15 Surprising Reasons To Visit Alaska in Winter

There is something truly magical when you visit Alaska in winter while everything from the mountains to the spruce trees is blanketed with snow and it feels like you’re walking in a winter wonderland.

However, I have to admit that winter in Alaska can be harsh with bone-chilling temperatures, freezing rain, and extended hours of darkness, but the only way to survive an Alaskan winter is to embrace the winter season!

From winter festivals to chasing the Northern Lights, I’m going to share the best reasons to visit Alaska in winter.

If you need help packing for your winter trip, read 25 Alaska Winter Packing List Items For 2022.

Planning a trip to Alaska? Start with my Alaska Travel Guide.

15 Reasons To Visit Alaska in Winter

1. Winter Photography

Whether you’re a professional or amateur photographer, Alaska winter will spoil you with endless photo ops of snow-covered landscapes, hoarfrost-covered trees, and dark skies full of stars and dancing Northern Lights.

A few of my favorite places near Anchorage for winter photography are Eklutna Tailrace, Eagle River Nature Center, Eklutna Lake, and South Fork Falls.

PRO TIP: Bring hand warmers in case your camera batteries get too cold!

reasons to visit alaska in winter

2. See the Northern Lights

I am so spoiled when it comes to seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska. I’ve seen them as early as August and I’ve even watched them from my house in Anchorage. If you want to see the aurora borealis in Alaska, you’ll want to visit between October and March. This is because the skies become darker making it easier to see the lights.

I recommend people visit in February or March because the lights are highly active during these months. March in Alaska can be a better option for those that want to enjoy milder temperatures. You can see the Northern Lights all over the state but Fairbanks is a popular destination for those who have it on their bucket list!

northern lights viewing alaska
Photo by Jacob Jones

3. Winter Events and Festivals

Alaska has a ton of fun winter events and festivals to participate in! Fur Rondy is one of my favorite winter festivals in Anchorage. It’s a two-week-long celebration featuring snow sculptures, local artisans, carnival games, and crazy events like the running of the reindeer. The festival leads into the Iditarod, which is a long-distance sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome.

If you like outdoor sports, you can watch or take part in the Iron Dog Snowmobile Race, the Susitna 100 extreme winter race, the Oosik ski race, or the Valdez Ice Climbing Festival.

reasons to travel alaska in winter

4. Outdoor Places Become Accessible

One of my favorite things about wintertime in Alaska has to do with the changing in the landscapes. There are some really cool places that can only be accessed on foot or fat bike during the winter when a lake or river has frozen over.

Knik Glacier, Spencer Glacier, or Portage Glacier become much more accessible during the winter and I definitely recommend experiencing it for yourself! It’s best to visit Alaska in January, February, or March to experience some of these places.

alaska winter sports

5. Try Winter Sports

I’ve already mentioned fat biking, which increases in popularity every year! It’s super fun whether you’re biking to a glacier or riding the snowy single tracks in Kincaid Park. Alaska is chock-full of winter sports to try first-hand.

You can sled in Arctic Valley, ice skate at Westchester Lagoon, downhill ski at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood or ski in the backcountry, hike in the snow, xc ski in Government Peak Rec Area, or spend the night winter camping in the wild. The list goes on!

Read Next: 13 Ultimate Winter Activities in Alaska

valdez ice climbing festival

6. Hot Springs and Hot Pools

It’s hard to beat soaking in a natural hot spring while watching your hair and eyelashes turn into majestic frozen icicles. Chena Hot Springs is a great spot to visit during winter and you may even see the Northern Lights while you’re there!

Alyeska Resort recently completed Alaska’s first Nordic Spa. There are a bunch of cold pools, hot pools, and saunas that are all situated in the rainforest right underneath the Chugach Mountains.

Chena Hot Springs Natural Hot Springs Fairbanks Alaska

7. Avoid the Crowds

Winter season in Alaska is typically known as being off-season which means fewer people! You’ll definitely notice the empty spaces in some of Alaska’s National Parks as visitor centers and facilities that are usually open in the summer are closed for the winter season.

During the winter Denali National Park plows its road through Mile 2 so you can still head there to go skiing, snow-shoeing, or dog sledding.

Kenai Fjords National Park closes the road to Exit Glacier so you’ll have to hike or bike an extra 8 miles to reach the glacier and public use cabins in the area. If you’re willing to put in the extra effort to reach some of these places, you’ll get to experience solitude that others won’t.

winter glacier hike alaska

8. Stunning Sunrises and Sunsets

As the skies get darker something magical happens in the sky. Some of the best sunsets and sunrises I’ve seen in Alaska have happened during the winter months! Honestly, this could just be due to the fact that the sun rises way later in the day and sets well before a normal bedtime, so I’ve probably seen more of them. Can’t complain about sleeping in and still getting to see the sunrise!

alaska winter sunset fairbanks

9. Hike in the Snow

I love hiking in the snow! Especially after the first snowfall of the season blankets the tops of the mountains. Keep in mind that there are lots of areas that become avalanche terrain during the winter but there are still plenty of trails to hike safely in the winter. One of my favorite winter hikes in the Winner Creek Trail in Girdwood. It’s just magical!

winter hiking in snow alaska

10. Experience the Darkness

Opposite the nearly 24 hours of daylight during the summer, Alaska winters are full of darkness. On the day of the winter solstice, which has the longest period of darkness, Anchorage gets only five hours of sunlight! The sun rises around 10:15 a.m. before setting at 3:45 p.m.

People who live in Utqiagvik, the northernmost town in Alaska, go for more than two months without seeing the sun rise above the horizon! It’s definitely a unique experience for anyone and a good test to see if you could actually live in Alaska. (Most people want to move here after their first Alaska vacation!)

alaska in december dark skies

11. No Bears and Bugs! Oh My!

Okay, this one is a stretch because bears actually aren’t always hibernating all winter long contrary to popular belief. However… your chances of running into one while exploring Alaska in the winter are pretty low!

But there are definitely no mosquitoes buzzing around in your ear or gnats biting you during the winter and this fills me with so much joy!

Snow Hike Butte Palmer

12. Empty Roads and No Construction Zones

There’s an Alaska meme about treating yourself like the Seward Highway and never stop working on yourself. It’s funny and true because there is always some sort of construction zone and traffic stops on the Seward Highway and a lot of other main roads during the summer. It makes sense why it happens during that time but it always creates a lot of backed-up traffic when every Alaskan is hitting the highway during a summer weekend.

During the winter you don’t have to worry about that! Sometimes there are a lot of accidents after the first snowfall of the year and a fresh snowfall, so you might consider avoiding driving during these times.

alaska winter road trip itinerary

13. Cozy Cabins

Even though you can rent a cabin year-round in Alaska, staying in a cabin during the winter brings that extra cozy factor. After a perfect day of frolicking around in the snow, you get to come back to a cozy cabin.

As the fireplace starts to roar, you slip into your pajamas and settle into that new book you’ve been waiting to read. Add a glass of wine and the snow falling outside your window to really complete the perfect cabin stay.

alaska cozy cabins

14. Visit Santa in the North Pole

Did you know that Alaska has a town called North Pole? It’s near Fairbanks and it’s known for having year-round Christmas decorations. You can actually visit the Santa Claus House, take a photo with a 42-foot-tall Santa, or send a postcard from the North Pole. This is a fun destination for families traveling to Alaska in winter.

santa claus north pole

15. Save Money

The last reason to visit Alaska in winter is that you’ll save money! Woohoo! Since winter tourism is not as busy as summer tourism, you can actually find some amazing deals on activities. You can also get around 50% off summer rates for lodging, which is a huge money saver.

Spending time to enjoy the outdoors in winter is free, but if you want to do some outdoor activities you’ll find there are lots of shops to rent gear and equipment from.

hatcher pass snow

Happy winter travels!

Answering Your Questions

When is winter in Alaska?

Winter in Alaska starts in late October and ends in March.

How much does it snow in Alaska in winter?

Alaska receives an average of 76.4 inches of snow per year.

How cold is Alaska in the winter?

The Alaska winter temperature ranges from 0°F / -18°C to -30°F / -35°C from November to March.

Is it worth visiting Alaska in the winter?

Alaska is the perfect winter destination if you want to see snow and the aurora borealis.

What is Alaska like in the winter?

Alaska in the winter is a winter wonderland.

Is it worth visiting Alaska in December?

December in Alaska is a great time to visit since there are a lot of fun seasonal festivals and events.

Is it safe to drive to Alaska in the winter?

Driving in Alaska in the winter can be challenging due to snow and icy roads. Drive slower than normal to increase safe driving.

Read More

What to Wear Hiking in Alaska (Winter)

Top 10 Things To Do In Fairbanks in Winter

Alaska Travel Guide

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Thinking about traveling to Alaska in winter? There are so many incredible things to do in Alaska during the winter months in October, November, December, January and February, From winter adventures to the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) viewing in Anchorage or Fairbanks, I'm going to share the best reasons to visit Alaska in winter.

Do you have any questions on reasons to visit Alaska in winter? Let me know in the comments.

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