Anchorage, Alaska’s largest and most diverse city, is a bustling summer hub for travelers and the starting point for many of the state’s most popular summer activities and adventures. Yet winter in Anchorage creates a similarly strong draw for the curious traveler venturing north, as well.
Those who want to enjoy this vibrant city and its unique offerings at an unhurried pace, explore it in a different but equally beautiful season and who love to revel in snow, will love discovering Anchorage’s many winter adventures. The traveling crowds and tourism rush are gone by winter, and Anchorage is seemingly silenced by a calming bright, white blanket of snow that sets upon the town and the mountains that loom around it. Local life is slower, the skies are darker, the daytime hours are shorter, and the temperatures are colder. And those are good things when it comes to having winter fun. Just ask Alaskans, who split their indoor-outdoor recreation hours more evenly in winter: indoor fine arts and entertainment are at their most active and best, while it’s also a time to enjoy the outdoor activities found when snow is on the ground.
Winter Outdoor Adventures Abound
For adventurous spirits, weekend warriors, and those who just want to try everything at least once, winter sports in Anchorage are worth the visit alone. Downhill skiing and snowboarding are epic on groomed slopes of nearby Mt Alyeska and the voluminous powdery backcountry around Southcentral Alaska. The town is also a cross-country skiing hotbed, home to numerous past, current and future Olympians who frequent Anchorage’s miles and miles of world-class trails.
You can easily snowshoe into the white wilderness surrounding Anchorage or take a snowmobile tour to nearby glaciers, too. Fat-tire biking is a cool way to explore local streets and bike trails in Anchorage as well. Even simply walking down the snow-packed Coastal Trail and Chester Creek Trail gives visitors gasp-worthy views of Cook Inlet and the mountains far beyond Anchorage.
Evening walks in Anchorage can begin with colorful winter sunsets on those same trails, which are tranquil, easy and enjoyable journeys illuminated by manmade lights. Want even more peace and calm? You can even slip on some layers and go for a night walk, hike, ski or snowshoe on one of the countless snow-packed trails around Anchorage, find a peak or high point to sit upon, then enjoy the almost-unbelievable silence while watching the sparkle of the city’s lights below and the stars above.
And how’s this for a dream Alaska outdoor experience? Dogsledding! Meet a local musher, or one who lives nearby, for a ride in their sled pulled by a team of tough and adorable pups.
Catch the Northern Lights
Nothing says Alaska winter wonder more than basking under a sky filled with northern lights. While Anchorage may not be the state’s hottest spot for aurora activity, those lovely lights do dance occasionally over the town, and there are locals that can help guide you to the best viewing spots.
Vibrant Winter Festivals and Live Performances in Anchorage
When you’re ready to turn the volume back up, check out one of the many winter festivals around Anchorage. The Fur Rendezvous (aka “Rondy”) is a 10 day, 81 year old community-wide celebration in late February with a scheduled packed with events that honor old-time and good-times Alaska, with festivities outdoors and indoors. The Winter Solstice always arrives with parties and cheer around the community and New Year’s Eve in Anchorage is a big bang, literally, especially downtown and in Anchorage’s Town Square, which is packed with people dancing, enjoying live music, lots of big, bright fireworks lighting up the dark skies, and more.
When winter arrives, so does the busy season of special performances and art exhibits indoors. Locals live for these lineups of live music and comedy shows, theater, opera, choir and dancing that come with the darker, colder nights. Some are led by legendary locals, others by national and worldwide stars. Anchorage is a draw for many performers who are equally excited to see the Last Frontier for themselves.
Anchorage Art, Historical Sites and Cultural Meccas
Anytime is a great time to visit the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, where Alaska’s history and creative visions of its future are always on display in some of the state’s most treasured art, modern exhibits, and fascinating installments. The kids will love the museum, too. The Alaska Native Heritage Center provides a year-round education and appreciation of the cultures, lifestyles, communities and contributions of Alaska’s First People. And there’s an impressive collection of Alaska Native arts and crafts, many for sale, at the Alaska Native Medical Center.
Day Tours From Anchorage in the Winter
With so much to do, it’s tough to leave Anchorage in the winter, but nearby daytrips and overnighters add to the prospects. The Alaska Railroad offers a handful of winter itineraries. An hourlong drive or ride south gets you to Girdwood, where top-notch downhill skiing and the luxurious resort life awaits. Or head north to Talkeetna, where Denali practically looms over the tiny town that still has a Gold Rush feel to it.
If you would like to see the beautiful area of Anchorage, but you don’t feel comfortable driving by yourself in the snow, you can choose to do a Turnagain Turnaround Tour. This tour will take you along the Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage and one of the most scenic drives in the country. You will be given a curated tour by your professional driver/guide while you head down to Girdwood. In Girdwood, you will ride the aerial tram to the top of the mountain at the renown Alyeska Resort. From here you will have a spectacular view over Turnagain Arm and the surrounding mountains of the Chugach.
Maybe you would rather see Alaska’s winter wonderland from high above? Then opt to do an Anchorage flightseeing tour. There are several flightseeing tours offered out of Anchorage during the winter. You can choose between flights over the Chugach State Park, where you will look for glaciers or you can choose to fly to Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) and experience North America’s highest peak from close.
If you would like to experience Alaska’s favorite outdoor winter activities, including Anchorage dogsledding, you are also at the right city.
If you would like to experience Alaskan skiing or snowboarding, you have several options. You can go for a day ski trip to the Alyeska Resort, Alaska’s only ski resort. With an average annual snowfall of more than 600 inches, this place keeps all skiers happy, from beginners to advanced skiers as well as snowboarders. If you don’t want to drive that far, you also have Hilltop Ski Area and Arctic Valley Ski Area, which are smaller hills, but fun for a day trip.
The dark nights in Anchorage make it also possible to view the Northern Lights, even just outside the city. You don’t have to travel far from Anchorage downtown to see the northern lights dancing trough the sky. The best locations in Alaska for seeing the aurora borealis feature clear, dark skies. A good place for example near Anchorage is Girdwood, but remember, the northern lights come and go, so plan to spend a few days looking for them so you make sure to catch a sighting of them.
If you visit Anchorage in the beginning of March, you might experience the start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. The Iditarod is an annual sled dog race run from Anchorage to Nome. The Ceremonial Start of this iconic dogsledding race in Anchorage falls on the first Saturday of the month March. You’ll love all the excitement in downtown Anchorage while the professional Iditarod mushers and their teams of huskies get ready for their 1,049 mile race to Nome.
Whatever your interests, if you love winter, you’ll have a great time in Anchorage, whenever you arrive. So much to do…so little time