Beyond Belief: Why Visit Alaska This Winter?

Published: July 10, 2023

When winter arrives in the Lower 48 and elsewhere, many travelers yearn for the warmth of sun and sand getaways. And there’s no question that Alaska features more snow drifts than beaches during the winter, but for winter aficionados, this “last frontier” in the U.S. hosts some of the best and most unforgettable winter adventures, activities and events, many tough to find anywhere else. And for travel fans that love quick getaways and long weekend jaunts, Alaska is the perfect place for a 3-4 day stay during the winter.

green aurora over a resort surrounded by snow and spruce trees

Experience the magical time of winter in Alaska (Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, South Central Alaska)

Why Visit Alaska in the Winter vs the Summer Season?

While summer is the peak of travel to and from Alaska, winter is far from the off-season as far as an “only-in-Alaska” experience goes. Winter sports abound from skiing to snowshoeing, snowmobiling/snow machining to dog sledding. Wildlife is easier to spot and you can even go ice fishing if you play your cards right! Getting to Alaska is also a breeze in the winter. There are still many direct flights to Alaska’s most popular cities, Anchorage and Fairbanks, from hubs like Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago and more. And two more winter perks? Airfare prices are often lower and there are more open seats on the flight to Alaska (barring holiday travel dates, of course). But the best part, no crowds!

Winter excursions also allow visitors to base themselves at a comfortable lodge and dive into adventure. At the top of almost all Alaska winter visitors’ wish lists is often northern lights viewing and a trip to Fairbanks in the winter practically promises the most magical of aurora borealis experiences. The Alaska Tours team will help you build a winter travel itinerary that maximizes the magnetizing nighttime light shows with plenty other frosty fun, from dog mushing to snow machining to soaking in warm hot springs and more.

The Coastal Trail offers beautiful winter views of Anchorage (JodyO.Photos/Visit Anchorage)

Iconic Winter Events and Destinations in Alaska

Holiday enthusiasts will love the Christmas vibes of North Pole, Alaska, a tiny town just outside Fairbanks. A visit to the Santa Claus House there is the beating heart of the Alaskan Christmas spirit. In the winter, Santa Claus is in residence at his house, visiting with those who stop to shop there to check things off their Alaska gift lists, and sending letters from the big guy himself to youngsters around the world.

For more Fairbanks winter wonder, check out the World Ice Art Championship (mid-February to the end of March), where an international crop of top ice carvers create unbelievable works of art from the fragile frozen water. At night, holiday and staging lights turn the already impressive sculptures into awe-inspiring figures that are must-see.

But by far the most iconic event in Alaska’s winter is the Iditarod Sled Dog Race celebrated the first Saturday of March each year. Already 26 mushers have submitted their entries for the 2024 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, scheduled to start in Anchorage on Saturday, March 2, 2024 with the official Restart taking place the following day in Willow. The 2024 Iditarod is kicking off its 52nd year with an incredibly strong group of 19 men/7 women mushers, 9 rookies and 17 veterans including three past Iditarod champions.

a sled dog team traveling down a snowy city street

The Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Anchorage (JodyO.Photos/Visit Anchorage)

Our Top 10 Featured Winter Tours in Alaska 

If you’re a winter enthusiast, then you’ve come to the right place.

Here are our travel experts’ “top 10” recommendations for Alaska winter tours we know you’ll enjoy:

#1: A four-night Borealis Basecamp Northern Lights Tour puts the odds of viewing the Northern Lights in the visitor’s favor, as Borealis Basecamp has a great track record of lightshow displays at its remote but cozy location outside Fairbanks.

Borealis Basecamp lightshow

#2: Balancing hot springs relaxation with northern lights views is the four-night Chena Hot Springs Northern Lights Tour. Imagine looking up from the steaming clouds bubbling up from Chena’s hot springs and seeing a sky filled with stars and dancing lights. It doesn’t get much Alaska than that!

#3: Want a little bit of everything? There’s a three-night Fairbanks Northern Lights Vacation that combines the best of the Golden Heart City’s winter experiences: Northern Lights, Chena Hot Springs, and city fun including Chena Hotspring’s Ice Museum, Museum of the North, and more.

people relax at a natural hot springs pool surrounded by snow covered rocks

Relaxing in Chena Hot Springs at Rock Lake

#4: If Fairbanks isn’t far enough north for bold travelers, the Bettles Lodge Tour showcases rural Alaska lifestyles, old school Alaska lodge hospitality, and even more of those amazing northern lights. A flight from Fairbanks takes travelers north of the Arctic Circle to Bettles, an Alaska Native community set along the Koyukuk River.

#5: Alaska’s largest town and travel hub, Anchorage, sparkles with big city and holiday lights in the winter, including displays that twinkle from residents living in the surrounding Chugach Mountains and the always festively lit-up Alaska Zoo. One of the more popular Alaska winter adventures actually starts during the day in Anchorage. The Glacier Experience takes travelers from Anchorage down the scenic Glenn Highway to Matanuska Glacier, where guides bring their clients across parts of the massive river of ice for a day of chilling sights and sounds.

Matanuska Glacier Hike

#6: And what about that Iditarod? You’ll love the 6-day Iditarod Race Official Start Tour which combines prime access to the ceremonial race start in Anchorage where you can have up-close viewing of this unique dog sledding event as well as a trip to Willow for the official start the following day as well as opportunities for dog sledding, flightseeing and sightseeing along Turnagain Arm.

#7: Want more aurora options while also seeing more of Alaska? The Aurora Train Tour features five days and four nights of scenic views aboard the Alaska Railroad with special stops along the way: from Anchorage to the world-class scenery of Cook Inlet’s Turnagain Arm and the wow-inducing Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, then on to Fairbanks in search of the bright Interior’s Northern Lights.

a passenger train travels through a spruce forest on a snowy hillside

Aurora Winter Train (Kerry Tasker)

#8: So, you love everything you’ve read above and want to experience it all on your Alaska winter tour? No problem! Get your fill of glaciers and northern lights, train travel and hot springs, and so much more with the seven-day Alaska Glaciers, Hot Springs and Northern Lights Tour .

#9: Sound like a dream? The Alaska Winter Dreams Tour  can make a different itinerary of amazing Alaska experiences a reality. This trip includes the Matanuska Glacier walk, opportunities to see the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, and a ride in a dog sled or on a snow machine, among other winter adventures.

Dog sledding tours from Girdwood in Alaska.

#10: And finally, maybe you want a balance of Alaska’s most iconic events and adventures in one Ultimate Winter Wonderland Tour? From gazing at the Northern Lights in Fairbanks to watching the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage to witnessing the greatness of the great one, Denali, this eight-day trip has “the best of Alaska in Winter” all wrapped up in a wonderful fun-filled winter vacation package!

Whatever your pleasure, an Alaska winter tour can be designed which will take you to the best sights, events and activity destinations you seek. If you love the winter, Alaska should be at the top of your bucket list!

a snowy boreal forest landscape, with the snow-capped mountain of Denali in the background

Denali National Park (NPS)