Cruise Tour Destinations -
Alaska's Arctic Region
Alaska's Arctic region is some of the most isolated terrain in the world. This region has long captured the imagination of travelers from around the globe. It is, quite literally, the top of the world and offers some of the finest wilderness areas on earth.
Cruise tours that feature Alaska's Arctic region typically include a two-day journey down the Dalton Highway. Often referred to as, “The Haul Road,” this 414-mile gravel lifeline to the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay is a highway. Yes, a dirt highway. This road is the only overland route into the Arctic region providing the traveler with an experience far from the ordinary. Along most of its length, services are extremely limited. There are only a handful of gas stations, cell phones are all but useless and the road averages only 250 vehicles a day over its entire length. You may not see another vehicle for hours. You are as far from help as most people ever get. The good news, the scenery is mind-boggling and the trip an adventure into a still wild and mysterious frontier.
Near mile 56 you’ll cross the mighty Yukon River over the only bridge that spans the river within the state of Alaska. This high, wood-decked, half-mile long structure serves a dual purpose by providing access to truckers along the main supply route to Prudhoe Bay and it carries the famous Alaskan Pipeline across the river. The Bureau of Land Management maintains a visitor contact station here featuring displays on the road and the terrain.
For many, a trip to Alaska's Arctic region wouldn’t be complete without crossing the Arctic Circle, an imaginary line that circles the North Pole where the sun stays above the horizon for 24 continuous hours at the summer solstice (June 21) and stays below the horizon for 24 continuous hours at the winter solstice (December 21). The Dalton Highway is the only highway in the United States, and one of only two in North America, to cross the Arctic Circle. At mile 115, you’ll find the turnoff to the famous Arctic Circle sign and information boards where you can stop and take photos.
Since travel time to the northern terminus of the highway is 13+ hours, Arctic region cruise tours typically overnight in the tiny town of Coldfoot at mile 175. With a population of 13, Coldfoot is a major stop on the highway. Founded in 1898 as a gold rush town named Slate Creek, the name was changed around 1900 when early prospectors reportedly got “cold feet” about wintering here. The town was abandoned in 1912 and revived as a construction camp during construction of the Trans Alaskan Pipeline.
Coldfoot became a convenient halfway place to stop and truckers actually helped build the “northernmost truck stop in the world.” There is a café, inn, post office, gift shop, RV Park and fuel and tire repair. Additionally, The Arctic Interagency Visitor Center is located here. The Center is cooperatively run by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. You’ll find many interpretative exhibits about the animals, plants and people that inhabit the Arctic region and information about the people and industry that use the road. After Coldfoot there are 239 miles without services – the longest stretch in the United States.
From Coldfoot you can book an optional tour into the community of Anaktuvuk Pass, an access point for Gates of the Arctic National Park. At 8.2 million acres, this parkland is the size of four Yellowstone’s and located entirely north of the Arctic Circle. There are no developed trails, campgrounds or other visitor facilities.
Inaccessible by road, Anaktuvuk Pass is the last remaining settlement of the Nunamiut (inland northern Inupiat Eskimo). Village residents still rely on subsistence activities. There is a village store and the Simon Paneak Museum that highlights the early natural, geological and cultural history of the area. Exhibits include the migrations of people across the Bering Land Bridge, clothing, household goods and trapping and hunting implements. A visit here provides a firsthand glimpse of village lifestyle as it exists today in rural Alaska.
About halfway between Coldfoot and Deadhorse you’ll cross Alaska’s northernmost mountain range, the Brooks Range. Many Alaskans consider these mountains to be the most beautiful in the world. Jagged spires of bare rock tower over 7,000 feet, stunning glaciated valleys and endlessly varying terrain predominate. Located on the east side of the highway is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while to the west you’ll find the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to large herds of caribou and the nesting ground for over 200 species of migratory birds and waterfowl. The Porcupine Caribou Herd, which numbers approximately 152,000 members, is the 8th largest herd of migratory caribou in North America. Each spring the pregnant cows attempt to lead the herd to the Refuge – the safest place to birth and raise calves in Alaska's Arctic region.
As the road drops into the wide open landscape of the North Slope, wildlife can be seen from great distances. Arctic fox, wolf, musk oxen, grizzly bears and caribou sometimes forage near the highway.
About 8 miles inland from the Arctic Ocean the highway ends at Deadhorse, mile 414. The focus here is not on tourism (limited accommodations are available) but oil production, transport and supporting services. It is a “company town,” for the non-permanent population of 2,000-3,000 workers that operate the oil facility.
Only private, restricted roads extend to the ocean. Prudhoe Bay is the largest oil field in North America and for safety and security reasons unescorted visitors are not allowed on area roads. Tour agencies with special permits will take you to the ocean for a ceremonial “toe dip,” and tour of the oilfield facility.
Why would you want to go to an oilfield on you Arctic region vacation? To witness an amazing achievement. Because of the harsh Arctic conditions, drilling up here is a little different than down south and the area is environmentally sensitive. The discovery of this large oil field sent into motion the construction of one of the largest, most complicated and controversial engineering feats of its time – the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
If you have an adventurous spirit, experiencing the wonders of the vast wilderness of Alaska’s Arctic region can be one of the most satisfying trips of a lifetime.
Arctic region cruise tours typically begin/end in Anchorage; include a visit to Denali National Park in the itinerary and offer a flight over the interior of Alaska. They are longer in length with limited variations available. A sample itinerary might include a 7-day Vancouver to Seward cruise followed by motor coach service to Anchorage to overnight, a flight to Prudhoe Bay for a 1-night stay before beginning your trip down the Dalton Highway stopping in Coldfoot for 1-night and then continuing on to Fairbanks for an evening. Then it’s on to Denali National Park by scenic rail for 1-night before re-boarding the train for the trip to Anchorage and your last evening’s accommodations before flying home. (The Tundra Wilderness Tour is included in this cruise tour package).
Cruise tours to the Arctic region usually require a minimum of 14 days or longer. Shorter variations are not really an option. You will be covering a lot of ground – approximately 991 miles on land. Be prepared for early wake-up calls and long transfer times between destinations.
This is definitely one itinerary where we highly recommend taking your land tour first. Even by selecting the southbound itinerary the pace will be rigorous.
- Anchorage to Denali National Park – 8 a.m. departure, 8 hours by train, arriving around 4 p.m. in the afternoon.
- Denali National Park (Tundra Wilderness Tour) – 8 hours exploring the park by bus, since you’ll be departing by rail around 4 p.m. in the afternoon this tour will have you up and at it probably by 6 or 7 a.m.
- Denali National Park to Fairbanks – after your Tundra Wilderness Tour you’ll head to the depot for the 4 hour trip to Fairbanks, arriving around 8 p.m.
- Fairbanks to Coldfoot – expect another early start, the estimated time required is 6 hours (259 miles). Factor in an additional 1-2 hours for rest stops, wildlife viewing, construction delays and/or bad weather. You’ll probably arrive sometime in the late afternoon. If you have the energy you may want to book the optional Anaktuvuk Pass tour, the Nunimuit Eskimo Village surrounded by the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Reserve. Daylight won’t be a problem; you’re in the land of the midnight sun. The tour departs at 8 p.m. / returns at 10:30 p.m.
- Coldfoot to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay – very similar to the previous day, 239 miles to cover with additional time factored in for stops, etc. Another late afternoon, early evening arrival. Still have some get-up-and-go? Consider taking the oil field/Arctic Ocean tour – about 2 hours.
- Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay to Anchorage/Seward – you may have some leisure time this morning but we remain doubtful as the cruise line itinerary suggests lunch on board the ship in Seward. The flight is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes to Anchorage. Travel time to Seward will add approximately 3 more hours. Expect an early afternoon arrival. Your ship is scheduled to set sail at 8 p.m. leaving time to add (a minimum of 4 hours to your day) a Kenai Fjords National Park or Portage Glacier excursion if you choose.
Don't forget you will first have to get to Anchorage which may involve a long day in the air depending on where you are traveling from. Brace yourself for seven very full days of activities.
If you are interested in this area but want to spend more time in another destination consider adding the Arctic region either pre- or post- trip. There are a number of tour agencies operating out of Fairbanks and Anchorage that offer excursions of varying lengths to Alaska’s Arctic region.
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