An extraordinary adventure to the Arctic Circle

Imagine a winter wonderland at the Earth’s northernmost fringe, where dancing lights illuminate the night sky, majestic moose cross the snowy roads, and massive blocks of ice hold the untold stories of history

Mariel Galán during her trip to the Arctic Circle, in the Canadian region of Yukon.

Embarking on a journey to the Arctic Circle is a exhilarating test of both physical and mental endurance. How did I get to latitude 66°33′ North? The journey began with two flights to reach Whitehorse, the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories. After a night there, I traveled north to Dawson City and then took small planes toward the Arctic over the breathtaking beauty of the snow-capped peaks and endless mountains of Tombstone Territorial Park. The final flight ended with an impressive landing on a dirt road, as there are no airports or runways in these remote parts.

I’ll never forget my first experience in this icy destination — it surpassed all my expectations. The temperature was -27°F (-33°C) and stepping off the aircraft, I immediately felt an intense cold that penetrated my bones and gripped my throat. The sun’s reflection off the snow was blinding, making it impossible to fully take in the stunning panorama. The wind blew with a hurried, rushing sound. The Arctic Circle was sending me a message, a warning perhaps: this place is intensely felt before it is truly seen. Or as Thomas Mann once said: “Beauty can pierce one like pain.”

In the arresting but deserted expanse of Eagle Plains, I met up with Robin, a true Arctic expert. Boarding his robust 4x4 truck, we embarked on our journey to the Arctic Circle. A rustic wooden sign proclaimed our arrival at this ring that encircles the globe at a latitude of 66°33′ North. At this point on the map, the Earth’s circumference measures a mere 11,000 miles (17,662 kilometers). It was a momentous milestone in our grand adventure, and we couldn’t pass up the chance to capture it with photographs.

View from a small plane of the snowy peaks and endless mountains of Tombstone Territorial Park, Canada.

The area within the Arctic Circle is known as the circumpolar region, covering 4% of the Earth. It spans three continents and includes eight countries: Canada, the United States, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Greenland. In Canada, this area encompasses Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The circumpolar region is home to various Indigenous groups, such as the Inuit (Inuvialuit) and Gwich’in in Canada; Aleut and Yupik in Alaska; Saami in Sweden, Finland and Norway; Nenets, Khanty, Evenk and Chukchi in Russia; and the Inuit (Kalaallit) in Greenland.

There are agencies that specialize in organizing expeditions to the Arctic Circle. One is Himba Tours, which offers a nine-day road trip starting in Whitehorse, passing through Dawson City, continuing on the Dempster Highway to Eagle Plains, and eventually ending in Inuvik, a town in the Northwest Territories. The approximate cost of this trip is $5,340.

Traveling the sole public road in the Arctic

Yukon is the only place along this parallel that has a public road crossing the Arctic Circle. The famous Dempster Highway spans 460 miles (740 kilometers), connecting Dawson City to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories and ending at the Mackenzie River delta near the waters of the Arctic Sea. This road greatly helped our expedition by providing a clear path forward.

The Arctic presents a captivating blend of challenges and enigmas in a delicate and interconnected ecosystem. Its expansive valleys, nestled amid mountains adorned with glistening snow and massive blocks of ice, provide an everlasting spectacle that never fails to inspire awe. Along our journey, we paused frequently to take photos, but the biting Arctic air often forced us back into the warmth of our vehicles.

These rugged landscapes merely served as an introduction to the breathtaking surprise that awaited us moments later: the emergence of a luminous ring of hues encircling the sun. Robin enlightened me — we were beholding a phenomenon known as the “solar halo.” This mesmerizing sight is caused by the refraction of suspended ice crystals in the troposphere, which reflect light into a kaleidoscope of colors around the sun. This spectacle is commonly observed in the planet’s northernmost latitudes.

Mariel Galán in the Arctic Circle during the "solar halo," a meteorological phenomenon caused by ice crystals in the troposphere refracting light and creating colorful rings around the sun.

After the adrenaline rush of seeing the solar halo, we ventured into a serene wooded area, eager for the next extraordinary encounter. And there it was — two majestic moose gracefully emerged from a hidden trail and slowly ambled down the road. Covered in thick fur that protects against harsh arctic elements, these magnificent creatures took me back in time. In that instant, I felt a connection with the brave explorers who fulfilled their dreams by conquering remote lands.

I suddenly felt nature call and asked Robin to stop at the nearest restroom. However, he quickly told me that there are no public facilities on this highway, except for one fueling station. I had two choices: wait or muster the courage to go by the side of the road. Despite my fear, I chose the latter, and it all worked out fine.

Waiting for the northern lights

In the late afternoon, we reached the Eagle Plains Hotel, a remote motel situated at Kilometer 371 of the Dempster Highway, facing the Richardson Mountains. Stepping inside feels like entering the secret meeting place of the long-distance truckers who travel this secluded highway. After long hours on the road, they gather here to enjoy a beer, dinner and conversation in the dining room. The restaurant walls are adorned with stuffed moose heads and old photos of Indigenous Inuit. We were graciously offered bison meat stew, a dish that represents a local diet heavy on animal fat. The taste was rich and wild.

Mariel Galán stands near the Arctic Circle sign.

One of my reasons for traveling to this secluded destination in winter was to witness the northern lights. The best sightings of this natural phenomenon are often found in the northernmost part of the planet, within the auroral oval encircling the North Pole and the Arctic Circle. The hotel staff told us about the vibrant auroras the night before, but my hopes were dashed by the persistent, gray cloud cover. I woke up several times in the early morning, eagerly anticipating a dazzling display of colors in the sky, but luck was not on my side.

Dejected, I accepted defeat but memories of the thrilling journey that led me to this moment flooded my mind like a speeding locomotive. I closed my eyes and a faint smile appeared on my lips... It was a grand adventure, after all.

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