Growing up in Alaska, I’ve experienced countless winter seasons. Nothing compares to waking up to a fresh snowfall and thinking about all of the fun, winter activities you could do that day.
For those contemplating a winter trip to Alaska, December is the perfect time to experience the snowy season and embrace cold weather. Though the days are shorter and the air nippy, there’s an abundance of exciting adventures awaiting you all across the state.
From the very moment you get off the plane, you’ll be in awe of the snow-covered mountains, the tranquil frozen lakes, and the enchanting frost-kissed trees that make up Alaska’s winter landscape.
In this comprehensive winter guide, I’m going to tell you everything you need to visit Alaska in December. From weather insights and daylight hours to a sneak peek at exciting events, tips on what to pack and wear, and the best things to do, I’m going to help you make the most of your December trip to Alaska.
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Packing for a winter trip to Alaska? Here’s my Alaska Winter Packing List
5 Reasons to Visit Alaska in December
- Go skiing. Most ski resorts in Alaska being operating in December.
- Winter wonderland. December is a great month to experience snow!
- It’s Aurora season. This is the time of year to see the Northern Lights.
- Cozy vibes. Dress in layers and sip a hot toddy around the fireplace.
- It’s jolly. There are a ton of Christmas events and holiday markets.
Weather in Alaska in December
Daylight in December
Daylight hours in December continue to decrease from November last month up until December 21, which is winter solstice and the shortest day of the year. Fairbanks will get less than 4 hours of daylight and Anchorage will get about 5.5 hours of daylight. In Juneau, you’ll experience less than 6.5 hours of daylight in December, with sunrise at 8:44 a.m. and sunset at 3:07 p.m. on winter solstice.
Aurora Viewing in Alaska in December
December is a great time of year for aurora viewing in Alaska, especially in Interior Alaska. The increase in darkness makes it all possible. Fairbanks is a popular destination to visit in Alaska for aurora viewing due to its clear nights and location directly under the aurora oval.
Snow in Alaska in December
Winter is guaranteed in December and most of the state is covered in snow. December is one of the snowiest winter months in Fairbanks with an average snowfall of 12.1 inches. The average snowfall in Juneau in December is 16 inches, but there is an average of 16 days of rain this month. Seward gets nearly 23 inches snow in December and nearly 8 inches of winter rain. Snow in Valdez increases dramatically with about 72 inches throughout the month, making it one of the snowiest areas in Alaska.
Temperature in December
December is winter and temperatures in Alaska are below freezing (32°F/0°C). Average daytime temperatures are below 30°F around most of the state, except the Southeast region with highs still in the mid 30s F. Nighttime lows drop below 0°F in the Arctic and Interior and below 20 F in other parts of Alaska.
Here’s what you can expect in different cities around the state:
- Average temperature in Anchorage, Alaska in December: 25°F (-4°C)
- Average temperature in Fairbanks, Alaska in December: 7°F (-14°C)
- Average temperature in Juneau, Alaska in December: 36°F (2°C)
- Average temperature in Seward, Alaska in December: 33°F (1°C)
- Average temperature in Valdez, Alaska in December: 30°F (-1°C)
Best Things to Do in Alaska in December
With the amount of snowfall in December, there are so many winter activities that you can experience. Some of my favorite winter sports are fat tire biking and snowboarding!
Visitors can also try xc skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, dog sledding, and more.
As the winter season begins, here are some fun things to do in Alaska in December:
Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding
Alaska has some incredible resorts for downhill skiing and snowboarding. Some are small, community-run ski areas, but all areas offer pristine snow, stunning landscapes, and excellent terrain. Here are some popular ski resorts to visit in Alaska:
- Hilltop Ski Area (Anchorage)
- Arctic Valley Ski Area (Anchorage)
- Skeetawk Ski Area (Hatcher Pass)
- Alyeska Resort (Girdwood)
- Eaglecrest Ski Area (Juneau)
- Mount Eyak Ski Area (Cordova)
Alyeska Resort is the most popular ski resort in Alaska. Every year, the resort kicks off the Christmas season with a ski for free day. This year, anyone who dresses up in a full costume as Santa, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph, Grinch, or an elf on December 15 can get a free lift ticket.
Hot Springs and Hot Pools
Chena Hot Springs Resort, nestled in Fairbanks, is a popular hot spring to visit in Alaska. In December, you may even see the Northern Lights while you warm up in this idyllic setting. I went in February but wasn’t lucky enough to see the lights.
For those seeking relaxation and rejuvenation, the Alyeska Nordic Spa in Girdwood is a great choice. I’ve had the privilege of visiting this Nordic-inspired oasis twice, and I can confidently say that it’s worth the price. The rainforest steam rooms and the cozy wooden barrel saunas are personal favorites of mine. I recommend spending at least four hours here!
See the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)
Alaska is a great place to see the Northern Lights. In December, the skies are dark and clear so the aurora borealis is often visible overhead.
When anyone asks me where they can see the northern lights in December, I always tell them to head far north. Fairbanks and other parts of Interior Alaska will give you the best chance of seeing the aurora borealis. Denali National Park is another great option as long as the weather is ideal.
There are many websites and apps that provide Aurora forecasts and this can help you plan your trip but if you want to know the best place to see the lights, it can be helpful to have an experienced guide or photographer with you. Check out this Alaska Northern Lights tour.
Dog sledding is an Alaskan tradition and one of the most popular winter tours in the state. You can experience the thrill of dog mushing on a dog sledding tour in the North Pole, where you’ll be towed by sled dogs down snowy trails as you learn about the history of mushing. The best part is you usually get to meet a few puppies!
If you’re only interested in being a spectator, you’ll find a few small sled dog races in Fairbanks and Anchorage throughout the winter.
Cross-country skiing is one of the most popular winter sports among local Alaskans. The reasons is that Alaska offers an extensive network of cross-country skiing trails that cater to a variety of skill levels. It’s a great way to enjoy the long winter and also stay active.
Here are popular xc skiing locations around Alaska:
- Kincaid Park: Located in Anchorage, over 60 kilometers of groomed trails, ranging from beginner to expert.
- Eagle River Nature Center: Over 10 kilometers of groomed trails for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
- Government Peak Recreation Area: 8,060-acre recreation area located in Palmer with 6.5 kilometers of world-class Nordic skiing trails.
- Independence Mine: The Mat-Su Ski Club grooms ski trails at Independence Mine at Hatcher Pass at the very start of winter.
- Tsalteshi Trails: Located just south of Soldotna, over 25 kilometers of groomed cross-country skiing trails.
For those new to cross-country skiing, you’ll find plenty of places to rent equipment and take lessons.
Fat Tire Biking
A fat tire bike is a regular bike with fat tires that allow you to bike on snow! I love fat tire biking in Alaska because it opens up another world of adventures. There are plenty of places to fat bike, and some of my favorite trails lead to cabins like Juneau Lake cabin along Resurrection Pass Trail on the Kenai Peninsula.
There are plenty of companies in Anchorage and other towns around the state where you can rent fat bikes to use!
If you plan to visit Alaska in late February, you’ll most likely find ideal conditions for fat biking to Knik Glacier.
Aurora Winter Train
The Aurora Winter Train offers an enchanting train journey between Anchorage and Fairbanks and it’s a great way to enjoy the winter wonderland of Alaska’s backcountry from the comfort of a warm railcar.
One of the most captivating aspects of the journey is the opportunity to see Alaska’s winter landscapes from a unique vantage point. On clear days, the view from the Alaska Railroad includes the Denali, North America’s tallest peak. As the train weaves through the snow-covered wilderness, passengers can find themselves gazing in wonder at the snow-capped mountains, frozen rivers, and frosty forests.
What truly sets the Aurora Winter Train apart is its flexibility. Throughout the journey, there are multiple stops where passengers can disembark and truly explore the snowy landscapes. For those in search of a unique winter experience in Alaska, the Aurora Winter Train is a journey not to be missed.
Ice skating is so much fun! Over the years, a lot of locals (including myself) have been getting more into wild ice skating. This is where lakes and other water sources freeze over to create perfect natural ice rinks in backcountry locations.
A few locations that are popular for wild ice skating in Alaska are Rabbit Lake, Eagle and Symphony Lakes, and the Palmer Hay Flats. You can also take a road trip down the Kenai Peninsula to find other lakes to skate on. The only thing is you have to time the conditions perfectly so that you don’t run into a frozen lake covered in a ton of snow.
In Anchorage, the city’s Westchester Lagoon and Cuddy Family Midtown Park transform into ice skating rinks during the winter months. Enjoy the crisp air as you glide on the ice, surrounded by the beauty of the city.
I can’t say I’ve done much ice fishing, I’ve only been a couple of times when I was younger. But my mom is really into it. She fishes on a lot of local lakes in the winter and drills her own ice holes and everything!
If you’re visiting Alaska in December then you probably won’t be planning on ice fishing on your own. If you do want to try ice fishing in Alaska then go with a guide. For your first time, I would recommend ice fishing in a heated cabin in Fairbanks.
Visit Santa at the North Pole
Nothing says Christmas more than visiting Santa in the actual North Pole. North Pole is a small community near Fairbanks, which is known for having year-round Christmas decorations.
You can visit the Santa Claus House, a Christmas shop full of Christmas ornaments, toys, and other gifts and take your picture with the giant 42-foot Santa standing outside. You can drive around on Mistletoe Lane, Kris Kringle Drive, and Santa Claus Lane.
Stop by the North Pole Post Office to send a postcard from the North Pole or respond to a letter from Santa! If you’re looking for the perfect, family-friendly day tour from Fairbanks, this is one you won’t want to miss.
Visit a Museum or Cultural Center
When it’s way too cold outside, there are plenty of museums and cultural centers to visit in Alaska. I love spending time at the Anchorage Museum. In December, you can visit the Anchorage Museum for free on First Friday, which is December 1.
Here are a few other museums and cultural centers to consider visiting around the state.
- Alaska Native Heritage Center (Anchorage)
- Juneau-Douglas City Museum (Juneau)
- Museum of the North (Fairbanks)
- Pratt Museum (Homer)
- Sheldon Museum (Haines)
Matanuska Glacier Tour
Matanuska Glacier, nestled in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, is one of Alaska’s most accessible glaciers. It’s a popular roadside attraction as you can view the 4-mile-wide terminus from the highway.
In the winter, the only way to access Matanuska Glacier is on a guided tour. The Guided Winter Glacier Tour is a popular winter tour for locals and visitors. During the tour, which lasts 1.5 to 2 hours, you will join a knowledgeable guide on a walk from the lodge to the terminus of the Matanuska Glacier.
If you want to walk on a glacier in Alaska in winter then this is one of the best options!
Cross the Arctic Circle
Did you even know that you could visit the Arctic Circle? It might just be an invisible line but if you plan on visiting Fairbanks then I highly suggest taking a trip to cross the Arctic Circle.
You’ll find the elusive line that designates the Arctic Circle about 196 miles north of Fairbanks, along the Dalton Highway.
If navigating this road in winter conditions seems daunting, there are guided tours available that make the journey easy. Some of these tours even offer the added bonus of Northern Lights viewing. And while you’re there, be sure to take a photo beside the Arctic Circle sign!
Top Festivals and Events in Alaska in December
- Bright Up the Night (November 23-December 31, Palmer)
- Anchorage International Film Festival (December 1-9, Anchorage)
- 9th Annual Santa Event (December 2-3, Wasilla)
- Spot the Grinch, Get a Prize (December 2, 9, 16, 23, Portage)
- Friends of Creamer’s Field Luminary Trail & Holiday Crafts (December 7, 8, 12, 13, Fairbanks)
- Colony Christmas (December 8-10, Palmer)
- North Pole Winterfest (December 9, North Pole)
- Skagway Yuletide Ball (December 9, Skagway)
- Snow Globe Run (December 9, Anchorage)
- Alaska Bird Conference (December 11-14, Anchorage)
- Winter Solstice Festival (December 15-17, Fairbanks)
- Breakfast with Santa (December 16, Wasilla)
- Winter Solstice Festival (December 21, Anchorage)
- Solstice Snowshoe Shuffle (December 23, Fairbanks)
- New Year’s Eve Celebration (December 31, Anchorage)
Holiday Markets in Alaska in December
- Christmas Holiday Craft Fair (December 1-2, Seward)
- CIRI Holiday Craft Bazaar (December 2, Anchorage)
- Discovery Peak’s Holiday Bazaar (December 2, Fairbanks)
- BEST Homeschool Holiday Bazaar (December 2, Fairbanks)
- North Pole Holiday Bazaar (December 9, North Pole)
- Tanana Valley Farmers Holiday Bazaar (December 9, Fairbanks)
- Irish Holiday Market (December 10, Anchorage)
- 2023 Winter Solstice Festival Bazaar (December 15-17, Fairbanks)
- 15th Annual Christmas Village (December 24-25, Anchorage)
What to Pack For Alaska in December
If you’re visiting Alaska in December, you’ll want to pack for cold, winter weather. Take a look at my Alaska winter packing list for what I like to wear in Alaska in the winter, it includes the essentials and lots of warm layers! You want to make sure to bring an insulated jacket, snow pants, and insulated boots.
No matter what your plans are, here is a quick list of what to wear in Alaska in December:
- Insulated jacket
- Snow pants
- Warm base layers
- Down vest
- Fleece sweater
- Fleece-lined leggings
- Insulated boots
- Thick wool socks
- Warm hat
- Scarf or neck gaiter
- Warm gloves
Is it a good time to visit Alaska in December?
December is considered the best time to visit Alaska for those who want to experience the winter season in Alaska without it being as cold as it would be in January or February.
In December, most of the state is covered in snow, which means there are plenty of winter activities for you to try. Plus, it’s the month of Christmas so there are a ton of fun holiday events and markets to check out.
I hope this guide was helpful as you plan your trip to Alaska! Do you have any questions about visiting Alaska in December? Let me know in the comments.
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