What’s it Like Touring to Alaska within the Winter?

Is touring in Alaska through the winter an insane factor to do?

It is a completely cheap query, and I’m glad you requested, as a result of I had the identical query earlier than heading to Alaska this previous February.

I used to be ready for this to be a troublesome journey. I frightened concerning the roads and excessive chilly, however I’m comfortable to report that my fears have been assuaged nearly instantly. Alaska was emptier, lovely differently, and the dry chilly within the inside made for fairly simple touring regardless of the snow. Considering of going within the winter as nicely? Whether or not it’s Aurora you’re chasing or an empty Denali Nationwide Park, that is what it is advisable find out about touring to Alaska within the winter:

The Greatest Time for Aurora is Close to the Spring Equinox

alaska in winter aurora borealis
The Aurora over Denali Nationwide Park

I’m guessing that your largest purpose for selecting Alaska within the winter is to see the northern lights, or the aurora borealis.

I’ve been lucky to see the Aurora 4 instances, in 4 totally different locations around the globe together with Iceland, Canada, Finland, and most just lately, in Alaska.

I’ve seen all of them at totally different instances of the yr, however in Alaska particularly gives clearer skies in March, plus the spring equinox tends to have the interval with essentially the most viewing chance. 

Alaska can also be the most affordable place I’ve ever gone to see the Aurora. The Nordic international locations might be fairly costly, as can attending to the Arctic in Canada. However with Alaska airways, dwelling on the West Coast means we have now a reasonably simple option to rise up there by way of Seattle.

For my Alaskan winter expertise I selected Fairbanks, which is within the inside of Alaska, extremely accessible, and an amazing leaping off level for Aurora adventures.

That brings me to the purpose I must make about viewing Aurora. If that’s the one purpose you’ve for going someplace, you could be disillusioned should you don’t see them, which is an actual risk. So decide a spot that has actions you wish to do as nicely!

In Fairbanks you can too journey to the North Pole to see Santa, go to the Chena sizzling springs, go canine sledding, and in late February, can entry Denali Nationwide Park as much as mile 12.5 and see the World Ice Artwork Championships.

Planning Your Itinerary

alaska in winter
This ice cave certain was cool! However we needed to snow shoe via deep snow to get to it

So let’s get one very apparent factor out of the way in which; Alaska is large and also you’re going to need to slim it down with regards to your winter travels there.

You may fly into any considered one of Alaska’s main cities, however Fairbanks is well-situated for the Northern Lights – a lot moreso than Anchorage or Juneau are.

We based mostly ourselves kind of out of Fairbanks, and that is what we noticed:

Although I’m certain any a part of Alaska would have its personal particular magnificence, we favored Fairbanks for its easy accessibility and site within the Aurora oval. It’s the biggest metropolis in Alaska’s inside, and is straightforward to fly into and well-connected.

Some Elements of Alaska Shall be Inaccessible within the Winter

alaska in winter
Put together to see a lot of these guys!

This brings me to my subsequent level. There are some gravel roads and components of Alaska that aren’t drivable within the winter. In the event you have been hoping to

In the event you have been hoping To drive the Dalton Freeway, Denali Freeway, McCarthy freeway, and extra gravel roads, these are typically not accessible through the winter months. Lots of the hikes and mountain routes which can be lovely in the summertime can even not be practically as accessible, or smart to try, within the winter months.

We went within the winter time realizing that this was true.

I’ve had the pleasure of touring in Alaska and backpacking there twice in the summertime, and I knew that the winter can be a totally totally different expertise. However that totally different expertise is precisely what I needed. However should you have been hoping to have the identical accessibility within the winter as you’d have in the summertime, then you definitely could be disillusioned by the Alaska within the winter.

The Roads + Renting the Proper Automobile

alaska in winter roads
What are the highway circumstances?

My largest concern was how driving can be in Alaska within the winter. Are the roads icy, and the way well-maintained are they? I can solely converse from my very own expertise, however there had been loads of snow proper earlier than my journey and a bit throughout, and for essentially the most half, the roads have been very nicely plowed and have been usually all the way down to tar.

As a toddler of Southern California, I keep away from driving in any sort of inclement climate, however my boyfriend who has expertise driving in Massachusetts and Vermont discovered the driving round Fairbanks to be a lot simpler. Since it’s a dry chilly and it stays fairly nicely under freezing all all through winter, you don’t get as a lot of the melting and refreezing that causes ice on the roads.

That mentioned, we nonetheless rented a car that had four-wheel-drive AND snow tires. Since we did drive some mountain roads, together with into Denali Nationwide Park and to a phenomenal mountain yurt in Fairbanks’ ski space, we have been very glad to have it.

That mentioned, Most main automobile rental firms don’t put winter tires on their vehicles. I solely discovered one, via Alaska Auto Rental, that provided each four-wheel-drive and snow tires. Snow tires are vital, as a result of even with four-wheel-drive, should you don’t have traction you’ll be able to slip and slide. Renting from this firm was a bit annoying and dearer, significantly as a result of they don’t have a location on the airport and it’s a must to Uber or taxi to their workplace, however I might nonetheless lease from them once more to have the snow tires.

Temperatures and Gear

alaska in the winter
Bundle up!

In the event you’re visiting a few of the coastal areas through the Alaskan winter, get ready for some critical chilly. I appeared on the climate for essentially the most northern metropolis, Utqiagvik, and noticed that they’d a a lot increased humidity share and frequent wind. So though the temperature was -8 F°, it ‘felt like’ -33° in accordance with my climate app. Yikes!

However in Denali and Fairbanks, even -11° didn’t really feel that horrible because it was a dry chilly. Don’t get me improper, I nonetheless wanted snow pants, a heavy jacket, merino wool layers, and boots which can be suited to these temperatures, however with the best gear we have been out for hours at night time chasing aurora with out feeling uncomfortable.

Learn extra concerning the gear I like to recommend for excessive chilly right here.

So general I’m happy to say that I used to be extra impressed with Alaska within the winter than I assumed I might be. I frightened about highway circumstances, frightened that we must be fully self-reliant, and that hardly something can be accessible or open. And whereas many issues round Denali Nationwide Park have been closed, we nonetheless had a tremendous time there, seeing solely a handful of different individuals all day.

I doubt anybody within the summertime there can say that!

So in case you are hoping to see the northern lights, wish to expertise Alaska with out the crowds, are in search of the peace and quiet that solely the lifeless of winter can present, and desire a true arctic expertise with out leaving the US, Alaska within the winter is superior, and I’ve a sense I might be again!

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