10 Things That Make Alaska an Irresistible Winter Destination
Alaska has much to offer travelers in the winter months (through March), like dog mushing and aurora borealis chasing. Even better, hotel rates can run half what they do in summer, making Alaska an affordable vacation destination.
Photo By: Jeff Schultz
Photo By: Richard Kelly
Photo By: Alaska Zoo
Photo By: Leaf Out Nature Guides
Photo By: Alaska Backcountry Adventures
Photo By: Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Photo By: Visit Anchorage
Photo By: Chris McLennan
Photo By: Brian Adams
Northern Lights Viewing
Witness one of the most spectacular light shows around when you make time for Alaska in the winter months. Book a photography workshop or snowmobile tour in Fairbanks for excellent aurora viewing. Alternatively, head to Denali National Park for a stay at the five-room boutique hotel, Sheldon Chalet. Enjoy heliskiing and snowshoeing by day followed by entrancing aurora viewing by night.
An excursion on the state-owned Alaska Railroad is a fantastic way to see the state during Alaska's warm-weather months, but it's even more magical in winter. The railroad runs from Fairbanks in the north to Seward in the south. Book a trip on the Aurora Winter Train for a bucket list-worthy adventure into Alaska’s snow-covered backcountry. Ride the train all the way from Anchorage to Fairbanks (a 12-hour journey). Or, hop off the train along the way in Talkeetna for cross-country skiing and a berry delicious pie-making class at Talkeetna Roadhouse.
Wintry Zoo Animals
Everyone loves a good zoo. Most people are not far from one at home, but the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage is a true delight in winter. That's when you can see the state’s native animals, like bears, moose and wolves, in their natural winter habitat. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the Alaska Zoo boasts up-close views and interactions with more than 100 animals across 25 acres. Say hello to the zoo’s newest resident, Cranbeary, a 17-year-old polar bear that relocated from Denver last year.
Trekking through knee-deep fluffy snow in snowshoes can be loads of fun (and a very good workout). Try your skills on a guided snowshoe tour in Fairbanks with Leaf Out Nature Guides. Led by expert biologists, the outfitter runs two-hour snowshoe tours. Guests venture into the boreal forest of Alaska’s interior, keeping a keen eye open to spot wildlife, like snowshoe hares, caribou and flying squirrels. Snowshoers are treated to expert knowledge on animal tracks, how animals survive in the harsh winter and how local plants are used. Even in winter, there are plenty of plants and animals to be found.
Santa Claus House
See how Santa Claus spends his time in the off-season at Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska. What began as a trading post in 1952 later served as North Pole’s post office before becoming Santa Claus House. Known for the world’s largest Santa statue that stands at 42-feet-tall, visitors are welcomed with a jolly smile and good cheer. Step inside to shop for holiday decorations in the recently renovated space, now more than doubled in size. Get the scoop on their Original Letter from Santa Program, which sends personalized letters to children on custom stationery. Each letter is stamped with a playful "Santa’s Official Mail" seal.
Whether you call it a snowmobile or a snowmachine, like they do in Alaska, plan to experience magical snow-covered forests and crisp mountain streams on this unique local transportation. A favorite pastime in Alaska, Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley north of Anchorage runs half-day snowmobile tours. Set out into Alaska’s backcountry and make stops along the way for breathtaking wintry scenery. Another popular tour is the full-day snowmobile adventure along the world-famous Iditarod Trail. You'll travel deep into the Alaskan wilderness along trails used by dog mushers.
New Sanctuary Animals
Located in Portage, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center has all kinds of native animal babies to see this winter in the snowy environment. To list a few, you'll find new wood bison calves, one female reindeer calf, five elk calves, one moose calf, one reindeer steer and one male porcupette (baby porcupine). The sanctuary takes in and cares for injured and orphaned animals. Many become permanent residents, unable to survive if put back into the wild. Sign up for the popular "Walk on the Wild Side" tour. You'll be awed by the personal stories of adorable sanctuary animals, including bears, foxes and reindeer.
Pay a visit to Alaska’s winter ski resort town, Girdwood. As Alyeska Resort celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, take the aerial tram on a three- to seven-minute ride up the mountain. Be inspired by panoramic views from the summit of Mount Alyeska. Keep your eyes open; it’s not uncommon to see moose and bear traipsing about the wintry wilderness from the tram. Skiers will be wowed by the 669 inches of annual snowfall, as well as the longest double black diamond ski run in America (North Face).
Sign up for a four-hour "learn to mush" tour with Last Frontier Mushing Co-op & Reindeer Outpost in Two Rivers to get hands-on with a team of Alaskan huskies. Once huskies are hand-picked, you’ll put on their harnesses, hook them up to the sled and begin with the basics of mushing a team of dogs through the arctic wilderness. Don’t want to mush? Ride on a sled across miles of fluffy white snow and serene forest. Whether you mush or ride, cuddling with the dogs is encouraged and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so.
If you can time it just right, a trip to Alaska to coincide with Iditarod, the annual long-distance dog sled race, is a must. Known as the Last Great Race on Earth, teams of mushers begin with a ceremonial start across downtown Anchorage on March 2, 2019. Mushers then drive their team of dogs deep into the wintry Alaskan wilderness the next day for the 938-mile race to Nome. Get there a few days early to partake in Fur Rondy, the self-proclaimed largest winter festival in North America. Look for snow sculptures and carnival rides. There's even a family-friendly root beer-chugging competition.