Alaska

Ultimate Alaska winter travel guide

Wild, rugged and jaw-droppingly beautiful landscape – Alaska, the 49th state of United States is situated in the northwest extremity of the country’s west coast. It’s a bucket list destination for many travelers. Alaska has everything : Northern Lights, Hot Springs , Glaciers to name a few. Alaska in winter is something we never thought we could possibly visit. The usual temperature in Fairbanks, AK stays below – 40 degree celsius. We never thought we could ever survive that kind of winters, but we did. Yayyii! With right gear and planning I am sure if we can do it you can do it as well. 

In this travel blog, we will cover all the places around Fairbanks & Anchorage we visited during our trip to Alaska. Here we are going to list down all the things we loved followed by brief itinerary and tips for winter travel.

📍 Fairbanks

Watch Aurora Borealis dancing over the sky

Alaska Northern lights

Northern light (also known as Aurora Borealis) was the main purpose of our visit in March. This is the top thing to do during Northern light season when in Fairbanks, AK. It is mostly visible between September to April peaking in March, though depends on lots of factors like weather, solar activity and long dark nights. According to Geophysical Insititute of Alaska, best time to see the Northern light is around mid-night (11am to 2 pm). However, it can appear anytime after the sunset.

How we planned?  After researching a lot, we decided to visit in March at the time of New Moon. We selected the places near Fairbanks, AK with the tours to increase our chances. The two reason we chose tours over do-it-yourself (1) We were there for limited time and expert helps to increase the chances of viewing and perfect location (2) We do not wanted to take a chance driving on snow/icy road at night. Everything is taken care by the tour and their guide. 

We kept 3 nights for aurora viewing to maximize our chances. We were lucky and watched the sky dance for 3 nights in a row.

What tours we signed up for?  (1) Northern Alaska Tour Company Arctic circle + Northern light tour  (2) Chena Hot Spring Tour + Northern light with Chena Hot Springs Resort (we loved this one the most) (3) Only Northern light tour.

Note – If you want to maximize your chances, plan further north of Fairbanks AK to the villages of Coldfoot in the Yukon Territory, or to Prudhoe Bay and Utqiaġvik. Northern Alaska Tour company helps you to plan for that. 

Take the journey to Arctic circle

Alaska

We touched the Arctic circle and right now we are among very few people in the world who actually did it.  **Feeling Special**

To all those who have no idea what we are talking about, here are some interesting details about the Arctic Circle. It is one of the two polar circles and the most northerly of the five major circles of latitude as shown on maps of Earth. From the Arctic, the Sun is above the horizon for 24 continuous hours at least once per year commonly known as Midnight Sun (i.e The Sun is visible at midnight) and below the horizon for 24 continuous hours at least once per year (i.e The Sun is not visible at any point of the day – 24 hours of darkness). 

These are the countries from where you can touch or cross the arctic circle – Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States (Alaska), Canada (Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut), Denmark (Greenland), and Iceland (where it passes through the small offshore island of Grímsey).

We took the tour with Northern Alaska Tour Company to visit Arctic Circle, which is 198 mile away from Fairbanks. You can also check out a similar tour operated by Alaska Wildlife Guide. We would suggest taking a tour in winters instead driving on your own as the roads are not drive friendly. There is no network coverage along the Dalton Highway and only satellite messenger works . Also, the facilities along the road is minimal. (as of 2021)

Soak in the natural hot springs

Chena Hot Springs is the best natural hot spring we have ever seen and experienced. It was 40C inside and -25C outside the pool. We were in our swimming dress, dipped inside the hot spring, and our hair turned white within 10 minutes – it is really hard to describe in words how cool and relaxing it was.

Discovered in 1905, Chena Hot Spring is the most accessible & developed hot spring in interior Alaska. It an hour drive from Fairbanks Alaska. We booked a day package  – Northern light tour with Chena hot spring resort. If you are taking a package tour with the resort, our suggestion would be reaching early to enjoy the day in slow pace. The resort arranges for transportation (to & fro) based on the timing and place you choose.

Note – Don’t forget to carry $0.25 (quarter) for luggage storage at the pool.

You can find more options to visit Chena hot spring for activities here.

Wander inside Ice Museum

Chena hot spring

Day package (Northern light tour) with Chena hot spring resort includes a visit to Ice Museum. It is an interesting place to see all kind of Ice Sculptures with drinks served in Ice Glass (which make the place even more interesting!). The drink is called Appletini. It was fun!

Note : You can also checkout other Chena hot springs tours here

Go mushing with Alaskan huskies

Dog mushing (also known as Dog Sledding) is one of the top things to do in Alaska during winters. This was our first time mushing and we loved it so much. We booked a 30 mins short ride with Paw For Adventures. Do remember to wear warm layers, a beanie, and a winter jacket – its gonna be a chilly but thrilling ride.

You can also check out Rod Alaskan Guide service for dog Sledding.

Take the snow machine for a wild ride

Alaska

Honestly, we were bit scared to ride as we did not have any prior experience. After riding for just a couple of minutes we got the hang of it and rest was an amazing ride through the white landscape. If you are in Alaska during winters – it is another top thing to do.

We did the 1 hour guided tour with Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service and we loved it. They provide all the clean gears needed to keep you warm for this wild ride. 

Visit Santa Claus in North Pole

North Pole is a 30 mins drive from Fairbanks and is popular for visiting Santa Claus House, a cute gift house where you can click pictures with Santa. Also, if you want to meet Reindeers – visit Antler’s Academy just next to the Santa Claus house. We loved the Hot Chocolate available inside the Santa house.

Explore the Downtown

Keep at-least half a day to explore Fairbanks’s downtown. Also, there are lot of restaurants in Fairbanks to try. We recommend ‘The Crepery‘ for some amazing crepes and hot chocolate.

Take the Aurora winter Train to Anchorage

We have driven on a lot of scenic roads, but this was our 1st time riding a winter scenic train. We booked the train from Fairbanks to Anchorage. It is one of the best ways to enjoy the spectacular Alaskan landscape along with delicious meals. You will find more details here.

If you have extra time in Fairbanks..

– Hike 1.5  miles (roundtrip) unmarked trail to Castner Glacier. The trailhead is about two and a half hours drive from Fairbanks and would recommend only for the non snowy days. We had a plan to drive but it snowed a lot that day so we had to cancel the plan. You can also checkout tours from Fairbanks, in case you do want to drive.

– Checkout the world ice art championships if you visit in February – March.

– If you are looking to walk along with Reindeer, you should check out this Farm.

📍 Anchorage

Visit a Glacier

Alaska
Alaska in winters

Anchorage is surrounded by lots of Glaciers – some are accessible only in summer and some all year-round. Matanuska Glacier is reachable any season with tours. The glacier tour was the highlight of our trip. We loved walking and sliding on the glacier. It was an amazing day trip and would recommend, if you are in Anchorage. The drive was very scenic too.

If you are not comfortable driving on snow, there are tours which operate from Anchorage, you can check it out here 

For more details checkout our blog on Matanuska Glacier – What to expect in winters.

Drive the Seward Highway

It is a spectacular road to drive and enjoy the views along the road as well as the scenic spots of Chugach national forest. If you have time take a detour and visit Wildlife conservation center in Girwood

If you have extra time in Anchorage..

– Splurge on a helicopter ride over the Glacier. There are tons of options available near Anchorage. We had booked the tour, unfortunately due to bad whether it got cancelled. Bummer!

Brief Alaska Winter Itinerary

We visited Alaska for 7 days and explored Fairbanks & Anchorage. Here is how we planned our days, however you can modify according to your convenience and tour availability.

Day 1:

We took 9 hour flight from Newark, NJ to Fairbanks, AK (via Seattle) with Alaska Airlines. (Tip: If you have Alaska Airlines credit card, check the deals they are offering while booking the flights.)

We reached at mid-night and checked in our Hotel at Fairbanks. (Tip – Enquire with the Hotels for free Airport pick up and drop facility.)

Day 2:

Breakfast at Hotel -> Picked up a rental car from airport -> Roamed around Fairbanks downtown -> went for Snowmobiling -> Picked up dinner -> Dropped the car back to airport -> Back to our room in hotel shuttle (Our initial plan was to hike Castner Glacier. The trail head is 2.5 hours drive from Fairbanks, AK. Unfortunately, we had to change our plan due to snow )

 Tip : We found driving around via rental car cheaper than hiring a cab. However, if you are not comfortable driving in snow then we would highly recommend using the taxi services.

Day 3

We did full day Arctic Circle + Northern light tour with Northern Alaska tour Company -> Back to hotel by 4.00 am

Tip – If you have extra time would recommend Aurora overnight tour to Coldfoot and increase the chances to see Northern Light to 80%. Check with Northern Alaska tour Company for details.

Day 4

Woke up late -> Breakfast at hotel -> Chena Hot Springs + Northern light (check out the details above) -> Back to hotel by 4.00 am

Day 5

Woke up late -> Breakfast at hotel -> Picked up a rental car from airport  -> Dog Sledding -> Explore North Pole -> Ate at The Crepery at Fairbanks downtown -> Dropped the rental car at airport-> Back to hotel -> took a northern light tour

Note – We booked Northern light tours for 3 consecutive nights for better chances. If you have no issue driving in snow at night keep the rental car, skip the tour and drive by yourself to Murphy dome or Chena River State Recreation Area  for Northern lights.

Day 6

Checked out from Hotel -> Took the 12 hours Scenic Aurora Winter train to Anchorage

Day 7

Picked up the rental car from airport -> Drove to Matanuska for Guided Glacier walking tour (2-3 hours tour) -> back to airport -> Took flight from Anchorage, AK to Newark, NJ (10 hours flight). 

Tip – If you don’t want to rent a car and drive, you can checkout this tour from Anchorage.

Where we stayed

Fairbanks

We booked 5 nights stay with Pike’s Waterfront Lodge – Beautiful hotel with many facilities. The breakfast was included with our stay. They provided free shuttle services to airport, train depot and Northern Alaska tour company and so we saved a lot in commute. This hotel is a bit far from Fairbanks downtown but is closer to airport.

The other option we recommend would be  Borealis base camp. This place gets booked very fast and well in advance. We wanted to stay here but it was completely full.  For other options you can check – Booking.com & Expedia.com.  

Anchorage

We booked 5 nights stay with Pike’s Waterfront Lodge – Beautiful hotel with many facilities. The breakfast was included with our stay. They provided free shuttle services to airport, train depot and Northern Alaska tour company and so we saved a lot in commute. This hotel is a bit far from Fairbanks downtown but is closer to airport.

The other option we recommend would be  Borealis base camp. This place gets booked very fast and well in advance. We wanted to stay here but it was completely full. For more hotel options check out Booking.com or Expedia.com

Where we ate

Fairbanks

We ate in Pike’s Landing since we were staying in the hotel there. There are many good options in downtown. Don’t forget to eat crepes from The Crepery in downtown area. Also, we loved the coffee at Alaska coffee roasting company.

Anchorage

Honestly we had limited time to try anything special in Anchorage. However, we would definitely recommend eating breakfast at Flying Machine if you are staying with Lakefront Anchorage

Best time to Visit

We visited in March and couldn’t recommend it more. Its the best time for Northern Lights and you will have 12 hours of day light which is perfect for enjoying other activities in alaskan winters.

How to reach

You can reach Alaska in every possible way – by land, by Air and by water. The option is widely open, however in winters the best way to reach is by flying to Major airport of Alaska in our opinion.

We flew from Newark, NJ to Fairbanks, AK and back from Anchorage to Newark, NJ.

Driving in winters

Honestly, driving in winters is not easy specially in snowy conditions and we would not recommend if you have no experience in snow driving. Instead, book a tour for far places or hire a cab for city limits. In case you are planning to drive, this would be our suggestion based on the experience – 

1. Go slow! – even though people around you are driving in crazy speed (mostly they don’t). 

2. Find a place in the road where there is a trail of tires and follow that.

3. We drove both FWD and AWD – though AWD works better than FWD –  there is no difference in heavy snow conditions. Both the types skid at some point of time and you need to deal with that. If you are renting a car – check if the rental company offers snow tire for extra cost. It should perform better.

4. The brake works very slow while driving in snowy condition, so keep extra margin than usual from the car in front of you.

5. If you are stuck in a winter storm – you should find a safer place to pull over and wait until the storm passes. 

6 If the car starts to skid, don’t apply the brakes in panic but try to control by keeping your car in the direction you want to go and if it seems going out of control apply the brakes very slowly and try to bring the speed to minimum (10-20 mph) and turn on your flashers so that the car behind you know that you are driving very slow until you gain the control and are back on track.

7. Similarly if you see a car in front of you going very slow or skidding keep an extra distance or change the lane slowly as required.

8. Prefer driving during daylight hours. 

9. Always keep your lights on. Usually the visibility during snow is very low, generally in yards. 

10. Use de-icer washer fluid for windshield. You will find it mostly in any gas stations or look for auto shops like auto zone.

I found this article while surfing online and found some good points on snow driving.

What to wear

We did complete research on how to survive winters in Alaska. haha! Since we have been living in Jersey city for quite sometime we know how below freezing temperature feels. However, we had no idea how the extreme cold of Alaska would feel like and we can tell you its not a piece of cake for sure. 

We wore 4 layers – base woolen layer; Mid fleece layer ; outer later (jacket) and Parka. We had our gloves + mittens on all the time along with woolen beanie and two pairs of woolen socks. We wore the winter boots as well. We did survived most part of the daytime however in nights we used hand and foot warmers for extra heat. 

We created separate blog on What To Wear For Alaska Winter Trip – Ultimate Packing List. Checkout for more details on what to wear.

Other things to keep in mind

– Drink lots of water and stay hydrated.

– Drink Coffee in the morning, trust me it really helps and don’t skip your breakfast.

– Keep your beanie on all the time if you are out in cold to avoid headaches.

– Sleep whenever you find time and place as you will be up late for northern lights.

– Always carry snacks along to refuel yourself when needed.

Winter in Alaska is something we would recommend to anyone who wants to experience the magic of white wonderland. Pin it or bookmark this post for future reference.

Hope you find this post helpful to plan your next memorable winter trip to Alaska. Also, let us know in comments if have any questions. Happy to answer! or if you find our blog useful. Happy to know!

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10 Comments

  • Kanchana

    Hi Priyanka and Pranjal,

    THank you for this Alskan travel blog. Me and my husband are planning a trip to alaska soon. We are using your web blog as a blue print for planning our trip. Thanks a lot for including minute details and recommendations for winter gear.

    We noticed that you had planned a trip to castner glacier which you werent able to do due to the weather. We are planning to visit only Fairbanks in this trip and would also like to see at least one glacier. I believe Castner glacier would be a good option. Would you have any resource/tour details from your trip for castner glacier or any other glacier accessible from Fairbanks.

    Thanks a bunch. Keep travelling and spreading joy.

    Best,
    Kanchana

    • mrnmrstraveler

      Hi Kanchana! We are glad to know that our blog helped to plan your trip to Alaska. Sorry for a late reply! Regarding your question about Castner glacier – It is a good option from Fairbanks, if you are looking to visit a glacier. We had a plan to rent a car from Fairbanks airport and drive up to Castner glacier trailhead. There are tours available, you can also checkout Tripadvisor.com for details. Also, if you are planning to drive there, do check the weather conditions beforehand. Hope you have an amazing time in Alaska. Enjoy your trip!

  • Laxmi

    This is a nice detailed blog for anyone who is planning for winter Alaska. I do have a question for you on Matanuska Glacier hiking. What time of the day would be best for the glacier hike considering the sunlight and cold weather. many blogs says, morning would be too chilly/windy. What would you suggest.

    • mrnmrstraveler

      Thank you Laxmi, glad you liked our blog. Regarding your query about the Matanuska Glacier hike ,it all depends on the weather on a particular day. We did the 2 pm tour as we had to drive from Anchorage. It was a bright and sunny day and we were able to enjoy the the hike. However the weather is really unpredictable in Alaska, so we would suggest to dress up in layers. Hope you plan your trip soon and have a wonderful time 🙂

  • ALEX THOMPSON

    Great Post!!! I truly believe that there is much more to explore new places. The world has incredible beauty which makes us visit new places for sure.

  • Namratha Rao

    Hi guys,

    Thank you so much for the additional details and links! I’ve finished booking our trip with most of the attractions/tours you suggested. The only thing left for me to do is buy winter wear. Your input has been invaluable! So thanks, once again!

    I hope you get to travel all over, adding more content to your blog! Wishing you the most pleasant and inspiring travels in your future!!

    P.S: You have a new subscriber on your youtube channel! 🙂

  • Namratha Rao

    Hi Priyanka and Pranjal,

    Thank you for such a detailed blog! I truly appreciate all the pointers and tips that you’ve so thoughtfully mentioned in addition to the blow-by-blow account of your trip. It has made my planning so much easier! It has long been my dream to view the Northern lights and we are planning a trip in Feb 2022. (Hopefully, the Covid situation will be better by then!)

    I have a request: I’m from California and own absolutely no apparel appropriate for cold winters, especially the sub-zero temperatures of Alaska. Do you have any recommendations on what to buy (I know you mentioned the different layers) and from where/ brand/store? Same with boots/gloves/beanies/what-have-you. I need to buy winter gear for myself and my husband. Due to covid, I haven’t set foot in a store for over a year, and I’m still being cautious of crowds/stores. Knowing exactly what to buy and from where will help tremendously!

    Thanks, once again for the beautiful pictures and the entertaining and informative write-up!

    Regards,
    Namratha

    • mrnmrstraveler

      Hey Namratha,

      We have no words to thank you for this appreciation. And we are so happy our blog helped you in planning your trip to Alaska. And thats right, we also had the same level of difficulty in searching for what to wear for Alaska winters.

      Based on our research and from our own experience , we have curated this blog :-

      https://mrnmrstraveler.com/what-to-wear-for-alaska-winter-trip-ultimate-packing-list/

      Hopefully this will help you 🙂

      Also, we have a youtube channel mrnmrstraveler , you can check our Alaska Experience here incase you need to get a visual of how it feels like to be in Alaska winters 🙂

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udsOobYCzyw

      All the very best and we hope you have a wonderful journey to the winter wonderland of Alaska !

      Lots of Love,
      Priyanka & Pranjal
      (MrnMrsTraveler)

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