Around this time last year, when I started telling friends and coworkers that Austin and I were going to take a trip to Alaska over the New Year, the reaction was generally “…why? You’re choosing to spend your winter vacation in one of the coldest possible places?”
I’m trying to remember exactly why we decided on Alaska. I think Austin had heard something about the Alaskan Railroad and the packages they offer which made us super interested. They have packages that allow you to see different areas in Alaska and travel between them via train!
Unfortunately, they didn’t have any packages available when we wanted to go. Apparently they don’t get a lot of interest in the winter months – go figure.
So, I decided to create my DIY version of their package.
We started in Fairbanks, AK and then took the Alaskan Railroad down to Anchorage, AK for the latter half of the trip. You can read more about that in my Fairbanks and Anchorage Travel Diaries, but it turned out to be such an incredible trip!
Here’s a snippet of what we did and why I suggest WINTER for anyone traveling to Alaska:
1. DOG SLEDDING
If you end up going to Alaska during the winter, you CANNOT skip out on dog sledding.
If you happen to be in Fairbanks, I HIGHLY recommend Black Spruce Dog Sledding. Our guide was so friendly, knowledgeable, and had an awesome story to share about how he uprooted his midwestern life in order to move to Alaska after he fell in love with dog sledding. Does it get any more Lifetime movie than that? I don’t think so.
He even stopped at the top of the mountain for a mini photo shoot and I’m glad he did because these are some of my most-cherished photos from that entire trip.
Just beware – the dogs WILL try to eat the fur on your hood, so watch your back!
2. SNOW MOBILING
Big fan of snowmobiling right here! We had no idea how beautiful the mountains in Anchorage would be until we got to our meeting point and then took a 30 min van ride through the slickest, windiest roads I’ve ever been on.
The people that live in these mountains live completely off the grid and have to rely on snowmobiles to get around for half the year. They make for the BEST tour guides!
We had a group of 6 people with us and we road on trails all around these gorgeous, snow-covered mountains.
We even stopped to have lunch by a campfire half way through the day.
3. THE WILDLY BEAUTIFUL VIEWS
I honestly can’t think of a prettier view than snow-covered pine trees. Maybe add a wood cabin in there, and that’s it. You CANNOT beat it.
The entire city of Fairbanks, Alaska looked like this and it’s what made us immediately fall in love with the area!
4. THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
Get ready for a couple of REALLY blurry photos…
I was so mad at myself for not bringing a tripod to Alaska because it’s incredibly difficult to get a photo of the Northern Lights and keeping everything on the ground in focus while just holding the camera by hand!
Oh well, just an excuse to go back.
The Northern Lights were dancing every night we were in Fairbanks and it’s been my dream to see them up close and in person. Fair warning – they are not green in real life! They’re a cloudy white color, but they show up green in photos without editing (the pictures above aren’t edited at all).
I expected them to be this bright green and was admittedly a little let down when they weren’t, but they were still a sight to see. Supposedly, the best time of year is September through March!
Our B&B even had a yurt out back to warm up in when waiting for the lights to come out.
5. WARMING UP BY A FIRE
Nothing is better than cozying up by a fire after snowmobiling for half the day. This is where we stopped for a lunch break to relax, eat and talk about how odd it was that the man in this photo came walking right up to our site to see what we were doing.
He’s one of the off-the-grid folks I mentioned earlier. He was just coming over to see what was going on and who these strange people were. Totally harmless!
6. THE DARK DAYS
As many of you may know, Alaska gets about 4 hours of daylight in the winter – yes, 4 hours! And even at that, it never gets light – as in sun shining high above you.
For the most part, the lightest portion of the day could be compared to 9-10am in the midwest. The sun never really gets high in the sky, it just kind of skims the midway point and then goes back down.
I thought this would be really hard to deal with, but it was actually kind of cool! I might not think so if I lived and worked there year-round, but to visit, it was definitely a unique experience.
7. SKIING AT THE BEST LODGE IN ANCHORAGE
Austin and I decided we wanted to go skiing while in Alaska because why not? I found this lodge called Alyeska Resort on Alyeska Mountain and it was stunningly beautiful!
We immediately regretted not staying there for our entire Anchorage visit, but it was still neat to walk around for an afternoon.
When we finally started skiing, I was SO humbled by this mountain. I grew up near Wisconsin, so our ski hills were nothing in comparison. I went in with a huge ego thinking I’m going to conquer every run, but then ended up staying on the “bunny” hill the entire time!
8. COZY EVENINGS AND QUIET MORNINGS IN A B&B
I will recommend the B&B we stayed at to anyone and everyone going to Fairbanks, AK. It was called A Taste of Alaska and it was incredible.
It was set back in a more secluded part of town and was so cozy. Exactly what you want on a snowy, winter day. The photo above is right where Austin and I ate breakfast every morning. We even had dinner there once which is available if scheduled.
That window overlooked a field covered in snow and surrounded by pine trees – it doesn’t get dreamier, I swear!
9. WARMING UP IN CHENA HOT SPRINGS
If you read my Travel Diary about Fairbanks, AK, you may have gotten the impression that I wasn’t too impressed with Chena Hot Springs. It’s true that I probably wouldn’t go there again, but not everyone is put off by a large crowd like I am.
It was a pretty cool resort with natural hot springs that you can visit just for the day (or you can stay in one of their rooms).
Fair warning once again – it is OVERRUN with people. I’d still go check it out, dunk your head in the water, and spike your hair up as it freezes in the cold air, but if large crowds really get to you, maybe skip this. There are PLENTY of other things to do in Alaska in the Winter!
Did I convince you, yet?!
I hope you get a sense of why I absolutely LOVED Alaska in the dead of winter and why I will recommend it over and over and over again!
I’m sure Alaskan Summers are great, too, but I wouldn’t have been able to do most of this stuff if we went in the summer.
Don’t get me wrong, it was COLD. So cold. I’m from Chicago and this was COLD. Stepping outside and your nostrils freezing – cold. Not feeling your face – cold. So, you have to go prepared. There’s no way around it. You may have to buy new jackets or new snow pants or new boots, but it’s so worth it.
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