Winter Activities In Alaska
Alaska may be known as a summer destination, but check out these wintertime activities that’ll inspire you to visit the state in the off season!
Buskin Valley Winter Rec Area
The large parking area opens to trails in the summer and snowmobiling and ski terrain in the winter. The popular trail to Pyramid Mountain starts here; this is the highest mountain close to town. If you tackle this hike, you’re in for a climb, but a large portion of the trail is in the alpine, with beautiful flowers and tundra. You’ll be climbing 2,400 feet in elevation in just two miles.
The steep trail begins at the right from the large gravel parking lot and runs straight up the mountain through brush and grass. Bears use this traill too so heads up! The trail is easy to follow. A broad shoulder of alpine tundra beneath the top provides fantastic views. The last, very streep pitch to the top of the peak is exposed and is only for the most sure-footed hiker. Like Barometer Mountain, this hike is a real heart-pumper. Pick a sunny day for this hike as you don’t want to get disoriented in the fog. Watch for upland birds including Willow and Rock Ptarmigan, and American Pipits.
Relax In Chena Hot Springs
In the middle of the frigid Alaskan winter, there’s nothing better than sinking into steaming hot springs while surrounded by a blanket of snow. Chena Hot Springs Resort, located 61 miles east of Fairbanks, is the perfect place to unwind with friends or family. A day pass costs $12 for kids and $15 for adults.
Adults age 18 and older can soak in the natural hot springs, a large pool boasting a toasty year-round temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit (a little warmer than a typical hot tub). Families with younger children can enjoy the outdoor hot tub or indoor pool, heated to a temperature of about 90 degrees.
For a well-rounded vacation, Chena Hot Springs Resort offers lodging and an array of winter activities — everything from dogsled rides to snow machine tours. Plus, Chena is a great location to watch for the dazzling Aurora Borealis, or at least see some beautiful stars if the Northern Lights don’t show.
Ski or Snowboard in Girdwood
Most of Alaska is untamed wilderness, so if you want to ski or snowboard on an established run, there are only a few places to go. Located on stunning coastline in a glacier-carved valley, Alyeska Resort is the biggest and most popular ski resort in Alaska. It’s in the town of Girdwood, which is about a 50-minute drive from Anchorage.
With 76 named trails and 1,610 skiable acres, Alyeska Resort offers runs for all levels of skiers and snowboarders. Alyeska receives more than 650 inches of average snowfall annually, a huge amount when you consider that most resorts in Colorado receive snowfall in the 300-inch range.
If you’re looking for a smaller ski area, check out Eaglecrest Ski Area near Juneau or Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage. Highly skilled skiers or snowboarders should consider heli-skiing: hitting the slopes in backcountry areas only accessible by helicopter.
Ice Skate on Westchester Lagoon
Ice-skating perfectly captures the magic of wintertime — especially at Westchester Lagoon, a lake surrounded by forest and distant mountains. Westchester Lagoon is less than two miles from downtown Anchorage, making it a popular year-round destination for Alaskans, and the best place in town to go ice-skating in the winter. If you don’t have your own ice skates in tow, they can be rented at Play it Again Sports in Anchorage.
Westchester Lagoon is a family-friendly location where everyone from toddlers to grandparents can have fun. Every Saturday from January to early March, between 1 and 3 p.m., join “Family Skate” for free skating instruction, games, refreshments, and different themes.
Sled In Hatcher Pass
No matter the time of year, Hatcher Pass Management Area is a breathtaking destination that’s worth adding to your Alaskan itinerary. It’s a wild area of valleys and summits, moose and marmots. You can easily access Hatcher Pass from either Palmer or Willow, not far from Anchorage. In the winter, grab a sled, because zooming down hills at Hatcher Pass is not to be missed.
Most people sled from the Independence Mine parking lot, where there’s a $5 fee to park for the day. The hill there is thrilling, and it’s a well-established sledding area that’s an exciting place for an outing with family or friends.
Go on a flightseeing tour
If you’ve never hopped on a small plane before (think nine seats tops), it might sound frightening. But once you’re in that plane flying through mountain ranges, over glaciers and the fluffiest snow you’ve ever seen, fear is quickly replaced by pure awe. Getting a bird’s-eye view of the Alaskan wilderness is an unforgettable experience — and luckily for winter visitors, many companies offer flight tours year-round.
Flights depart from several different places in Alaska, so do your research and choose based on what you’d like to see most. I’d recommend flying from Talkeetna (through either Talkeetna Air Taxi or K2 Aviation, with prices starting at $220 per person), because you can get up close and personal with Denali and the Alaska Range. It’s hard to imagine the scale of these massive mountains until you’re flying right up to them.
Hop on the Alaskan Railroad
The Alaskan Railroad has a nostalgic feel to it, unlike many trains in the rest of the United States. Something about riding a train in the Last Frontier is so satisfying, and it’s incredibly scenic. In the winter, it’s an especially wonderful method to get from A to B, since driving in snowy or icy conditions can be nerve-wracking.
During the winter, the train connects Anchorage, Talkeetna, and Fairbanks and runs on weekends and select mid-week dates. Make sure to research and book ahead to ensure you have seats.