An Alaska winter vacation may sound intimidating, with freezing temperatures and only a few daylight hours. The state has over 730,000 permanent residents but approximately 2 million visitors take an Alaska winter trip annually.
A trip to Alaska in the winter can provide wonder and amazement, from the northern lights to dog sledding or train rides. Today we’ll explore how to plan an Alaska winter vacation. Let’s learn more!
Is Alaska Worth Visiting in the Winter?
Most people want to visit Alaska in the summer to escape the cold temperatures and dark days. However, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in the winter, too.
You can enjoy many winter sports, including dog sledding and fat-tire biking. Should you dislike these options, you can enjoy helicopter sightseeing tours, museums, historical tours, lodges, ice museums, and more. You might also enjoy visiting in early March to witness the famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Not to mention, you’ll book better deals on flights, hotels, and car rentals by traveling outside the tourist season.
Pro Tip: Check out our ‘Go North’ Alaska Itinerary for help planning your own Alaskan adventure.
What Months Get the Most Snow in Alaska?
Different areas of Alaska experience unique snowfall averages. But generally, December to March has the most snow. Juneau in southeast Alaska averages 87 inches yearly. Anchorage gets slightly less at 77 inches annually, but Fairbanks in Alaska’s interior averages 59 inches.
While these numbers seem intense, it spreads out over 44-56 days in the year. However, you can see snow on the ground for about eight months.
Is Alaska Drivable in the Winter?
Yes, you can drive to Alaska in the winter. Locals still need to get to and from work. Additionally, you’ll see many semis hauling their loads. However, some passes and roads may close seasonally.
Though you can drive to Alaska on your winter vacation, you need to prepare yourself and your vehicle. Ensure you have the proper safety equipment and emergency supplies.
The car will likely need a block heater to keep the engine from freezing. You’ll need plenty of warm clothes and blankets to keep yourself cozy if you break down. If you rent a car, ask if it has tow cables, tire chains, a flashlight, and a shovel.
Pro Tip: Going on an Alaskan road trip? Use these 7 Tips for Driving the Dalton Highway in Alaska.
How to Prepare for an Alaska Winter Vacation
Alaskan winters will likely throw you many surprises. However, we’ll help you prepare for a winter vacation to the Last Frontier. Here are four things to know before you go.
Pack for Cold Temperatures
First, you’ll need to pack for cold temperatures. In some areas and times of the year, Alaska can experience temperatures well below freezing. Ensure you pack thermals, winter coats with below-freezing ratings, and proper snow boots. Don’t forget accessories like gloves, hats, and scarves. Also, bring any winter clothing you need for the activities you plan, like gear for skiing or snowshoeing.
Wear Waterproof and Well-Insulated Boots
No matter your activity, you’ll need waterproof and well-insulated boots. Some parts of the state get very wet winters, and others have more extreme cold. Thus, you’ll want some that work for different areas but focus on insulation.
Without that, you might not enjoy your trip long before your toes freeze. But you also don’t want to wear cold, wet boots the next time you go out. Find some that can meet all your needs.
Know How to Manage a Vehicle in the Cold and Snowy Roads
You must also understand how to manage your vehicle in the cold and on snowy roads. If you rent a car, ensure it has the correct gear, like tire chains or extra long jumper cables. Ask what you need to do if you have an accident.
If you drive your RV there, you’ll need adequate emergency equipment and extra fuel. You can prepare your rig for freezing temperatures and ensure it has the proper insulation and cold ratings on your furnace and other devices.
Also, prepare to get out in the cold to manage your vehicle in the snow. You may need to jump the battery, change a tire, or put on snow chains, among others. You’ll also need to ensure you have warm clothes to do the necessary repairs in freezing temperatures.
Be Prepared for Minimal Daylight
One of the most disorienting parts of a trip in Alaska in the winter is the minimal daylight hours. The further north you travel, the less daylight you’ll receive. Anchorage, in southern Alaska, gets more sunlight than other locations.
You’ll often have only 3 to 6 hours of daylight, so you’ll want to plan your activities accordingly. However, this also makes it ideal to see the northern lights. Still, some visitors find it hard to adapt to the darkness.
Pro Tip: Alaska is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis.
How to Plan Your Perfect Alaska Winter Vacation
Once you understand how to prepare for an Alaska winter vacation, you can start planning. Do some research on cities you’d like to visit and activities to do. Here are some tips.
Cities to Visit
Each city offers a unique experience. Anchorage has a high of 23 degrees in January and only receives 5.5 hours of sunlight around the winter solstice. Anchorage also has the most amount of activities to do. You can ski across town on lighted trails and enjoy luxurious lodges, dining, music, and sports.
Fairbanks receives 3.75 hours of daylight during the winter solstice and has average highs of under 5 degrees in the winter. It lies in the state’s central interior. Here you can enjoy gold rush history, wildlife, winter activities, breweries, and more. If you plan your trip around Christmas, you’ll have to hit the nearby town of North Pole, Alaska to visit Santa’s workshop and reindeer stable!
You may also visit Juneau on the Southeast Panhandle. It gets approximately 6 hours of daylight around the winter solstice, and you can go flightseeing, trekking, and skiing.
Pro Tip: While planning your Alaskan adventure, take some time to do these 9 Best Things to Do in Coldfoot, Alaska.
Take the Aurora Winter Train From Anchorage to Fairbanks
Another option when planning your perfect Alaska winter vacation is taking the Aurora Winter Train from Anchorage to Fairbanks.
Enjoy scenic views, including Mount Denali, from your warm railcar in spacious, comfy seats. The 12-hour journey stops in a few towns and provides dining service. It usually runs on the weekends, so check the schedule when planning.
View the Northern Lights
Many people put viewing the aurora borealis on their bucket list. So when on your Alaska winter trip, don’t forget to check off this activity. You can take some epic tours and treks.
You can view the Northern Lights from August to April, but further south, the timeframe shortens. February to March gives you the best chances of seeing the light display because you’ll need clear skies and dark nights. Check times for tours, locations, and dates to find the best options.
Go Cross Country Skiing or Snowshoeing
Many winter sports enthusiasts enjoy a winter vacation in Alaska for skiing and snowshoeing opportunities. You can go snowshoeing without a guide, which doesn’t require much skill. You can also ski alone or in ski resorts and trails. But you can also find many other winter sports, like fat tire biking.
Remember, you won’t have many daylight hours. However, you can explore many lighted trails. It may feel like a unique experience skiing at night.
Go Dog Sledding
Cheer on dogs and mushers during the Iditarod Dogsled Race in March. This famous race has around 50 mushers with teams who travel over 1,000 miles in approximately eight days. They cross brutal Alaskan terrain and frozen waterways. The starting ceremony happens in Anchorage, but the race starts in Willow and ends in Nome.
During the race, visitors can enjoy many activities and events. You can also take a dog sled tour along snow-covered trails. This can be a perfect activity for kids, too. These tours happen year-round. You can also tour the Iditarod trail, usually by snowmobile or air.
Pro Tip: Head to one of these 8 Best Places to Go Dog Sledding in Alaska for an epic adventure.
Visit Chena Hot Springs Near Fairbanks
After a dark day in the cold, warm yourself in the Chena Hot Springs near Fairbanks on your Alaska winter vacation. This resort offers tours, activities, therapeutic massages, and healing pools of hot water.
The geothermal system provides rejuvenating pools or an outdoor lake. The hot springs reach 106 degrees year-round, but the indoor pool rests at 90 degrees. The depth of the pools varies daily depending on the springs’ activity. You can book a stay at the resort or pay for a day pass.
Go on a Reindeer Walking Tour
Running Reindeer operates a ranch providing walks, yoga, and music activities, all with reindeer. However, the yoga and music activities only take place in the summer.
In the winter, you can go on an hour-long “immersive reindeer walk through a magical birch forest.” After, you can do activities and enjoy homemade cookies and drinks. Learn all about these fantastic animals hands-on.
How Many Days Is Good for an Alaska Winter Trip?
How many days you’ll stay for an Alaska winter trip depends on where you’ll go and what you’ll do. If you want to explore different cities, you’ll need more time. Many people stay about seven to 10 days to explore a few things that this fantastic state offers.
You can go to the seashore, mountains, forests, and cities. With hundreds of tours to choose from, you might want to stay longer. Don’t forget to plan and prepare accordingly. You don’t want to get caught in Alaska weather in the winter without the proper gear. However, this winter wonderland has awe-inspiring vistas and bucket list activities.
So when will you plan your Alaskan winter vacation? Tell us your plans in the comments!
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