Just got back from Alaska, officially our #50th state visited! And yes, we did it in January, the coldest month of the year! It was truly a challenge at times, but we are from Chicago, so nothing we can’t deal with.
We did a few cool winter activities, took pictures in mesmerizing white landscapes, and saw the northern lights. We also rented a car for the first time ever and went on a pretty nice road-trip, driving around 20 hours during the week we were there.
In this blog post I will share our itinerary, recommendations, links, and tips to travel Alaska during winter time.
- Alaska is called the “last frontier” and the “land of the midnight sun”. Notice this midnight sun only happens during some days during the Summer time. While we were there the sun would rise around 10a.m. and set around 4:30p.m.
- Alaska was part of Russia until it was sold to U.S. for 7 million dollars in 1867.
- Alaska has 8 national parks, including Denali National Park, which is the tallest mountain in North America.
- Alaska has part of the Artic Circle, which you can get to it by driving 4 hours north from Fairbanks.
- Santa Claus has a house in the town of North Pole, near Fairbanks. North Pole is the name of the town, but notice that is not located on the actual north pole.
Our trip lasted 7 days, leaving on a Wednesday from Chicago and returning Wednesday next week. We decided to rent a car, since not all trains routes run during winter, and we really wanted to see some stuff south in Seward.
Wednesday January 6th:
- Arrived to Anchorage International Airport.
- Got our rental car for the week. We got it from Enterprise.
- Drove to hotel where we were spending the night and checked-in.
- Went to a store to get some groceries. Look for “CARRS” as you main grocery store. There is a Walmart as well.
- Had dinner at the hotel room. Then went to sleep and get ready for our next day road-trip.
Thursday January 7th:
- Had breakfast at the hotel. Hotels with breakfast included give you a pretty good breakfast, including hot burritos, sandwiches, fruits, etc.
- Started our road-trip at 8a.m. (sun rises at 10a.m.), driving 6 hours up north to Fairbanks.
- On the way up we stopped in few beautiful spots as rivers, bridges, mountains views, and even got to enjoy some of Denali National Park, although most of it is closed during winter.
- Arrived to our hotel at Fairbanks around 5p.m. (sun sets around 4:30p.m.).
- Headed to Walmart to get some food and supplies.
Friday January 8th:
- Woke up at 9a.m. with our breakfast delivered to our room.
- Headed to our Dog Sledding Tour at 11a.m. Left early to make sure we were there on time. Tour finished at 2p.m. It was located 45 minutes drive from town.
- Drove 1 hour (from dog sledding spot) to North Pole Town, where we had our candy cane airbnb. Checked-in real fast because we were getting picked up to our next tour at 4:40p.m. from our previous hotel.
- Got picked up to our 5pm-4am tour. It included transportation, Ice Museum and Bar, restaurant, Chena Hot Springs, and a chance to see the Northern Lights, which we did!
- Got back to our Airbnb around 5a.m.
Saturday January 9th:
- After resting some time after our night tour, we woke up at 10a.m. and headed to explore North Pole town, where we visited the Santa Claus house. Note that Santa is on vacations between Christmas and June.
- Headed to Fairbanks to take pictures in some murals.
- Headed to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks to take pictures in some landscapes and the “Love Alaska” sign.
- Went back to our Airbnb to take a nap before driving 30 minutes out of town trying to catch northern lights again, but it was too cloudy, so went back to sleep and rest for next day road-trip.
Sunday January 10th:
- Woke up at 9a.m. to get ready for a road-trip back down to Anchorage area.
- Stopped in a couple spots on the way. It was the same way we came up, so we were already familiar with the area.
- During this road-trip we experienced a “wow moment” when driving through the mountains…everything turned white, even the sky. Mountains, sky, trees, ground, everything was white! It felt unreal.
- Arrived to Palmer around 7p.m. where there was a cabin with a hot tub waiting for us.
Monday January 11th:
- Woke up at 9a.m. and headed to the Reindeer Farm.
- After the farm, we drove 1 hour to Sutton to visit Matanuska Glacier. This was one of the most unforgettable experiences. We even got to walk inside an ice cave!
- Tour ended at 4:30p.m., and after realizing that it was already dark, we decided to have dinner at a local restaurant before trying to drive 4 hour to Seward.
- Arriving to Girdwood 2.5 hours later, we decided to stop and look for a cheap place to stay at. It was snowing a lot and like 5 different persons told us not to drive on that road, specially on a snowy night. We listened to them and spent the night in a cheap motel.
- Woke up early next day and kept driving down to Seward. It wasn’t an easy drive but we made it with not issues, although we did see a couple of car crashes on the way.
- Arrived to our Airbnb around 11a.m. and spent a lovely day getting to know the area and the town.
Tuesday January 12th:
- Relaxed at the yurt and areas nearby, and then started driving back to Anchorage.
- Stopped in Girdwood trying to do some skiing or snowboarding, but we got there late. We explored the Aleyshka Resort. Wanted to have dinner there, but the restaurants were closed. We had dinner at the Girdwood center.
- Arrived to our Airbnb in Anchorage around 7p.m. Spent time at the hot tub and got ready for our flight next morning.
Wednesday January 13th:
- Left our Airbnb at 3:30a.m. so we could have time to return the rental car.
- Boarded the plane at 5:20a.m. and departed at 6a.m.
- Short layover in Seattle, and then arrived to Chicago.
This was our final itinerary, although we had to cancel or add stuff here and there, while there. Because of that unplanned stop caused by the snow, we didn’t have time to do snowmobile and had to leave it for next time.
Would I change anything to this itinerary? Yes. It was after I had already bought my plane tickets that I found out the Aurora Winter Train to Fairbanks only runs Saturday and Sundays during winter. It I knew that, I’d gotten my tickets for Friday, so I could get on the train Saturday. Then, rent a car in Fairbanks and return in Anchorage.
OR, I would had bought my return ticket from Fairbanks, renting a car only from Anchorage to Seward and then return back in Anchorage, taking the train on Saturday to Fairbanks.
THINGS TO DO IN WINTER:
- Dog Sledding – Part of Alaska’s culture, dog sledding is a must-do when visiting Alaska during winter. Huskies love racing in the snow, and they beg to be chosen in the group leading any sleds.
There are races where they run 1000 miles in a lap of few days.
Here are companies that offer these kind of tours:
- Ididaride (Sterling, AK)
- AK River Tours (Fairbanks)
- Alaska Musing School (near Anchorage)
- Salmon Berry Tours (Talkeena, with shuttle offered from Anchorage)
- Seward Helicopters (included in a glacier tour)
Sadly, I can’t recommend the company I chose since I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the service provided. However, if you really want to contact this company because of the views you saw on my videos/pictures, contact me and I’ll give you the info.
2. Northern Lights (Auroras) – Winter is the best season to see the northern lights. We paid a company to pick us up in Fairbanks and drive us 1 hour to Chena Hot Springs, where after having dinner and enjoying the springs, we got to see the lights. We also visited the Ice Museum and had an apple martini at the Ice Bar.
Yes, you can do this on your own, but since I didn’t want to drive at night on a rural area, I felt more comfortable leaving that to the experts. We really enjoyed our tour, our guide, and the persons we shared the time with. Check their other Winter and Summer tours. Ask for Bob as your guide. He is great!
Notice that you could also see northern lights in the Anchorage area, but there are more chances to see them in Fairbanks. The chances of seeing them depends on how cloudy it is and other factors. Download the app “Auroras” for an approximated forecast. Typically they would show up from 11:30p.m – 3a.m.
We didn’t have any professional cameras (notice we didn’t go to Alaska to see the auroras) and our Iphone didn’t even take pictures on the dark. The blurry pictures we do have were provided by a kind lady that was with us in the tour and took the pictures with her galaxy note phone.
3. Hot Springs (Fairbanks) – There is not better time to visit hot springs when in the cold! It was our first time visiting natural hot springs and I really enjoyed the experience. We got in at 9p.m. during our tour with Alaska Wildlife , but as I wrote before, you can go on your own. It is located 1hr 15min from Fairbanks downtown.
It was so cold that our hair froze!
They also have the Ice Museum and Bar.
The official website for the springs is www.chenahotsprings.com
4. Glacier Exploring – Yes! walking on ice and entering ice caves it’s possible. We visited the Matanuska Glacier, but there are some other glaciers. You can combine these tours with dog sledding, snow machine, kayak, boat, jet ski, or helicopter tours.
These are some of the companies and places that offer Glacier Tours:
- Matanusca Glacier (Sutton)
- Knik and Colony Glacier by small plane
- Glacier City (Girdwood)
- And here are many more different glacier tours on here…
5. Skiing and Snowboarding – If you have never done it, some of them offer daily classes for beginners.
- Girdwood – Alyeska Resort
- Fairbanks – Moose Mountain ; Mt. Aurora Ski Land
- Anchorage- Hill Top ; Artic Valley
6. Visit North Pole Town – Santa Claus’s house, Santa’s town, reindeer farm, and stay in a candy cane airbnb cabin! It’s just a 20 minutes drive from Fairbanks.
7. Snow Mobile – It’s the most fun thing to do for locals during
winter! They say it’s even more fun than a motorcycle. You can see them everywhere having fun this way, even on the frozen Chena river!
8. Reindeers Farm – Just about 45 minutes away from Anchorage, the Reindeers Farm is located in Palmer. They don’t only have many reindeers, but also moose, alpacas, bison, and more.
9. Boat Tours, Kayaks, Jet Ski, etc – If visiting Seward or any town by the coast, you can try any of these activities.
Check this company if you are down in Seward: www.millerslandingask.com
Here are some tips based in our winter trip:
- Rent a All-wheel car or 4×4. We got a Ford Malibu, and although we didn’t have any big issues, it did skidded a little a couple times. We would’ve felt much safer in a car with better tires.
- Do not worry too much on packing stuff thinking you won’t find them there or that it would be so much expensive. We usually never pay for luggage and this time we did, packing new stuff that we could’ve easily gotten at Walmart.
- Get nice winter boots. Cheap boots would have your toes freezing. Ask George! Hot pads helps. Winter gloves, scarfs, and any other winter accessories are recommended.
- Thermos with hot coffee or tea are handy when in road-trips and tours.
- Don’t forget the extension cord if renting a car on below 0 Fahrenheit.
- DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DRIVE UNDER A SNOW STORM, specially at night. Some roads are really dangerous and the one from Anchorage to Seward is among the most dangerous in the state. .
- Support local business. Although it’s something I always recommend, I can tell you people in Alaska are extra kind and attentive.
- If trying to catch the northern lights, give yourself a couple nights for it. The more nights you stay, the more chances you would have. High season is from November to April.
Here are the places I stayed at. Had a very pleasant stay in all of them.
- Hotel Ink Tower, Anchorage
- Westmark hotel in Fairbanks
- Airbnb Candy Cane in North Pole
- Airbnb Hot Tub in Palmer
- Airbnb Hot Tub in Anchorage
- Blue Yurt in Seward
Other cool places you can stay at:
- Aleyshka Hotel and Resort in Girdwood
- Airbnb with Creek under it in Anchorage
- Reinder Cabin in North Pole
- Hostel in Girdwood
Alaska is definitely on my top 5 favorite states now. In Alaska was when I lived winter for the first time, outside a big city. Those white landscapes under the falling snow will always be on my memories.
Now I can’t wait to visit Alaska during Summer time. Denali National Park and the other National Parks are waiting for us! Want to join us Summer 2022?
If you still have any question about Alaska, feel free to contact me via instagram or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Youtube video should be out soon….if we finally decide to sit down and edit all those clips!
Meanwhile enjoy my reel and videos on INSTAGRAM!