Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. The main island—and principal draw to this part of Arctic Norway, is Spitsbergen. The islands lie directly north of Scandinavian Europe and are approximately equal distance to the North Pole at the roof of the world. To place it in more specific context: Spitsbergen is about 2,000 kms (roughly 1,200 miles) from Norway's capital city of Oslo.
Glacial ice covers more than half of Svalbard, while the rest of the islands are blessed with near cinematic landmarks of fjords, valleys, mountains, and glaciers that are any explorer's dream to witness.
Hiking and trekking are some of the most popular activities on the islands. But hiking in Polar Regions is very different from a typical trail-hiking experience. Guides will ensure you have proper gear that allows you to navigate safely over sometimes icy terrain and clothing designed to withstand the Arctic elements in order to explore the land and catch a glimpse of incredible wildlife wandering through their natural habitats. If you're unsure what's needed for your Svalbard trekking adventure, simply refer to Quark Expeditions' Packing List.
Svalbard trekking takes many forms. Guests can join guided hikes that from from gentle walks with time to take photos up to advanced hikes for those who want an energetic workout and perhaps wish to cover longer distances. All hiking levels are accommodated. Photo: Michelle Sole
One of the attractions of the islands of Svalbard is their remoteness, and the immersive experience you'll come to appreciate by hiking across the Arctic landscapes. Little else other than natural wildlife roams the islands, which is perfect for adventurous explorers eager to appreciate wild animals in their own habitats that's part of the Svalbard trekking experience. Rest assured you'll come across photographic scenery that is absolutely worth capturing so make sure you bring your camera.
One of your options to experience a version of Svalbard trekking is to book passage on the Intro to Spitsbergen: Fjords, Glaciers and Wildlife of Svalbard adventure. This fascinating expedition embarks from the port at Longyearbyen, the main (well, only) town on the island of Spitsbergen. Factoring in weather and ice conditions, which are constantly monitored by the Expedition Leader and captain of the vessel, you should be able to hike across polar glaciers, take part in a polar plunge, and even undertake a Zodiac cruise, where you could very well observe icebergs, seabirds, and the occasional whale pod.
Svalbard hiking tours
None of the hiking excursions across Spitsbergen are lengthy outings, and they don't necessarily include marked sign postings. Instead, there are guided treks where adventurers are divided into groups based on their level of experience and interests: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. The expedition team will account for factors like wind, ice coverage, water, and weather to identify a landing where safe trekking for each tier of experience can occur across the islands.
For the adventurer who prefers smaller crowds, you can carve a different path under the right circumstances. Many people yearn to escape the crowds of everyday life, and one possible excursion could take you to the shores of Bellsund, a beautiful fjord once used by whalers in the early 17th century. You'll even come across the remains of the Bamsebu whaling station that was built back in the 1930s that has since been abandoned.
Additionally, since hiking across the Arctic Archipelago requires the right gear, you'll need to be prepared for the excursion. Thankfully, there are a few items you can choose not to pack since Quark Expeditions will provide you with a 3-in-1 Quark Expeditions parka (which is yours to keep) and the loan of waterproof muck boots.
Guests traveling with Quark Expeditions explore Svalbard on foot, experiencing the Arctic environment
close-up and at their own pace. Photo: Grange Productions
Svalbard glacier hiking
Safety is always the first priority in the Arctic when you disembark the vessel for an afternoon of bird-watching, Svalbard trekking, photography or kayaking. There are many glaciers surrounding the islands of Svalbard, and that's why it's important to heed the advice of your expedition team leader. Glaciers are beautiful and amazing to experience up close and personal, but they can be dangerous if the right precautions are not taken. Your Expedition Leader will know how to navigate the glaciers safely.
Once you're out there, you'll get to see some of Svalbard's most incredible wildlife as they go about their typical days. Bird watching is very popular especially near the towering cliffs, and Svalbard reindeer may even be spotted so long as you maintain your distance to avoid spooking them. And the mighty polar bears roam the glaciers and ice-edges provide excellent photographic opportunities from the safety of a Zodiac or from the deck of your polar vessel.
You may even want to document some of your sightings on video in order to share the experience with friends and loved ones when you return home. There's a great guide you can use to shoot amazing videos on a polar voyage, which will help you record moments when birds, reindeer, polar bears, and other amazing animals do what they must to survive in Arctic habitats.
Seeing the incredible bird life on the cliffs of Spitsbergen is one of the highlights of hiking excursions on the
Svalbard archipelago in the Norwegian Arctic. Photo: Michelle Sole
Svalbard hiking trails
The experienced polar adventurer knows how to spot hiking routes across Arctic land masses like Spitsbergen. However, it takes years of training to develop this skill, especially in an environment where hiking and trekking trails are not what you would describe as “signposted” paths.
Your Expedition Leader and guides will know how to spot the trails that will give you an adventure to remember. But remember to follow the lead of your team leader as they know how to travel across Svalbard. They'll identify the best areas to hike based on the flora and fauna on the islands, and what you'll be able to see depending on the time of year that you visit.