Photograph by Paul Nicklen, National Geographic
Name: National Parks of Svalbard
Date Established: Beginning in 1973
Size: Over 60 percent of Svalbard is protected land.
Did You Know?
• Seven Parks The Svalbard Islands, an Arctic Ocean archipelago halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, are home to seven Norwegian national parks: Forlandet, Indre Wijdefjorden, Nordenskiöld Land, Nordre Isfjorden, Nordvest-Spitsbergen, Sassen-Bünsow Land, and Sør-Spitsbergen.
• Beware of Bears Svalbard is Arctic wilderness and polar bear country. The opportunity to see one of these giants draws many visitors. But polar bears can be dangerous, and close encounters may prove fatal for the bears and, occasionally, for humans. People traveling in bear country are advised to carry flares or other deterrents to scare off aggressive bears—and high-powered rifles in case such measures fail.
• Nordvest-Spitsbergen Nordvest-Spitsbergen National Park is a glorious land of mountain peaks, glaciers, and offshore islands. It is also home to Svalbard’s main historical monuments. Whaling stations and burial grounds were established here as early as the 1600s. The ill-fated balloonist Salomon Andrée took off from Virgohamn for the North Pole in July 1897. His remains, and those of his companions, weren’t found until 1930. Visiting the remnants of his camp, and other sites on Virgohamn, requires a permit from the governor.
• Forlandet Forlandet National Park, established in 1973, covers all of the island of Prins Karls Forland and features high mountains, small glaciers, and a sizeable coastline. Geese and eider ducks nest here and walruses can be seen along the water’s edge. The park is also home to the world’s northernmost harbor seal population.
• Indre Wijdefjorden Indre Wijdefjorden National Park is dominated by its namesake fjord, the longest in Svalbard, which stretches from the sea back to an inland glacial front. On either side of the fjord rare Arctic steppe vegetation can be found—including plant species not known elsewhere in Europe.
• Sassen-Bünsow Land Sassen-Bünsow Land National Park has large stretches of wetlands and Arctic vegetation—an enticing landscape for the many birds that live here. Perhaps the most legendary figure of Svalbard’s rich hunting history, Hilmar Nøis, also lived here, at Fredheim. Visitors can see the base station where he spent many of his 38 Svalbard winters between 1909 and 1973.
How to Get There
Svalbard is remote and no regular boats run between mainland Norway and the islands. The airport in Longyearbyen, capital of the islands, has regular connections to Oslo (2 hours and 50 minutes) and Tromsø (1 hour and 40 minutes).
When to Visit
As its Arctic Ocean location would suggest, Svalbard is a land of long, cold winters with extended periods of temperatures from -4 to -22ºF (-20 to -30ºC)—not including wind chill. Between December and May visitors can explore the islands by skis, snowmobiles, or dog sleds. Boating is possible from early June until mid-September.
How to Visit
Cruising is a very popular way to visit Svalbard. A wide range of accommodations and itineraries are available. Private cruise lines provide easy and comfortable transport across large distances of Arctic wilderness and stop at a variety of landing sites for exploration of Svalbard’s natural and historic wonders. During the relatively mild Arctic summer and autumn, many visitors combine boat and kayak trips with exploratory hikes around the island to enjoy the explosion of flowering plants and verdant mosses and vegetation.
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