Do you know only 2% of the travelers who visit Alaska dare to do something extreme and visit Arctic Circle.The people up north don’t even consider southern Alaska (Anchorage,Seward etc) to be real Alaska.North Alaska differs from South Alaska in so many ways.North Alaska is pure and wild Arctic, a frozen playground, where life is all about survival.Definitely, it’s not a tourist destination, but for many it is a bucket list destination with unique and once a lifetime experience.
We started our journey from Fairbanks which is the perfect gateway to Alaskan Arctic region.Because of the wilderness and unavailability of modern-day amenities, there are very limited ways to explore the region.If you are going in summers, you can drive up to Arctic Ocean on rugged Dalton Highway whose soul purpose is to serve the Trans Alaska Pipeline starting in Prudhoe Bay.Most rental companies won’t allow you to drive on Dalton Highway as it is mainly industrial road with no phone coverage and services. If you want to see how driving in Dalton Highway looks like watch an episode from Ice Road Truckers.If you are going in winters, going with a tour company is a better option unless you want to drive in extreme cold and snow condition.
We went in early November which marks the beginning of Winter so we decided not to drive.We booked tours from North Alaska Tour Company, only company in the region which arranges Arctic tours.Luckily, during our stay, it was freezing cold but weather was clear, nights were dark with no snow which was the perfect condition for Northern Lights.
Below are the highlights from the trip.
1) Northern Lights – Aurora Borealis
How do you know when is the best time to see Northern Lights?
I did some research before booking this trip which worked well for me and I would like to share it with you.I know that many people spend days in Arctic hunting for Aurora but I was lucky to see it on a my first attempt.This research was specifically done for region around Fairbanks.There are 3 factors on which chances of seeing Aurora depends:-
1) Aurora Prediction
I used University of Fairbanks Aurora forecast site to determine the days when Aurora will be out there.This site gives you forecast for 28 days.The Aurora activity is measured by KP Index.Higher the KP index , greater is the chance to view Aurora.We chose a day when KP index was 5.
2) Weather Condition
Weather condition plays another important role in viewing Aurora.If Aurora activity is high but weather is cloudy, you might end up seeing nothing.Once, you have decided your Aurora days from above site, check the weather forecast for those days.Ideal condition for Aurora watching is clear and dark sky.
3) No Moon
Choose the days which are close to No Moon day to maximize the chance of dark sky.Even moonlight can be an obstacle if KP index is low.
Considering above 3 factors, I chose a day and booked my Aurora Homestead tour with North Alaska Tour company.The company guide picked us up from our hotel in Fairbanks at 8:30 in the night and drove us 60 miles north of Fairbanks to Joy Alaska.
The place had an Alaskan style cabin in middle of nowhere.We were provided with hot drinks, blankets and tripods to take pictures from our camera.The cabin was blessing in disguise from cold weather.We saw first faint streak of Aurora light at 11:30 pm.Gradually, the intensity of the light increased and it peaked at 2:30 am in the morning.Green light was all over the place dancing above our heads.The show continued till 7 am in the morning.It felt like a laser show from nature.
2) Arctic Circle and Beyond
I know it sounds crazy but believe me there are even more crazier people who live there.Latitude 66° 33’ north (Arctic Circle coordinates on GPS), which many people dream about visiting is about 196 driving miles from Fairbanks.We booked another tour Winter Fly adventure from North Alaska Tour Company to experience the frozen Arctic and beyond.Our scenic flight started at Fairbanks airport. We flew over Dalton Highway, Trans Alaska Pipeline, treeless snow laden tundra landscape, vast wilderness panoramas, mighty frozen Yukon river, crossed the Arctic Circle, explored the region farther north like Brooks Range, Gates of Arctic National Park and finally landed 60 miles away from Arctic Circle in Coldfoot camp.This site is set up to serve truckers who drive on Dalton Highway.Probably, the last camp where you can find all necessary things to survive in the Arctic before reaching the shores of Arctic Ocean.This camp is the northernmost truck stop on earth.There are only 12 people who live in the camp during winters and guess what is their mode of entertainment during winters …. Yes….. Netflix.The temperature gets as low as -60 degree F.The ground is treeless and permanently frozen which is also called permafrost.There are Arctic villages which still uses dog sledding as a mode of transportation and lacks all the modern world amenities.Experiencing the harsh Arctic weather and walking on permafrost was quite an experience.We ate our lunch in Coldfoot Cafe and took flight back to Fairbanks.After returning to our base camp in Fairbanks, we received an official Arctic Circle Certificate…. Yay !!!
For this trip, I want to quote a saying from US Arctic Research Commissioner:
“I think it is very important for people to go places that are different from where they live in order to understand the economy, culture and challenges faced by a region.There is only so much you can do by showing a film or by showing pictures or by telling stories. It’s a very different experience when you’re actually in the Arctic and have the opportunity to see it, touch it, feel it, smell it, and experience it yourself.”