Experience a true winter wonderland in Alaska! The winter months are the best time to experience the unique beauty of Alaska, especially if viewing the northern lights is on your bucket list. The winter season in Alaska offers a plethora of outdoor attractions and activities only accessible in the cold winters. If cold temperatures don’t bother you, you’ll have amazing adventures on a winter visit to Alaska. Stay warm during cozy evenings with a hot beverage in front of a fire.
Keep reading this blog to discover our ultimate travel guide for your 2023 winter trip to Alaska!
How Many Days Do You Need to Visit Alaska
A trip to Alaska should be at least seven to ten days. It’s good to know that Alaska is a large state and travelling between popular destinations can take lots of time. For example, it takes roughly four hours by car, six by motorcoach, and roughly eight by train to travel from Anchorage to Denali National Park.
Winter Weather in Alaska
Nearly every winter, Fairbanks, the second-largest town in the Last Frontier, experiences -45°C winter temperatures! Alaskan winter is from November to March, and these colder months have average temperatures ranging from -18°C to -35°C. You’ll likely see deep snow no matter where in Alaska you visit, but the further north you go, the more snow you’ll see. So bundle up and make sure to pack the proper gear to deal with these weather conditions!
The official winter solstice this year is on Wednesday, December 21, 2022, the shortest day of the year. On this day, Anchorage only gets 5 hours of daylight and Juneau, Alaska’s capital city, only gets about 6.5 hours of sunlight.
In the winter, Barrow, Alaska’s furthest north town, experiences 67 days without sunlight! In the middle of November, the sun sets for the last time before rising again at the end of January. Despite this, this Arctic Circle city is still home to close to 4,500 inhabitants!
During the winter season, a good thing that comes from the cold weather and heavy snowfall is lower prices on everything from hotels to tours and rental vehicles. Some businesses close their doors or reduce their hours in the winter, while favorite local shops and restaurants almost always remain open year-round.
How to Get to Alaska
You can fly to Alaska with most major airlines from Canada.
Alaska Airlines, WestJet, Air Canada and more all fly into Anchorage with some nonstop flights but most with a layover in Seattle.
How to Get Around in Alaska
A great way to get around is in a rental car, That is, if you have experience driving in winter road conditions, as roads may be compacted with snow and ice. The best option for your rental car in winter is definitely one with four-wheel drive. Some rental car companies will charge an additional fee for studded or special snow tires.
Another option is to fly from one city to another. All through the winter, Alaska Airlines and RavnAir offer daily service to towns all around the state. A round-trip ticket from Anchorage to Fairbanks often costs $150 or less and takes just a few hours.
Alaska Railroad Trains
Throughout the winter months, the Alaska Railroad operates in Anchorage, Talkeetna, and Fairbanks.
Aurora Winter Train
The Aurora Winter Trains run on the weekends, departing on Saturdays from Anchorage for Fairbanks and returning on Sundays. A few mid-week departures are also made by the Aurora; for the most recent mid-week departures, see the Aurora Winter Train schedule.
Hurricane Turn Train
The winter Hurricane Turn Train travels from Anchorage to Hurricane Gulch on the first Thursday of every month, from October through May. It offers service in the remote region north of Talkeetna.
Check Out These Winter Alaskan Tours
Things To Do
There are many ways to have an amazing Alaska winter experience! There are so many incredible things to see and do. From exploring stunning national parks to participating in unique winter activities and going to interesting festivals and events, there is plenty to explore.
Keep reading to learn about some of the top things to do during your Alaska winter adventure!
Most Popular Alaska Attractions
Denali National Park
If you are looking for winter activities, traveling to Denali National Park is a great place for amazing outdoor adventures! Vehicle access to Denali is restricted in the winter since a large portion of the park’s only road is closed. However, you can gain access to the park journeying on foot, in snowshoes, or even with a dog team!
An amazing way to see the national park from a new perspective is on a flightseeing tour. Leisurely fly around the summit of Denali, the tallest peak in North America. See incredible views of vast glaciers and ice fields, some tours even offer glacier landings!
Explore Ice Caves
Glaciers often have ice tunnels located underneath them. Ice cave exploration is risky, so never go without a guide! A guide will be able to take you to some of Alaska’s most breathtaking vistas! You’ll enjoy a spectacular yet safe excursion into the freezing core of the great white north when you travel with a guide. One of the most popular locations for ice caves is Byron Glacier.
The biggest glacier accessible by car in the United States is the enormous Matanuska Glacier. Guided glacier walks are available from tour operators to explore this huge river of ice. In order to explore the spectacular blue maze of ice, knowledgeable experts will outfit you with helmets, crampons, and poles and bring you across the glacier safely. These tours are offered year-round and take between one and two hours.
Chena Hot Springs Resort
Head up to Fairbanks and relax in a natural hot spring if you’re wanting to escape from the freezing winter temperatures. There aren’t many hot springs in Alaska, but Chena Hot Springs has easy access and is one of the most popular. The hot springs are also known for having open-air viewing of the northern lights!
The premier resort destination in Alaska is Alyeska Resort. This chateau-style resort has many fine dining experiences, a saltwater pool, a ski mountain and a bike park along with the new Nordic Spa. Alyeska is the ideal base camp for endless adventure and relaxation at any time of the year!
Kenai Fjords National Park
When snow falls, the road to Exit Glacier in the Kenai Fjords is often closed to vehicular traffic, however, cross-country skiing, winter biking, snowshoeing, and snowmobiles are frequently used to access the glacier. Explore the park’s stunning coast with a personalized charter boat tour to see Alaska from a different perspective.
Best Things To Do and See in Alaska
There is little that outshines the spectacular northern lights. Because of the minuscule light pollution, Alaska is the perfect destination for northern lights viewing, making it one of the most popular activities in Alaska during winter!
You can go aurora viewing all throughout winter and into spring, from late September through early April. One of the best ways to see the aurora borealis is on northern lights tours or stay in accommodation that allows you amazing views of the dark sky all night long at Borealis Basecamp.
Ice fishing is a classic winter experience when the ice is thick, usually from mid-November through March. There are many ice fishing tours available. Explorers willing to endure the chilly weather will find several species of fish to catch: rainbow trout, arctic char, landlocked salmon, arctic grayling, burbot and lake trout.
Dog Sled Races
Dog sledding through the snow is a quintessential winter activity available in Alaska.
Fortunately, there are many opportunities to enjoy dog sledding usually around mid-October or early November until around mid-April. It’s an unforgettable activity for all ages and it is a lot of fun. Go on dog sledding tours or go to a race to see these magnificent canines in action.
Winter Outdoor Sports
Alaska is a paradise for all things winter recreation including downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, nordic skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, fat tire biking, and snowmobiling.
You have so many options for creating your perfect winter adventure!
View Alaska’s Wildlife
It’s rare to spot bears hibernating or any of Alaska’s migratory bird population. However, moose can be found in large numbers throughout Alaska’s winter terrain, including in parks, neighbourhoods, and any brushy, low-snow regions like the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge. Bald eagles are still present in coastal areas. Search the snow for the tracks of snowshoe hares, lynxes, foxes, coyotes, weasels, and sometimes even wolves.
The northern polar region of Alaska is home to polar bears! Polar bears can be seen on St. Matthew Island, St. Lawrence Island and the Kuskokwim Delta during the winter months.
Visit the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage or the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage for closer encounters with Alaskan wildlife.
Best Winter Festivals
Popular outdoor festivals include the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks and the Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage. Alaska has dozens of festivals and sports contests during the winter, with many taking place in Anchorage.
The Open North American Sled Dog Championships. During the first week of March, this dogsledding competition involves traditional sprint mushing conducted by athletes who live for the sport.
The International Sled Dog Race Yukon Quest. This 1,000-mile epic mush between Fairbanks and Whitehorse billed as the toughest sled dog race in the world travels across the snow-covered terrain of the traditional pioneer Gold Rush in early February.
The Rendezvous of Furs in Anchorage. The world championship sprint sled dog race, which starts and ends downtown, is just one of the many events that make up this 10-day festival of winter in late February and early March. Other events include fireworks displays, live music, ice sculpture contests, and fireworks.
The World Ice Art Championships. The biggest ice sculpture competition in the world is held in Alaska! In Fairbanks, where there are massive amounts of ice, sculptors will get to work using their equipment to produce a variety of unbelievable ice sculptures. The public can come to the competition to see all the amazing creations. This competition takes place from the middle of February to the end of March.
The Trail Sled Dog Race of the Iditarod. The ceremonial start of this renowned race, which spans 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome, takes place on the first Saturday in March in the heart of Anchorage. As barbecues, in the form of a tailgate, break out all across town, dog teams take off down city streets and trek through the forest on park trails.
The Ski Marathon of Anchorage. One of the few point-to-point cross-country ski marathons in North America is the Tour of Anchorage! There are three ski distances offered in both freestyle and classic skiing styles, measuring 25, 40, and 50 kilometres. Typically, the marathon takes place on the first Sunday in March.
Alaska Travel Guide Recommendations
DK Eyewitness Alaska
Epic landscapes, abundant wildlife and unforgettable adventures – welcome to Alaska. Learn all about Alaska’s must-sees, top experiences and hidden gems, the best spots to eat, drink, shop and stay, detailed maps and walks which make navigating the state easy, easy-to-follow itineraries and expert advice on what to pack and how to stay safe. Whether you want to be awed by its jaw-dropping scenery, spend time in the national parks, or learn about the rich historical roots of native culture, your DK Eyewitness travel guide makes sure you experience all that Alaska has to offer.
Buy the guide here: DK Eyewitness Alaska
Moon Alaska (2nd ed.)
Alaska is a remote, wild, and beautiful destination that promises a life-changing adventure. With Moon Alaska, explore the heart of “The Last Frontier.” Learn about the indigenous cultures of Alaska, explore tiny villages, and find the best locations to see the northern lights. When to go, what to pack, and where to stay—from campgrounds and hostels to B&Bs and resort fishing lodges, you’ll learn all this and more in this Alaska travel guide.
Buy the guide here: Moon Alaska (2nd ed.)
Alaska Traveler by Dana Stabenow
Before Alaska became a state, author Dana Stabenow was born there. She grew up around fishing boats, worked for an air taxi company, a cannery, and then on the North Slope oilfields. Today, she is an Edgar Award-winning mystery author who has written over 25 books using Alaska as their setting. Alaska is a state that Stabenow knows inside out!
Buy the guide here: Alaska Traveler
Bradt Travel Guide Alaska
Bradt’s Alaska guides visitors beyond the cruise ship ports and into the real Alaska. Written by a local, the book includes a comprehensive guide to Alaska’s flora and fauna and draws on the author’s many years of experience exploring and guiding tourists on kayaking and hiking trips through this vast wilderness little touched by the hand of man.
Buy the travel guide here, Bradt Travel Guide Alaska
Insight Guides Alaska
A comprehensive travel guide packed with inspirational photography and fascinating cultural insights, now with a free eBook.
From deciding when to go to choosing what to see when you arrive, this guide to Alaska is all you need to plan your perfect trip, with insider information on must-see, top attractions like Glacier Bay National Park, Chena Hot Springs and Kodiak Island, and gems like the Alaska Railroad (used by locals to reach remote cabins), the sight of bears feeding on spawning salmon at Brooks River and Camp, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, home to polar bears and the greatest biodiversity of any protected area in the Arctic. This travel guide is great for helping plan an amazing Alaska adventure.
Buy the guide here: Insight Guides Alaska
Lonely Planet Alaska
Lonely Planet’s Alaska is their most comprehensive guide that extensively covers all that Alaska has to offer, with recommendations for both popular and lesser-known experiences. Hike the history-laden Chilkoot Trail, spot icebergs and wildlife in Glacier Bay and marvel at the majesty of the Northern Lights; all with your trusted travel companion.
Buy the guide here: Lonely Planet Alaska
Whether you want to spot wildlife in Denali National Park, cruise past glaciers in Glacier Bay, or experience the Northern Lights, the local Fodor’s travel experts in Alaska are here to help! Fodor’s Alaska guidebook is packed with maps, carefully curated recommendations, and everything else you need to simplify your trip-planning process and make the most of your time. This new edition has an easy-to-read layout, fresh information, and beautiful color photos.
Buy the guide here: Fodor’s Alaska
LET US HELP YOU PLAN YOUR NEXT WINTER ADVENTURE
When you’re ready to travel, contact one of our TierOne Travel consultants. They have extensive experience in life-changing travel experiences and will be able to craft something incredible that is suited to your unique needs!
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“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Anonymous