Alaska Winter Itinerary (7-Day Plan)

The sky is lit up with green lights. Eyelashes covered with ice crystals. A hot bowl of soup and a refreshing pint of craft beer “These are a few of my favorite things,” sing along with me now. Isn’t that how the song goes? Well, it will be for you after you take your first winter vacation to Alaska! In this Alaska winter itinerary, we are going to share all details with you on how to plan your trip to Alaska in a week.

There is virtually no better site than Alaska to witness a winter wonderland. It’s a short journey for most people in North America, and you can access great winter experiences you won’t find anywhere else – even if you live in New England or the northern Midwest.

Look no farther if you’re considering a winter vacation to Alaska. This article will cover everything you need to know, from what to pack to where to travel, as well as key questions like how dark it gets and where to view the northern lights once it becomes dark. Continue reading to create your own ideal Alaska winter itinerary, and you’ll be singing my “favorite things” song when you get home!

Day 1 -Arrive in Anchorage

Because the days are so short in the winter, your first day in Alaska may be restricted in terms of activities; most aircraft arrive in Anchorage later in the day.

Furthermore, Alaska has its own time zone, which is four hours behind Eastern time, so you may suffer from jet lag. All of this is to suggest that on your first day in Anchorage, take it easy.

The sole exception to this rule is if the aurora prediction is really strong (Kp+4), in which case you should either go to a dark place near Anchorage to attempt to observe the northern lights or book an aurora tour.

(If the forecast isn’t promising, call it a night and rest up for the remainder of your journey!)

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Day 2 -: Hit the Trails Near Anchorage – Nordic Skiing in the Winter

Rise and rise for your first day of exploration of Anchorage’s winter paradise!

There’s a lot to enjoy in the Anchorage region throughout the winter, as I said in my guide to things to do in Anchorage during the winter, and most of it is outside, so wrap up!

You’ll need to spend your days with these outdoor activities unless you’re visiting Anchorage for one of the big winter events (such as Fur Rondy or the Iditarod).

Most individuals don’t have the skills to perform these experiences on their own, and it’s just simpler to have a tour guide organize transportation, gear, and safety for you.

(The activities I propose today are an exception to this rule.)

I suggest visiting the trails on your first full day in Anchorage.

Anchorage boasts nearly 100 miles of winter trails that are well-maintained and ideal for a variety of winter activities: Snowshoeing is an activity that you may perform on your own or with the help of a guide.

Rent a pair of snowshoes and go for a walk in the neighboring Chugach mountains if you like hiking.

Arrange a trip for this one! Fat Tire Biking You can ride some of the paths surrounding town on a fat-tired bike for a tremendous thrill – and frequently for magnificent vistas.

If you have the funds and want an even more unique trip, book a dog sledding excursion.

A tour of the kennel, introduction to the puppies, and a trip in the basket are normally included; some firms will even teach you to mush if you’re up for the challenge!

Depending on which one you select and how much time you want to spend outdoors, you can probably only perform 1-2 of these activities in a day.

Day 3 – In the Winter, Get Out on the Ice Anchorage – Ice Climbing

Following a day on land, it’s time to appreciate another facet of Alaskan winter life: ice! Many of the rivers in the Anchorage region freeze completely, allowing you to participate in activities that are only accessible when the temperatures dip low enough. (One of the benefits of those nose-hair-freezing days!)

In the morning, I propose going ice skating or ice fishing with a charter company on one of Anchorage’s frozen ponds, such as Westchester Lagoon. Most ice fishing firms offer half-day and full-day trips, but I only had the energy for a half-day of “sitting on the ice freezing my buttocks off.” In the broader Anchorage region, Alaska Lakes Guide Service, DT6, Fishtale River Guides, and Fishhound Expeditions all provide guided ice fishing expeditions.

You may either arrange another activity for the afternoon – perhaps ice climbing if you’re up for it – or stay home for a few warm hours. The Anchorage Museum is a must-see in both winter and summer, so this is a terrific alternative; I’ve been there many times in the previous few years and am constantly amazed by how much the museum has to offer, particularly in terms of Alaska Native relics and art that educate visitors about the area. It’s easy to lose track of time here, so it’s a great place to unwind after a morning on the ice.

If you haven’t previously scheduled a northern lights trip on a different night, this is a terrific time to do it. Even if the forecast isn’t promising, it’s worth venturing out of the city to check whether the aurora is visible at all.

Day 4 – Girdwood Day Trip

Several winter tourists to Alaska are interested in downhill skiing – after all, there are many mountains in the Anchorage region! While there aren’t as many ski resorts near Anchorage (or Alaska as a whole) as you’d imagine given all those mountains, there is one worth visiting if you like downhill skiing or snowboarding – or all the après skiing activities instead.

The Alyeska Resort is situated one hour south of Anchorage by automobile in the hamlet of Girdwood. While I wouldn’t recommend staying here overnight (based on my own negative experience and input from other readers), I can attest to the resort’s quality as a skiing/snowboarding destination. Lift tickets range from $75 to $99. Ski/board rentals are $45 for the whole day, depending on whatever day you come. If you wish to attempt (or re-try) these sports, the resort also rents snowshoes, nordic skis, and fat tire bikes.

There are other choices if you don’t want to spend the day outside in the cold. You may take the Alyeska Aerial Tram to the Upper Tram Terminal, where you can roam about and take in the views of the valley and Turnagain Arm – or relax inside for a gourmet supper at Seven Glaciers.

Another alternative is to go to the Nordic Spa, which will open… this winter? Nobody appears to know when it will open after so many delays, but I’ll update this article when it does! In any event, with hot springs, chilly plunge pools, barrel saunas, steam and dry saunas, and lots more, this spa is a cut above the rest. I’m disappointed that this has taken so long since I had wanted to travel in Summer 2021 – suppose I’ll have to plan another vacation!

After a day at Alyeska, I have one supper tip (my food choices for Anchorage and Fairbanks are at the bottom of this post): before heading back to Anchorage, stop at Jack Sprat for dinner. This restaurant is fantastic and often missed, but it serves wonderful cuisine from across the globe utilizing local Alaskan products (I had a lovely bibimbap and Mr. V had a curry).

Day 5 – Travel to Fairbanks via the Aurora Train.

Are you already halfway through your journey? That implies it’s time to switch things up! Today, get up bright and early to board the Alaska Railroad north to Fairbanks. Plan your vacation (arrival/departure dates) around the Aurora Winter Train, which runs weekends throughout the winter and midweek on certain days in February and March.

The Aurora Winter Train leaves Anchorage at 8:30 a.m. and arrives at 8:00 p.m. in Fairbanks. Make a day of it by booking all three meals on the train: the dining car offers delicious alternatives with local foods such as fresh fish and reindeer meat.

Despite the fact that it seems to be a lengthy day, the Aurora Winter Train is a fantastic way to travel between Anchorage and Fairbanks while also seeing part of Alaska. Along the trip, you may be able to visit Denali, see a lot of moose (and maybe other species), and travel through little communities that provide a glimpse of life in The Last Frontier in the winter. In the 11.5-hour trip I took in February 2020, we spotted over 110 moose, and Denali was out in all her splendor.

When you arrive in Fairbanks, be sure you plan a shuttle from the train station to Chena Hot Springs; this is typically an option when booking your stay. (At the bottom of this piece, you’ll find my suggestions on where to stay.)

Day 6 – Chena Hot Springs Day

Chena Hot Springs is one of the most popular things to do in Fairbanks regardless of the season, but it’s much better in the winter. This resort is situated on a geothermal hotspot, where hot spring water surges up to the surface all year and melts the surrounding snow. They’ve come a long way since I first came as a youngster, with a heated indoor pool (90°F) and a more natural-looking outdoor hot spring. The latter is the place to be: you may soak in the hot water and watch the steam rise from the 106°F water while your eyelashes develop ice crystals.

I suggest spending the morning in the hot springs on this day; there’s no need to hurry into the day; instead, get some rest before the following several nights of aurora-chasing! In the afternoon, visit the on-site Ice Museum for a renowned appletini served in an ice glass, or schedule one of the other daylight-hours activities on the property (if you haven’t done so before, snowshoeing is a popular choice). Make sure to secure a space on the aurora tour that night when booking your Ice Museum tour and/or additional activities.

Retire to your hotel after supper at the on-site restaurant and recuperate before your aurora tour — they leave as late as 11pm to maximize your time under the aurora. During the trip, you will be able to keep warm in a yurt hut, which will also provide warm food and drink. Tours may go until 3-4 a.m., so plan on staying up late!

Day 7 – Explore Fairbanks’ Great Outdoors

After two nights at Chena Hot Springs, I suggest returning to Fairbanks for the duration of your trip; this will allow you to sample some of the other winter activities available. You’ll need to take the shuttle back to the airport and pick up a rental vehicle there since you rode the shuttle from the train to Chena.

Then go to another exciting activity, such as Running Reindeer Ranch or Paws for Adventure, which are two of my favorites. You may enjoy a walking tour through the woods with actual reindeer at Running Reindeer Ranch, as well as learn about the animals from their care. Paws for Adventure is a dog sledding kennel where you can learn about competitive mushing and take a basket ride. Accept all of the additional clothes and bunny boots they give you to remain warm — that ride might be brutal!

Final words

I generally begin my itinerary postings with some basic travel advice. This will hopefully get you 90% of the way through arranging your own Alaska winter schedule after answering some of the most often asked questions. If you have any questions after reading this page, please leave them in the comments section.

Many people are afraid of driving on snow and ice, yet it is the greatest way to travel about Alaska in the winter. Even in the summer, Alaska’s public transportation system is severely lacking. During the months when there is no snow, there are more possibilities for private transportation between locations in Alaska, although many people still choose to hire a vehicle.

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