First question people asked me when I mentioned that we went to Alaska in the winter was, “was there any light ?”
Here is a picture of sunrise from near Anchorage. So, yes there is light. And from dawn to dusk, we had around 7-8 hours of day light to do whatever activities we had planned.
We reached Anchorage airport and rented a car for a day and stayed at downtown. Is it really necessary to stay in the downtown ?! well, if you are there around Christmas market time, may be. When we reached there on December 23rd night, the markets were all closed down and it didn’t really matter where we stayed.
December 24th: We drove from Anchorage to Portage Glacier via Girdwood. The highway is well maintained to drive. Most of the locals drove whatever car they had. I wonder whether the 4-WD we rented, was really necessary.
We made tons of stops along the way to Girdwood and walked off the road to Beluga point by crossing the railroad.
Well, there was no Beluga to be found, but the scenery is stunning.
We stopped at Girdwood for lunch and drove in the direction of Portage glacier. A snow storm was fast-approaching and the visibility of the lake/glacier/road was becoming too dangerous to drive. So, we drove back to Anchorage and took it easy for the rest of the day.
December 25th: We flew to Fairbanks, a really short flight. Suddenly it felt another -15F colder than Anchorage. Again, we rented a car at the airport.
And drove straight to Cheno Hot Springs. The drive itself was pretty cool, the amount snow we saw was on a whole another level.
Cheno Hot Spring Activities we did:
- Cross country skiing
- Hot Springs dip
- Ice Museum
We were too tired and unsure of Aurora activity level that night, so decided to head to hotel. However, we later learned that there was an awesome showing of Aurora and people saw it directly from the Cheno parking lot. Oh, well !!
Even though we had 3-nights hotel booking in Fairbanks, we chose to drive to Denali National Park and stay near the park that night.
December 26th: EarthSong Lodge at the town Healy is the only dogsled operator in the area and we were lucky that day. There was a cancellation, otherwise its fairly booked in advance. They seem to run less # of trips in the winter. Call ahead to book.
We chose to do a one-hour dog-sled trip and it was fun to say the least. The route they took us on was over some frozen lakes and valleys right outside Denali National Park. It was too cloudy to see Denali peak.
There are only a couple of restaurants with just Pasta/Pizza, in Healy. It was too late to Visit Denali NP that day, so we took it easy. We stayed at a hotel in Healy and booked on the spot.
We kept tracking Aurora activity and waited in the car from 11-2AM with no luck.
Dec 27th: Next day morning, after breakfast at Rose’s diner, we drove to the National Park and did a short 4-5mile hike near the visitor center. Yes, the visitor center is open in the winter.
The same evening we drove back to Fairbanks.
December 28th: Train from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Hotels usually run shuttles to the train station. The train check-in at Fairbanks is pretty much similar any other trains in US. Get there at least 30mins before to get your boarding pass and you are set. There was no security line.
The train ride was absolutely worth it, even though it is fairly expensive for the distance. There is snack bar/food service in the train. Very limited vegetarian options, but we managed. Since it’s a 12-hour train, we did take dehydrated Dhal/Rice for lunch and ate dinner (pasta) in the train. Along with tons of hot chocolate and cookies.
There are window openings through which, one can take pictures. It was snowing the day when we travelled, I still managed to get some decent pictures.
There were lot of families with small children in the train, so yes, this winter trip to Alaska is absolutely kids friendly too. 🙂
There are taxis available at the train station to get to the hotel.
December 29th: We stayed near the airport and rented a car. We wanted to attempt Portage glacier again since we had till 3PM for the flight out to Vancouver. And it was a success this time.
Given the fact that the lake in front of the Glacier is frozen, its hard to tell where the Glacier tongue is located.
In any case, absolutely a bone chilling trip to Alaska came to end with no Aurora !!!
- 7-8 hours of day light time
- Skii resorts at Girdwood have night lights for skiing
- Yes, you can drive and may be without 4WD car too
- The lowest temp was may be -4F when we were there
- Short hikes in Denali is possible
- Kids friendly
- Pack like you are going on a skiing trip
- Hand/Toe warmers
- Layers is the key
- If you are a vegetarian, consider dehydrated food or take rice cooker 😛
Ping me if you have questions.