Planning an Alaska Winter Vacation can seem overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be. I decided to take an Alaska Winter Vacation only two weeks before my departure. You don’t need to plan too far ahead – I planned tours on the first day I arrived in Anchorage. I did a little research ahead of my trip and relied on recommendations from Visit Anchorage and travel professionals. When planning a trip, there are a few things you should consider:
What to wear:
If you plan to visit Alaska in Winter, you should be prepared. The weather between Anchorage, Fairbanks and other cities can vary greatly. You really need to dress appropriately to stay warm. When buying a coat keep in mind that the warmth ratings assume you’re wearing standard winter attire under the coat. To stay extra warm, consider buying long johns. In addition, you’ll need a warm hat – preferably one that covers your ears, ear muffs or headband provided added warmth, gloves, a warm scarf and snow boots! The boots you choose are very important. Because it can get icy you’ll need boots with good traction. You also need to think about where you’ll be traveling and how deep the snow could get. Ankle boots just aren’t going to cut it. And ladies, your UGG’s aren’t going to cut it either. It is also recommended that if you plan to stand still for some time that you have a thick sole on your boots.
Underneath all your winter gear, you’ll want to layer. It can be very, very warm inside when the heat is turned up. Wearing layers will allow you to adjust as you transition from indoors to outdoors.
On two of the days I was in Fairbanks, the temperature literally hit -25 degrees. That is freezing – the weather service calls it bitterly cold – it’s bitter, that’s for sure. I didn’t spend more than 5-10 minutes outside at any time, and for the most part, I was warm enough. The exception was my nose, no matter how I wrapped my scarf I couldn’t quite work it out to keep my nose warm enough. On the days I went sightseeing to the Arctic Circle and North Pole here’s what I wore:
– Jacket: From LL Bean the Goose Down Jacket rated for -35 degree temperature
-Hat: From LL Bean a Wool Cable Knit Hat
– Gloves: From LLBean women’s Polartec Gloves
– Headband: From Old Navy a men’s fleece headband
– Long Johns: From Lands End Thermaskin pants and top
– Long Sleeve T-shirt
– Light Weight Sweater
– Boot Socks (socks that go up to your knee)
– Boots: Sorel Tofino Boots that were water proof, lined with fleece and had insulation in the bottom of the boot
Once you have the proper attire, you’ll need to get there!
You can get to Alaska from several US and Canadian Cities. Several airlines fly to Anchorage and a couple even fly to Fairbanks. Alaska Airlines is the largest commercial carrier with flights throughout the state. Traveling within Alaska on Alaskan Airlines doesn’t have to be super expensive. Alaskan Airlines offers great web specials and discounts throughout the year. For example, my flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks and back was $89 each way including taxes.
Aside from commercial airlines you can take charter flights or fly with private airlines within Alaska. There is a train that runs year-round but the schedule is greatly reduced in winter (starting in November the train goes North 1 day a week and South 1 day a week.)
Airlines serving Anchorage:
US Airways – direct flights from Phoenix
United – direct flights from Denver and Seattle
Frontier Airlines – seasonal service starting on May 15, 2014 through mid September
Delta Airlines – direct flights from MSP and code share flights with Alaskan from multiple cities
American Airlines – code share flights with Alaskan from multiple cities
Air Canada – direct flights from Vancouver
Airlines serving Fairbanks:
Alaskan Airlines – direct flights from multiple cities
Frontier Airlines – seasonal service starting on May 15, 2014 through early September
Variety of private airlines
You can rent a car in all cities, but depending on the time of year, you may not want to. Driving in winter can be hazardous as roads ice up.
What To Do:
The highlight of an Alaskan Winter vacation is the opportunity to see the Northern Lights, but that’s not all there is to do.
You can see the Northern Lights from many locations and seeing them is highly dependent on weather and atmospheric conditions. Most websites you’ll visit say that if you spend 3 nights outside of Fairbanks (in an area clear of light pollution) you have an 80% chance of seeing the Northern Lights. A very popular location for Northern Lights Viewing is the Chena Hot Springs. You can take a day trip to the hot springs or you can stay at their resort. There are many tour operators offering a variety of tours. I would not recommend that tour operator I used (1st Alaska Outdoor School) I had two less than optimal experiences with them. There are several other tour operators that have pretty good ratings on Trip Advisor.
You can see the Northern Lights from September through April with the most active months traditionally being October and March (that will vary based on the conditions each year.)
Been There, Done That:
One of the highlights of being in Alaska is being able to say, “I’ve been to (fill in the blank).” For example, I can now say, “I’ve been to the Arctic Circle and North Pole.” There’s not a lot to do, other than take pictures, but it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity – and the scenery is spectacular even in winter.
You can ski, snowboard or even go mushing (dog sledding). You can go ice fishing or Glacier climbing (if you don’t want to climb you can just go for a walk on a glacier.) You can take a snowmobile tour or go snowshoeing.
Other Things To Do:
You can spend a lot of time at Alaska’s great museums. There are plenty of interesting museums in Anchorage and a few in Fairbanks. You can take a winter wildlife tour (I highly recommend the Salmon Berry Tour) or a variety of other winter tours.
Where to Eat:
There are tons of places to eat in Alaska. From fast casual to formal dining, you really have a vast choice. Here are a few places I recommend
Simon and Seafort – upscale dining. I had the Alaskan Halibut, which was in season, and was delicious. Prices for main courses run from $18 – 35 but can run as high as $50-65 for items like King Crab legs.
Humpys – casual dining. A local favorite, and chain restaurant found in Alaska and Hawaii, had a very busy bar and served good pub style food. I had the Wild Alaskan Cod Alehouse Fish and Chips. The tartar sauce was really, really good.
Snow City Cafe – casual dining for breakfast and lunch – if you don’t make a reservation, expect a wait – yes, even in winter. I had the Sockeye Salmon Cakes with eggs. Yum.
The first thing I should mention is that almost nothing is open on Sunday in Fairbanks.
Lavelle’s Bistro – mid-scale dining (not casual but not fine dining open 7 days a week) – Lavelle’s is a very popular restaurant and you need reservations on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. They have a big bar with lots of wine and beer choices. The food is really good. I ate at the restaurant twice. It was connected to the SpringHill Suites by Marriott – so it was nice not to have to go outside in the freezing temps, but even more, I loved my meal so much the first night I was happy to go back. The first night I had the fresh caught Alaskan King Crab. It was so amazing. It came with a salad – I got the Caesar (based on yelp reviews) and baked potato. There were some veggies on the plate, but they seemed like an afterthought. The second night I had the potato crusted salmon. The salmon was Cooper River Salmon and was beautiful in color and taste. There’s also a dessert that you must try if you’re ever at Lavelle’s. They have a black bottom creme brulee that is rich and delicious. It was one of the best creme brulees I’ve ever had.
River City Cafe – casual breakfast and lunch (not open Sunday) – the River City Cafe had great reviews on Yelp and Urban Spoon so I decided to check it out for lunch one day. I had the french dip, which people raved about, and I can see why! It was a very good sandwich. The coffee is also very good.
If you dress properly you can have a great time on an Alaska winter vacation! There are so many things to do and see in winter. If you have the urge, I would suggest planning a trip!