While most folks seek out warmer weather when they go traveling, others see sub-freezing temperatures and desolate landscapes as a challenge. Sure, there are winter resorts in central California, but how cool would it be to ski across the frozen tundra of northern Sweden, or to camp out underneath the Aurora Borealis in northern Canada?
That being said, a lot of the coldest places on Earth are inaccessible (either due to physical or legal restrictions), so below is a list of some of the coldest places on Earth that are absolutely worth a visit. They have been picked based on their unique location and/or the activities available to visitors.
1. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland
The northernmost peninsula in Iceland is also home to one of its biggest and most isolated nature reserves, which spends the majority of its short winters just below freezing (29ºF). With abundant wildlife spread across a landscape almost untouched by civilization, this park offers some of the country’s most stunning hiking trails.
2. Narsarsuaq, Greenland
A growing number of hikers, sailing enthusiasts, and Viking historians are not deterred by Greenland‘s 11ºF Januarys. A little winter chill is worth the chance to stand in the footsteps of Viking explorer Erik the Red.
3. Rovaniemi, Finland
As the capital of Santa’s home country (Lapland), Rovaniemi has plenty of Christmas-y reasons to justify a visit in the middle of winter, when the average low is below 10ºF. If you aren’t that interested in a Santa theme park or hanging out with reindeer, Rovaniemi is also far north enough to witness the Aurora Borealis.
4. Longyearbyen, Norway
The northernmost location on this list, this settlement is also the largest in the Svalbard archipelago. Its 2,000 residents probably survive the thermostat dropping below 10ºF for months at a time thanks to the warmth of knowing that their Svalbard Global Seed Vault will one day save humanity.
5. Abisko, Sweden
While the tiny village of Abisko sees January lows reaching 5ºF, being the northern trailhead of Sweden‘s Arctic version of the Appalachian Trail, or the Kungsleden (King’s Trail), has made it an icon to winter adventurers.
6. Rogers Pass, Montana
You don’t need to leave the contiguous 48 states to experience a windchill of -70ºF, which this mountain pass between Missoula and Great Falls, Montana experienced one fine day in 1954. While January temperatures hang around -10ºF, the Scapegoat Wilderness Park might be beautiful enough to justify a midwinter visit. At least you won’t bump into any hibernating grizzlies.
7. Yellowknife, Canada
The capital of the Northwest Territories is named for a First Nations tribe, which used tools made of copper from the Arctic coasts. Their language is still alive today in the coldest town in North America, which has an average low of -21ºF in January.
8. McMurdo Station, Antarctica
A McMurdo visit might be worth the -21ºF mid-winter temperature considering that it is the largest settlement in Antarctica, with up to 1,000 residents in the summer. Sounds like the perfect setting for the world’s loneliest music festival.
9. Ulaanbataar, Mongolia
With temperatures reaching below -30ºF in winter (which is long, bitter, and dry), this is the coldest capital city in the world (sorry Nuuk, Greenland is still a dependent territory). Despite this setting, Ulaanbataar is a city rich in colorful buildings and activity, with just over 1.3 million residents who have access to a range of festivals showcasing a culture that once dominated Asia.
10. Yakutsk, Russia
This is the coldest city on Earth, with the average winter temperature set at -42ºF, although other settlements in this part of Russia regularly experience temps below -55ºF. If you want to experience the only museum in the world dedicated to permafrost without having to suffer an air chill closer to the temperature of dry ice than the freezing point of water, try Yakutsk in the summer, when it can get a balmy 70ºF.
11. Denali, Alaska
The tallest mountain in North America is also the most northern of the Seven Summits, and these two facts combine to give Mt. Denali brutal winters that see temperatures below -70ºF. Yet, tourists still visit this deadly giant in the winters for world-class cross-country skiing and mountaineering.