Arctic Circle Trail cairns. Photo by Expert Vagabond

Arctic Circle Trail solo hike planning and preparation (Greenland)

Although I try to live my life in such a way that I do not need holidays to escape … well, sometimes I just need holidays to escape. What I really liked about my summer 2018 holiday planning is that I first had taken a week to fully disconnect from the world, both mentally and physically, by solo hiking the Iceland Laugavegur trail before spending time with my family in Hof van Saksen in The Netherlands.

So for 2019, I was looking for a similar structure: disconnect with a hike before heading off with the family. In my search, I considered Tour de Mont Blanc, West Highland Way (both serious options), Annapurna Circuit in Nepal (serious option, but that would stretch my summer holidays for too long) and almost settled for the Kungsleden trail (but the 440 kilometers were a bit of a stretch in such a short period of time), before settling on an Arctic Circle Trail solo hike in Greenland.

Before we start: Arctic Circle Trail

Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail is often listed as one of the best long-distance hikes in the world. The trail stretches up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the edge of the ice cap to the fishing town of Sisimiut on the West coast. While 85% of Greenland is covered in ice, there’s a narrow strip along the coastline that’s actually green! And red. And purple. And yellow.

Step 1: settle on the idea for my Arctic Circle Trail solo hike.

The Arctic Circle Hike is a 160 kilometer hike in total with the terrain being mostly flat (only 3000 meter ascent/descent), which is not too much, but the main challenges are in other areas.

  • How to get there. Greenland is really not the easiest place to get to. The easiest is to get to Copenhagen and then fly to Kangerlussuaq with Air Greenland. And then -on the end of the trail- fly back to Kangerlussuaq from Sisimiut.
  • How to be self-sufficient. Only 55.000 people leave in Greenland, scattered over the 2.166 million km². The only places to (re)supply are either at the start (Kangerlussuaq) or end (Sisimiut) of the trail. That means bringing all my food and gear with me along the trail. The only thing I really really want to try is to prepare fresh trout from one of the rivers … but that won’t last me 160 kilometers.
  • How to deal with hyper-expensive internet: quickly overlooked, but got the tip from Greek travelers Nestoras Kechagias and Athanasia Lykoudi (who made an amazing video of their Greenland visit), that internet is outside normal European mobile data bundles and has to be bought separately. They paid 25 euros. Per day.
  • How to plan for the worst. Safety first. Always (see my separate post on safety while hiking). As only 300-2000 people per year hike the trail, chances are you won’t be seeing other humans for several days (which is pretty much one of the reasons to do the trail). So that means making sure I prepare for emergencies (my Personal Locator Beacon, Garmin InReach Mini), cold (extra blankets), rain, getting lost (extra food, good GPS, etc). I also got the tip to submit your hiking route to a tourist office in the area in question. They’ll then know where you are if it becomes necessary to conduct a search for you. Tell them where you’re staying, where you’re going and when you expect to return. Also, see my separate post on the weather on the Arctic Circle Trail.
  • What to do next to hiking. I’m currently looking into things to do next to my hike. Visiting glaciers looked obvious, but as traveling within Greenland is either difficult, slow or expensive, for a long while, I wasn’t sure what my real options were. I quickly ruled out Nuuk (too busy) and settled on Ilullisat and started working from there (see my extensive day planning for that).

Step 2: validate my Arctic Circle Trail solo hike plans.

[to be added later, probably somewhere this year]

Some sources that helped me a lot:

Step 3: settle on a date for the Arctic Circle Trail solo hike.

As we already locked in our summer holiday at Hof van Saksen in 2019 (the kids loved it), I had quite the specific time frame: somewhere end of June 2019, so I finally settled on June 17-28th.

Step 4: create a rough day planning for my Arctic Circle Trail solo hike.

So, here’s the rough day planning:

  • Day 1 of hiking (June 18th) – sleep on the trail
    • 11h00-13h10 Travel from Copenhagen to Sisimiut (Greenland) via Kangerlussuaq (Greenland).
    • Quick visit to Sisimiut
    • Buy gas cannister and last groceries
    • Hiking Day 1 (17km?)
  • Day 2 of hiking (June 19th) — sleep on the trail
    • Hiking Day 2 (33km till lake house?)
  • Day 3 of hiking (June 20th)- sleep on the trail
    • Hiking Day 3 (32 + partly towards Canoe center towards white beach (?))
  • Day 4 of hiking (June 21st)- sleep on the trail
    • Hiking Day 2 (42km + rest of Canoe center)
  • Day 5 of hiking (June 22nd)- sleep on the trail, near the glacier
    • Hiking Day 2 (12km + towards glacier)

For a full day planning, see my separate post.

Fallback options

Especially since my experience at the Iceland Laugavegur trail and it’s fast-changing weather, I promised myself to make a back-up planning. Some precautions I took:

  • Rather than flying to Kangerlussuaq, start hiking there and then catching a flight back from Sisimiut, I decided to travel to Sisimiut first and then start hiking to Kangerlussuaq as the end point. It will reduce my number of travel days and the chance there are problems with getting back in time (as I won’t be dependent on the weather in Sisimiut being perfect at the end of the trail).
  • If I won’t make it in time to Kangerlussuaq and still want to go to Ilullisat, I could skip Russel Glacier.
  • As a extra safe option – I booked a flight to Ilullisat after arriving in Kangerlussuaq. If the trail really give me trouble, I could even skip Ilullisat and stay in Kangerlussuaq, giving me an extra 3 days (I sooo hope that won’t be the case, as I will be missing out on an expensive stay and some expensive tours).

Step 6: creating a packing list for the Arctic Circle Trail solo hike.

I have created a first packing list for my Arctic Circle Trail solo hike in a separate post.

I used both the VisitGreenland site and David Flanagan’s packing list for his August 2018 thru-hike as inspiration.


[to be added later, probably somewhere this year]
  • Transportation
    • Flight Brussels > Copenhagen €190,-
    • Flight multi-city Copenhagen > Sisimiut via Kangerlussuaq and Kangerlussuaq to Copenhagen 5,620 DKK (approximately €750,-)
  • Accommodation
    • 3 nights in Copenhagen (paid them with IHG points)
    • 1 night in Polar Lodge in Kangerlussuaq 795DKK (approximately €120,-), just to make sure I can dry my tent when things go wrong.
    • A night at Ilimanaq lodge (covered this in the extras)
  • Food
  • Other
  • Extras
    • Ok, I figured as this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime visit and tours were filling up soon (I didn’t have the nerves to gamble on a last minute spot when arriving at Ilullisat)
      • Stay and dinner at Ilimanaq lodge approx. €540,-
      • Night kayak at Ilullisat approx. €180,-

Total cost estimate: €1220 (excl. extras)


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