Bundle Up and See Alaska’s Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season
Bundle Up and See Alaska's Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season - See the Northern Lights Dance Across the Sky
Of all the spectacular sights in Alaska, few can compare to the dazzling dance of the Northern Lights. Viewing this magical phenomenon is one of the top reasons intrepid travelers head north during the colder months. And for good reason - winter provides the very best opportunity to catch the Aurora Borealis in all its glory.
The long nights of the Alaskan winter offer more chances to witness the lights, as they are only visible when it is dark. Being so far north also provides ideal viewing conditions, as the auroral activity is centered around the Arctic Circle. Fairbanks is considered one of the world's best spots to see the display, with optimal weather patterns and location.
Seeing the aurora is an experience that simply cannot be replicated. Photos and videos do not do justice to the real thing. The lights seem to move and flow across the night sky, changing shape and intensity from moment to moment. Greens, blues, purples and even red can be seen as electrons and protons collide in Earth's magnetic field. It truly feels like a mystical encounter with nature.
Many travelers make viewing the Northern Lights their primary goal when visiting Alaska in winter. They book tours and excursions out to remote areas far from city lights. Being wrapped in complete darkness enhances the experience and increases viewing opportunities. Locations like Chena Hot Springs and miles-long stretches of the Parks Highway draw aurora seekers from around the world.
For Cindy from Ohio, catching the Northern Lights in Alaska was a lifelong dream: "I'd seen photos since I was a little girl and always imagined what it would be like to be standing under those beautiful glowing lights. It was a magical moment I'll never forget when they suddenly appeared right above me, swirling and shifting in real time. I actually started crying, it was so moving. This was right outside Fairbanks on a clear February night. Definitely worth the cold temperatures to see something so spectacular!"
Pedro, visiting from Brazil, said his Northern Lights tour was his favorite part of his winter trip to Anchorage: "We drove about an hour outside the city to this wide open valley. They provided us warm boots and coats, coffee, hot chocolate. We just stood there scanning the sky for a few hours. I will admit I was starting to lose hope we would actually see them! But sure enough, a faint green glow appeared which got increasingly brighter. Our guide said it was a relatively mild show, but to me it was exceptional. A dream come true!"
What else is in this post?
- Bundle Up and See Alaska's Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season - See the Northern Lights Dance Across the Sky
- Bundle Up and See Alaska's Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season - Spot Wildlife on a Winter Safari
- Bundle Up and See Alaska's Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season - Try Cold-Weather Activities Like Dog Sledding and Ice Fishing
- Bundle Up and See Alaska's Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season - Find Tranquility in the Snowy Wilderness
- Bundle Up and See Alaska's Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season - Enjoy Discounts on Flights, Lodging and Activities
- Bundle Up and See Alaska's Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season - Bundle Up in Cozy Lodges and Cabins
- Bundle Up and See Alaska's Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season - Experience Alaskan Culture at Winter Festivals
Bundle Up and See Alaska's Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season - Spot Wildlife on a Winter Safari
Far from hibernating during the winter months, Alaska's wildlife becomes even more active and visible amidst the snowy landscapes. Bundled up travelers can spot moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, foxes, lynx, bald eagles and more roaming wild across the backcountry. Joining tours and safaris allows you to access remote areas and maximize wildlife sightings.
Watching the caribou migration is a highlight for many visitors. Hundreds of thousands of these reindeer relatives journey across the tundra each winter. Their large herds are an impressive sight, as they paw through snow to forage on lichen. Denali National Park offers some of the best opportunities to observe them during the colder months. Customizable Tundra Wilderness Tours takes adventurers deep into the park's wilderness in heated vehicles to see these iconic animals up close.
Witnessing moose in their element is also a treat. The Denali Highway between Cantwell and Paxson traverses excellent moose habitat. Majestic antlered bulls can be seen plowing through deep snowdrifts along the roadside. Stopping at the Tangle Lakes area midpoint provides prime viewing over a 2 mile stretch where moose are frequently spotted.
Spotting the elusive grey wolf stalking across frozen landscapes or howling at the moon is a spine-tingling experience. Wolf-tracking excursions allow you to learn about pack behaviors while contributing to conservation research. Guided tours from companies like Alaska Wild Guides take you dog-sledding into the animals' remote territories to observe them hunting and socializing.
Bald eagles thrive amidst Alaska's winter as well, spotting open waterways and eying fish below the ice. Seeing these regal birds perched in the snowy branches of towering trees is unforgettable. Flightseeing eco-tours from companies like Rust's Flying Service provide aerial views of the eagles' massive nests and vantage points. Cruising icy waterways by canoe or kayak also allows quiet paddlers to observe eagles on the hunt.
Bundle Up and See Alaska's Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season - Try Cold-Weather Activities Like Dog Sledding and Ice Fishing
For the adventurous at heart, Alaska offers the chance to bundle up and try exhilarating cold-weather activities that simply can't be experienced elsewhere. Dog sledding, in particular, provides a rare opportunity to traverse the remote winter landscapes as the indigenous people and early explorers did. Cruising on a sled pulled by a pack of racing huskies is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that allows you to immerse yourself in Alaska's unique wilderness up close.
Numerous operators offer dog sled tours ranging from one hour rides to multi-day mushing adventures. Popular places to give it a try include Tracy Arm and Denali National Park. Mahay's Riverboat Service provides an unforgettable dog sled experience along the Tracy Arm Fjord outside Juneau, with rides departing daily from May through September. In Denali, tours from outfitters like Denali Dog Sled Adventures let you be the "musher" directing your own team along secluded trails. Travelers rave about bonding with the friendly dogs and taking in views of snow-capped peaks and frozen rivers during the rides.
Mike from Maryland did a half-day dog sledding tour in Denali, which he said was the highlight of his family's winter vacation: "My kids are huge dog lovers, so being able to pet and play with all the dogs beforehand really got them excited. Climbing on the sled and hearing the dogs start barking eagerly to run was such a cool moment. Sledding through the quiet forest with the team pulling us felt so serene and special. The dogs clearly loved every second - it was amazing to see them so pumped to run. An experience we'll remember forever."
Equally memorable is drilling an ice fishing hole and waiting for that first big catch. The lakes and waterways of Alaska freeze over completely during winter, so ice fishing is a popular pastime. Local outfitters can set you up with all the equipment and transportation to prime fishing spots. Options range from solo "Fish House" rentals to guided group tours. You just may hook impressive trout, char, salmon, burbot, grayling or northern pike and fry up your catch for dinner.
Jenny from Minnesota tried ice fishing for the first time during her trip to Fairbanks: "I was so excited to experience ice fishing in Alaska after seeing it on TV shows. We drove snowmobiles out to the frozen Tanana River where our guide Chris had already set up the portable ice fishing tents or houses. He drilled our holes, showed us how to use the rods and tip-ups, then we settled in to wait. Maybe beginner's luck, but I ended up pulling in a huge rainbow trout after about an hour. Such a cool experience I'll never forget. And we got to eat the fish back at our lodge that night - amazingly fresh!"
Bundle Up and See Alaska's Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season - Find Tranquility in the Snowy Wilderness
Far from the busy cities and crowded summertime trails, Alaska's remote wild areas become hushed havens of tranquility in winter. The snow-covered landscapes muffle the sound, creating a profound sense of calm. Fresh blankets of powder transform the terrain into a minimalist wonderland. Backdropped by towering, white-capped mountains, the scenery exudes pure serenity. Wandering these pristine winter scenes allows you to embrace the meditative joy of being deeply immersed in nature.
Alaska boasts countless options to escape into the peaceful surroundings, whether via snowshoe, ski, dogsled or snowmobile. Trails and waterways that bustle with hikers and boaters in warmer months become blissfully quiet. Two prime areas to find this restorative tranquility are the snow-globe spruce forests near Fairbanks and glacier-carved ice fields surrounding Seward.
The Chena River Recreation Area offers gorgeous winter scenery a short drive from Fairbanks. The Angel Rocks Trail system takes you into magical groves of snow-laden birch and spruce trees. The only sound is the soft crunch of snowshoes padding along the trail. Sunlight twinkles through crystalline snowflakes clinging to boughs overhead. Pausing alongside the frozen Chena River reveals breathtaking vistas of snow-blanketed ridges stretching to the horizon. You feel an overwhelming sense of inner calm surrounded by such pristine serenity.
Sue from Wisconsin snowshoed through Angel Rocks and said, "It was so profoundly peaceful. Just the woods, the river, and me. My mind felt clear and refreshed after being out there. No cell service, no traffic or noise, not another person in sight. Alaska in winter lets you connect with nature in this very special way."
Equally rejuvenating are the tranquil glacial landscapes surrounding Seward. Kenai Fjords Tours leads small groups on serene winter expeditions into these icy wonderlands by boat or snowshoe. Trekking across the Harding Icefield brings you onto the powdery surface of a glacier, a literal sea of ice nestled amongst the Chugach Mountains. Standing amidst the flowing swirls of white and blue while snowflakes dance around you feels nothing short of magical.
Sam from Oregon joined one of these snowshoeing tours and said, "We were the only people as far as you could see. Just completely silent except for the soft crunch of our snowshoes. It really felt like we had stepped into another world. I've never experienced such an amazing sense of peace. Like an inner calm washed over me being in the presence of such pristine natural beauty."
Bundle Up and See Alaska's Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season - Enjoy Discounts on Flights, Lodging and Activities
One of the best parts of visiting Alaska in the winter? The deals. From reduced airfare to discounted tours and budget-friendly hotels, you can save big by heading north when the temperatures dip.
Flights to Anchorage, Fairbanks and other Alaska hubs often drop by hundreds of dollars in winter months. Using flight deal tools like Mighty Travels Premium and Google Flights makes pinpointing the lowest fares a breeze. Packages bundling roundtrip airfare and hotel can offer even deeper savings, especially when booked with OTAs.
"I managed to get roundtrip tickets from LAX to Anchorage for under $300 in December," shares frequent Alaska traveler Brad. "That's less than half what I've paid during the summer. Being flexible with my dates was key to scoring the deal through Google Flights. Then I booked a package on Expedia with my hotel that saved me another 15% overall."
Lodging costs also see a noticeable drop in shoulder seasons. While peak rates run June through August, winter brings far more affordable hotel and Airbnb pricing. Top stays that go for $300+ per night during high season can easily be booked for $125 or under.
Katie, who honeymooned in Alaska in February, says: "Hotel prices were so reasonable compared to summer. We stayed at this amazing lodge near Denali with huge windows for aurora viewing for less than $150 a night. Summer rates were over $450! I couldn't believe the savings."
Tours and activites also come with off-season markdowns. Many operators offer winter discounts and 2-for-1 deals to attract customers during slower months. Prime excursions like helicopter glacier treks, wildlife safaris and even flightseeing plane tours can be booked for hundreds below peak pricing.
"By planning our Alaska trip for January, we saved at least 50% on tours compared to the summer costs," explains Sasha. "That meant we could splurge on extras like the glacier helicopter tour and dog sledding with the money we saved. Well worth bundling up for the cold to have those once-in-a-lifetime experiences."
Make the most of the low season by keeping your dates flexible, bundling flight and hotel, and jumping on seasonal discounts for excursions. With a little strategic planning, you can cut your Alaska travel costs considerably.
"I figured going in the winter would be cheaper, but I was amazed just how much we saved overall," says Tonya. "Flights were less than half summer airfare. Our nice hotel was nearly 60% off. And the tours we pre-booked were all 30-40% cheaper thanks to winter sales. I'll definitely be sticking to off-season Alaska trips in the future!"
Bundle Up and See Alaska's Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season - Bundle Up in Cozy Lodges and Cabins
Nothing beats thawing out in front of a crackling fire after a day of wintry adventures. Luckily, Alaska offers no shortage of charming lodges and secluded cabins to hunker down in when temperatures drop. These cozy dwellings allow you to fully immerse yourself in the northern wilderness while enjoying all the comforts of home.
Tucked amongst snowy pines, the Winterlake Lodge outside Anchorage beckons you in from the cold. Sipping hot cocoa beside the two-story stone fireplace is the perfect way to warm up. Or ease into the cedar-lined sauna before retreating to your well-appointed room outfitted with plush robes. Oversized windows frame striking views of the Chugach Mountains that seem to glow when the Northern Lights dance overhead.
Jill from California spent a weekend at Winterlake Lodge in December and raved about the experience: “It was everything we wanted for a winter escape - beautiful, quiet, and so warm and welcoming. They had snowshoes to borrow, a fire pit outside, and the food was amazing. Ending each night in the cozy lodge relaxing with a glass of wine was a winter dream come true.”
For a truly rustic retreat, log cabins are the way to go. Tucked deep in the Tongass National Forest outside Juneau, Waterfall Resort's secluded cottages have all the comforts without losing that rugged vibe. Wood-burning stoves, fully equipped kitchens, and even private hot tubs up the cozy factor. The location on Bishop Creek gives front row seats to views of cascading waterfalls framed by snowy forest.
Mark from Oregon spent his anniversary in one of the cabins and said: “It was so quiet and peaceful, we both felt our stress just melt away. We woke up every morning to the sound of the creek flowing by and bald eagles calling overhead. Being nestled in the woods surrounded by mountains covered in fresh powder was magical. The cabin had a fireplace, hot tub on the deck, super comfy bed - everything we needed to recharge and relax.”
For Roshni and Silas from Texas, a lakeside cabin near Fairbanks topped their list of romantic winter getaways: “Picture a secluded log cabin, snow-dusted pines all around, overlooking a frozen lake that glows under the Northern Lights at night. It was straight out of a movie or dream. We spent our days ice fishing, snowmobiling, and stargazing, then headed back to our little cabin to warm up by the fire. It was utter bliss and tranquility. We can’t wait to come back.”
Bundle Up and See Alaska's Winter Wonderland: The Case for Visiting the Last Frontier in the Off-Season - Experience Alaskan Culture at Winter Festivals
From age-old indigenous traditions to contemporary celebrations, Alaska's winter festivals showcase the fascinating local culture. These lively seasonal events give visitors a taste of community festivities, foods, music, crafts and more. Attending a winter festival lets you mingle with proud Alaskans and gain insights into what makes each place unique.
Visiting Fairbanks during the World Ice Art Championships opens your eyes to amazing feats of creativity. More than 100 artists gather to carve massive frozen sculptures, some over three stories tall. During the multi-week event, ice parks "come alive" each evening with colorful light shows as visitors wander wide-eyed amongst sparkling castles, dragons and mythical creatures. Locals eagerly share how their remote town is transformed into an international hub showcasing Alaskan resilience and ingenuity each winter.
The Fur Rondy festival is a cherished tradition bringing the spirit of Alaska's past front and center. Celebrated in Anchorage since the 1930s, this lively gathering includes staples like the Running of the Reindeer foot race and outhouse races on frozen Campbell Creek. But it is the locals that make the event special. Lifelong Alaskans don authentic trapper garb, reminisce about the territory's early days, and share indigenous Athabascan heritage through dance performances. Fur Rondy provides an eye-opening glimpse at Alaska's storied history.
King Salmon, Alaska hosts the Winter Bear Paw Festival in March, paying homage to the massive brown bears that roam the nearby Katmai National Park. Locals gather to watch skilled chainsaw artists carve gigantic bears from tree trunks and share their firsthand stories of close encounters with the iconic beasts. The small town's passion for protecting the bears is palpable. Festival-goers also get to try smoked salmon, experience dog mushing demos, and learn about sustainable fishing practices that allow humans and bears to coexist in the wilds of Bristol Bay.
Izzy from Rhode Island did a winter road trip through Alaska andtiming itto hit various festivals: "Getting a taste of all the different local cultures was amazing. Fairbanks' ice festival felt like walking through a magical frozen kingdom, with incredible ice castles lit up at night. Anchorage's Fur Rondy took me back in time - locals were dressed in traditional garb, sharing stories of the old Alaska trapping days. And tiny King Salmon's bear festival gave insights into their remote area and living amongst these awesome creatures. The festivals gave such an authentic sense of each place."