Whether you’re a first-time visitor or have been here a dozen times, winter in Alaska offers many exciting activities and events. The winter snow transforms the state into a winter wonderland that offers endless opportunities for fun and adventure.
1. The Fur Rendezvous
The Alaska Fur Rendezvous, affectionately referred to as Fur Rondy by locals, is an annual festival that takes place in Anchorage. Originally founded as a sporting tournament, which coincided with the return of fur trappers, it still holds it’s competitive spirit today. These days the festival features uniquely Alaskan competitions like the outhouse races (where skiers steer outhouses through a downhill course) and the running of the reindeer.
Aside from spectating creative forms of winter competition, you can also enjoy plenty of food, crafts, music, and, you guessed it, furs. Look for for the Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage around the end of February and beginning of March.
2. Bald eagle migration
Each November, in a small town called Haines, Alaska, thousands of bald eagles gather to feast on the local salmon. According to a story published by the Smithsonian, this is the largest congregation of the birds ever to transpire. The event takes place in the Chilkat Valley, which the locals refer to as the Valley of the Eagles, located a little more than an hour from Juneau. You can get there by car if you’re arriving from Canada, but if you leave from Juneau, you’ll need to charter a small plane or go by boat. It will be well worth the effort to see these magnificent birds of prey up close. But, most importantly, don’t forget your camera and telephoto lens.
3. The aurora boerallis – best known activity for winter in Alaska
One of the most exciting reasons to experience winter in Alaska is the phenomenon known as aurora boerallis. People flock to the state from far and wide to see the ultimate light show, which takes place near the earth’s magnetic poles. You can find these magical lights at their peak in the months between August and May.
The aurora occurs when electrons and protons collide with the gases that exist in the upper atmosphere of the Earth. Each time they collide, tiny, colorful flashes fill the night sky. When this happens in rapid succession, the lights give the illusion of dancing in the sky. The charged particles are constantly moving towards the earth’s poles, making Alaska a great place to experience this unique phenomenon.
4. The winter solstice
The winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year, falls on December 21. Given its already shortened days, Alaska is particularly interesting place to visit during the solstice. Depending on your location you will experience varying degrees of darkness. In Anchorage, for example, December 21st still have 5.5 hours of daylight. However, Barrow, the last Alaskan town before reaching the northern border, stays dark for sixty-seven days during the winter. No matter where you stay, look for local celebrations and make sure to keep an eye on the night sky for the infamous aurora borealis.
5. Say you went to the “North Pole”
The small town of North Pole, AK is located just outside of Fairbanks. While visiting the area one of most things to do is visit the home of Mr. and Mrs. Santa Clause! That’s right. You will know you’ve arrived at the Santa House when you spot the forty-three-foot wooden Santa statue outside. Look out for the reindeer pen where Santa keeps his reindeer when they’re not flying from rooftop to rooftop on Christmas eve. The Santa House is a great place for families to visit with their children (not mention is always smells like cookies!).
Just down the road from the Santa House, a six-week ice sculpting competition is held each winter. This spectacular event features all kinds of amazing ice sculptures, which are carved by some of the world’s best sculptors. They even let amateurs in on the fun by holding an amateur exhibition – who hasn’t wanted to try their hand at this unusual craft?
6. The Iditarod – why the locals love winter in Alaska
Arguably the most famous sled dog race in the world, the Iditarod takes place around the beginning of March each winter in Alaska. The 1000+ mile race honors the state’s history where dog sledding played a major role in the settling of many remote villages. If you are lucky enough to be in the state during this exciting time make sure to find the time to visit a dog sledding kennel. Kennel tours will allow you to interact with these noble dogs while learning more about this important tradition.
7. The Aurora Winter Train
The Aurora Winter Train provides visitors the opportunity to see some of Alaska’s most stunning scenery from the warmth of a glass roof train car. Running between Anchorage to Fairbanks, this truly unique experience is a great way to add Fairbanks to your winter itinerary. Make sure you leave time to visit the lovely hot springs in the area.
8. Alaskan wildlife
Alaska is well know as one of the best places in the United States for wildlife viewing. And visiting in the winter affords some unique opportunities to see how certain species brave the cold. It’s unlikely that you’ll see any bears this time of year, but keep an eye out for the beloved moose who tends to become more active this time of year. If you are lucky you may also see caribou and muskox roaming in the deep winter snow.
9. Skiing in Alaska – best adventure activity for winter in Alaska
Alaska has some of the best downhill skiing in the country, especially in the areas surrounding Anchorage. For example, Girdwood features the stunning Alyeska Resort, which is considered one of the best places to ski in the state. Other ski slopes are located in Arctic Valley and the Hilltop Ski Area.
If downhill skiing isn’t your thing, then you might be interested in one of Anchorage’s cross country or Nordic trails. The trails span more than one hundred miles of well-groomed and perfect cross-country miles.
10. NYO Games
Previously known as the Native Youth Olympics, this event takes place in mid-April, just winter fades into spring. Hosted by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Alaskan youth compete in a variety of events that are based on traditional games played by native Alaskans to test skills in hunting and survival. In addition to witnessing stunning athletic prowess, the NYO Games include a healthy dose of native dancing in between competitions.
Conclusion on Winter in Alaska
Admittedly, Alaska is not the most obvious choice for your winter vacation. But perhaps that’s what makes it great? In taking the leap of faith to plan a winter vacation in Alaska, you will not only avoid the crowds, but also interact more with the locals. With so many unique activities, time spent in this great state is sure to result in memories that will last a lifetime.
Looking to plan your winter vacation to Alaska? Check out: The ultimate guide on what to wear in Alaska in Winter – it’s not what you think.