicle (but only if you can identify the rare rental company that allows their customers to drive north of Fairbanks).

If you’re driving, Fairbanks will be your last chance to stock up on amenities and the last real city you’ll see on your route to the Arctic Circle. There are few frills and even fewer signs of civilization along the way. The traffic you’ll encounter is mostly semis (trucks) and various oil field employee vehicles traveling to and from Prudhoe Bay or outposts along the way. The payoff for this long trip for travelers, however, is huge. You’ll see traces of the area’s Gold Rush history, views of the shiny Trans Alaska Pipeline System, a wide variety of wildlife, wild rivers (including the famed Yukon River), and endless expanses of natural Alaska landscapes, from dense forests to mountain ranges to tundra.

Why make the trip to Alaska’s Arctic Circle?

Here are five excellent reasons to put this classic Alaska destination on your Alaska tour itinerary:

#1: Grab a Photo Opp and Traveler Bragging Rights!

Sure, some travelers can boast about crossing the Equator, but many fewer can say they’ve actually been to, and above, the Arctic Circle. This landmark destination in Alaska is certainly not as accessible as the Equator and many of the world’s five major circles of latitude. Just getting to the Arctic Circle is truly an accomplishment worth bragging about. That’s because it isn’t easy – few rental car companies allow use of their vehicles on the mostly unpaved and unforgiving Elliott and Dalton Highways. There are numerous outfitters who plan Arctic Circle trips for travelers, though, offering scenic flights and guided shuttle rides, day trips and plenty of additional fun activities. Check out Alaska Tours ideas around Arctic Circle trips such as the Arctic Circle Fly and Drive, Arctic Circle Air Adventure, and Arctic Circle Summer Drive Adventure.

Arcitc Circle flightseeing tours from Fairbanks.

Arriving at the Arctic Circle is both exciting and unceremonious – exciting because you’ve actually made it, and unceremonious because this grand “circle” is marked by a big wooden sign, albeit a really cool carved one complete with that shows the circle passing over Alaska. This is the perfect place for a photo opp of a moment you’ll never forget, and many companies will even supply you with a frame-worthy certificate recognizing your Arctic Circle visit.

#2: Experience an “Only-in-Alaska” Adventure!

Any trip to the Arctic Circle is both easy on the eyes and pretty spectacular, whether by vehicle or by air. Departing Fairbanks, you’re quickly in the wild, where wildlife sightings are abundant and can include an array of popular Alaska animals including bear, moose, caribou, muskoxen, fox, wolves, porcupines, wolverines, migrating and resident birds, to name just some. You’ll also pass major attractions like the Yukon River, and relics from Gold Rush history while passing by many Trans Alaska Pipeline System sightings. And of course you’ll be treated to scenic vistas, from massive mountains and passes to countless Alaskan rivers and lakes. If you’re looking for a wild “Only in Alaska” adventure, you’ll find that and more on this trip, and you’re arrival at the Arctic Circle is “the cherry on top”.

an adult muskox stands on a snowy landscape

Alaska Muskox: An “Only in Alaska” highlight! (Austin Blackwell)

#3: Catch a View of the Bright and Colorful Northern Lights

Making a trip to the Arctic Circle during the winter will certainly put the “arctic” in Arctic Circle as life gets darker and colder the further north you travel. But Alaska’s Arctic and Interior regions also host a heartwarming bonus – views of the infamous aurora borealis, the Northern Lights! On a clear winter night near the Arctic Circle, it’s a safe bet that the northern lights will be dancing. Being this remote, there is little to no manmade ambient light to dilute the aurora, so they’re often brighter, broader and more colorful on the black palette of a winter night sky than you’ll experience near a city or anywhere in southern Alaska. Want to plan one of these Northern Lights trips? Take a look at the Arctic Circle Northern Lights Fly/Drive trip and the Arctic Circle Northern Lights Overnight Adventure.

green aurora over the Dalton Highway in Alaska in winter

Experience the Northern Lights near the Arctic Circle

#4: Get Local with the Warm Hospitality of Coldfoot, Alaska

Many Arctic Circle visitors will want to further immerse themselves in the local Alaskan experience. The quiet community of Coldfoot, 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is the lone hospitality hub along the say on this journey by highway, and this town certainly lives up to its name in the winter season. This region is historically one of the coldest locations in America’s coldest state. But Coldfoot is also ablaze with northern lights and exciting winter adventures. Year-round, there’s also a welcoming vibe in this bustling boomtown. Coldfoot first sprang alive during the Gold Rush in the Great North in the early 1900s and again later, during the construction of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System in the mid ‘70s. Less than a dozen people are true residents now, but you still can get a comfy room, warm meal, a tank of gas, and experience a handful of fun day trips from here. Almost all of Alaska Tours’ Arctic Circle tour itineraries include a visit or overnight in Coldfoot.

Coldfoot Camp

#5: Visit a Unique Alaska Milestone on Your Way to Prudhoe Bay

For a few truly intrepid travelers, visiting the Arctic Circle is a memorable pitstop on an even longer trip north to end of the road in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska’s remote hub of oil development. The Dalton Highway or a commercial flight will transport you to the town of Deadhorse, where there are a few hotels, an airport, some gas stations and one market. You will be surrounded by tundra, spanning as far as the eye can see in every direction. Bears, caribou, muskox and fox are common sights here, too. On the outskirts of town is the Arctic Ocean, where (if you’ve come this far, why not?) you can dip your toe in the ocean or even take a full-on frosty polar plunge. Now that’s a photo opp! And just a note, if you’re traveling on a multiday guided group trip, this is easiest. If you’re traveling solo, you’ll need to get permission from the security staff to get to the beach. And watch out for polar bears. Seriously! Now that’s a trip worth bragging about!

Alaska Tours Arctic Circle Sample Tour Map

However, and whenever, you travel to the Arctic Circle, Alaska Tours team can help you navigate all the logistics so you can just focus on the fun part. So, come north. Make your own Arctic Circle history happen