When we were wondering what to do for the winter holiday, visiting Anchorage in winter, was not the first thing that came to my mind. After all, it’s going to be so cold in Anchorage to visit in the winter, right ? But, after a quick research, it didn’t take much to convince me to book my flights to Anchorage for Christmas long weekend. “What is Anchorage like in the winter ?” was one of the questions I was wondering myself, only to learn that I should definitely go to Anchorage.
So, what is Anchorage like in the winter ? Surprisingly, it’s not as cold as one would expect. Average winter temperature is 26F in Anchorage, which is warmer compared to let’s say Minneapolis or Chicago. And winter is packed with fun activities to do in Anchorage that one can easily spend a week.
What Is Anchorage Like In The Winter?
I will be talking about all the possible fun activities that one can do in Anchorage in the winter, with the hope to convince someone who is contemplating a trip to Anchorage and Alaska over all, but wondering what is Anchorage like in the winter.
Winters Aren’t That Cold
Yes, you heard it right. Winter in Anchorage is not that cold after all, as I mentioned above. As you see from the data below, the nights are indeed colder and what’s really a significant to notice is the fact that the days are super short. Your watch would say 3PM and it will be dark already. But, that shouldn’t stop anyone from having any fun.
Abundant and Affordable Anchorage Accommodations
It’s a shame majority of the folks are not thinking about Anchorage or Alaska during the winter time. Well, that essentially means those few who actually get out there to Anchorage, are in luck when it comes to accommodations.
Alaska Railroad Is Stunning In The Winter
One of the reasons to visit Anchorage in the winter is to actually get on that Aurora Winter journey. One way journey from Anchorage to Fairbanks in 2016 winter was $190 per person in Aurora Winter. This 12-hour journey was one of the most memorable part of my trip to Alaska.
We were not lucky enough to see Aurora Borealis on this trip, however, train journey was one of the most stunning scenery, I have ever witnessed in my life.
Inside the train, once you get on board, it was warm and cozy. There is a small shop in the train that sells exactly the kind of things you would be looking for on a freezing cold day.
- Hot Chocolate and Other hot drinks
- Cookies, sandwiches and chips
Our coach did have windows to look through. However, between each coach, there was an opening that you can go and stand at to poke out and get your nose frozen.
Throughout the journey, the conductor would explain the scenery and bring the highlights to your attention. Around the Denali National Park area, the entire train seem to have been fighting for a spot through those open doors to get a picture.
It was a beautiful clear day and we indeed got a spectacular view of Mount Mckinley or Mount Denali.
We had packed lunch from Fairbanks for the trip because we were not sure if there will be any vegetarian option on the meal that’s included in the train. Yes, lunch is included in your meal.
Someone came and took our order. They finish feeding one coach at a time and go in the order of your seat number. They do their best to do a faster service. Overall, lunch was decent with only one vegetarian option being a pasta.
Here is the link to book your Aurora Winter train ticket.
Chasing the Northern Lights
If you are a night owl, you are in luck. I can happen anytime and anywhere in Alaska. From what I heard, the darker and later in the night it is, the better the chances of viewing Northern lights for it’s fullest beauty. However, you might even be able to see it at 8PM, have a full meal and go to bed.
To put it in simple words, the best time to see the aurora borealis is during cold months. This time usually ranges from September to March. Areas near the magnetic north pole see the most brilliant displays, which become more intense as the temperature drops. Although the aurora technically occurs year-round, dark, cold night skies provide the best opportunity to see the northern lights in the fall and winter.
Flightseeing Around Anchorage
Did you know Alaska has six times as many pilots per capita as the rest of the United States ? It’s because aviation is the life line of Alaska to reach some of the most remote places with no other transportation.
Winter is guaranteed to have a blanket of snow over the entire state of Alaska, which makes the landscape even more stunning and beyond your pair of eyes can handle. With such stunningly mesmerizing beauty, getting on a small flight to get an ariel view of the landscape is bound to leave you with an awe.
Each passenger gets their own window seat and personal headset to listen to the pilot’s expert narration of the scenery. You get to see the great gorges, glaciers and snow covered peaks.
Even better, you get to land in glacier if you choose to. Yes, it might be slightly expensive, but it’s once in a life time.
Dog Sledding in Anchorage in the Winter
You can’t go to Anchorage in the winter and not do dog sledding even if it’s for just an hour. Generally speaking, I am vary of activities that involve animals. But, in this case, these Alaskan huskies need their workout everyday. Even if you are not out on their back, they are going to go for their long run.
Might as well, go along with them for some of the best possible scenery, you will see in the winter. How about crossing a frozen lake ? Yup, these beauties will do just that for you.
There are tours that range from one hour to four hours. You be the judge of how long you want to go. We went for a 3-hour trip right outside of Denali National Park, coming from Fairbanks side. But, Anchorage is perfectly a great spot for dog sledding too.
These tour operators know how to suit you up for the cold weather. The have the right type of jump suits, mittens, hats and shoes.
Must warn you, even with those, it can still get cold as the huskies pick up speed and wind blows on your face. Yes, these small guys can give you a thrill ride that you couldn’t have imagined.
Fat Tire Biking in Anchorage
If you are looking for something to do on your own, without a tour guide, yet get out in the open air and experience the snow in a unique way, fat tire biking is a great option.
As the same suggests, these bikes have really fat tires that give the right kind of traction for biking on the snow. There are several established biking trails in Anchorage to choose from. Your bike rental place will guide you on the trails for the season. For less than $20 an hour, you can rent a bike with helmet and other equipment.
Coastal trail in anchorage is the most popular one. But, mind it in the winter, the cold breeze can be tricky on your face. Wear appropriate clothing before you venture out.
To book your bikes, contact these guys.
Skating in Anchorage
Westchester Lagoon is the backyard of Anchorage. Summer or winter, westchester lagoon got you covered for a day of connecting with the nature and the people around you.
Go on a Sunday night at 9PM, you will see people there. It’s one of the most popular spots for skating outdoors in Anchorage and you don’t have a pay a penny to use the skating rink.
We went there on a Christmas eve, people watching. Local kids were such pros at ice skating and I was in awe of their skill level.
Skiing in Anchorage
Within the city range, one of the best places for skiing is the Russian Jack Springs park. These maintained multi-purpose trails are used for hiking, walking, running and biking in the summer. Given Alaskans know how to make use of the season snow or sun, these trails are equally heavily used for skiing.
We rented cross country skies from a local store to hit the trails. A good 2.5 KM loop was just the perfect way to spend a morning for us, the beginners in skiing.
These trails are pretty flat and great for kids and those who want to get a feel for Alaskan winters.
For more advanced, downhill and alpine skiing, you still need to get out of the town. The town of Girdwood just a 40-mile south of Anchorage has it all.
- Downhill thrill
- Cross country skiing
- Snow mobile
- Snow shoeing
- Cozy restaurants
- One of the best pastry / coffee shops
We spent an entire day at Girdwood as a first time visitor to Anchorage in the winter.
Main attraction at Girdwood is the Alyeska Ski Resort. This steep and deep mountain is all you need to get the best possible experience in the winter or even summer for that matter. If you are an advanced skier looking for adrenaline rush, you got it. How about beginners you might ask. The lowest elevation trail at Alyeska Ski Resort is a 250ft and perfect for those touching the skies for the first time.
Or perhaps, you are not into skiing at all, but want to experience the mountain in the winter ? Snowmobile ride will take you a on thrill ride of your life time.
Did I sell it enough ? You get my point. This place is awesome.
Winter Triathlon in Anchorage
If your New Year Resolution includes Triathlon this year, Anchorage has the perfect one you. Run, Bike and Ski !
Second week of January, the one and only USAT approved triathlon will be a perfect test your endurance in the biting cold weather.
The Tri Flake starts with an 8K run on the Coastal Trail. An 8-mile bike follows on multi-use trails and STA single track trails in Kincaid. The race finishes with a 10K ski on Kincaid’s ski trails. Be ready for plenty of hills on all 3 legs.
Relay team is a fun way to get the whole family or your friends involved.
Ice Fishing in Anchorage
Fishing in general is one of the top activities to do in Anchorage and winter is no exception to it. There are several lakes in and around Anchorage that are ideal for Ice Fishing.
- Beach Lake
- Campbell Point
- Jewel lakes
are some of the lakes that are just minutes from downtown and easily accessible. If you want to get out of Anchorage, just a little drive to the north are more lakes.
- Matanuska Lakes State Recreation
If you are completely new to Ice fishing booking a tour might be an option. But, its easy enough to get yourself busy for a full day of fishing in Anchorage in the winter.
Dating back to the mid-1930’s, the Fur Rendezvous is also known as Fur Rondy or “Rondy”, is a classic Anchorage tradition that one should not miss out on if you can plan around it. It’s a 10-day festival where the entire city comes together to celebrate winter.
Here are a few popular events of the 10-day Fur Rondy Festival:
- Frostbite Footrace & Costume Fun Run: 5k or 2.5K Fun Run. Dress up and hit the streets for a Saturday morning family event!
- Miners & Trappers “69 Years: Shaken, Not Stirred”: Wear an authentic costume, and if you’re a man — sport your best beard to compete in the Mr. Fur Face Beard and Moustache Contest.
- Rondy Grand Parade: Witness Rondy royalty, Rondy Bear, nifty cars, roller girls and much more in this festival tradition.
- Running of the Reindeer: A much tamer version of Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls pits racers against reindeer.
Alaska Zoo in Winter
Last but not least, a customary visit to Alaska Zoo in the winter if you are in Anchorage. All the animals in Alaska zoo are winter adaptable ones. They can withstand the extreme cold and snow. Even on a heavy snowy day, you can witness an active lifestyle of these zoo residents.
Alaska zoo is known for their best lighting decoration in the winter. When we were in town, the entire city was lit up in pretty light decorations. However, the zoo is a class of its own. Worth it to visit just for the lights.
So, what is Anchorage like in the winter? Fun, vibrant, energetic, active, festivous and charming are the words that come to be as I summarize this article.