Is touring in Alaska in the course of 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 tricky journey. I anxious in regards to the roads and excessive chilly, however I’m pleased to report that my fears had been assuaged nearly instantly. Alaska was emptier, lovely otherwise, and the dry chilly within the inside made for fairly straightforward touring regardless of the snow. Considering of going within the winter as effectively? Whether or not it’s Aurora you’re chasing or an empty Denali Nationwide Park, that is what it’s good to learn 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 motive 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 occasions, 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 occasions of the yr, however in Alaska specifically gives clearer skies in March, plus the spring equinox tends to have the interval with probably the most viewing chance. 

Alaska can be the most cost effective place I’ve ever gone to see the Aurora. The Nordic nations may be fairly costly, as can attending to the Arctic in Canada. However with Alaska airways, residing on the West Coast means now we have a fairly straightforward approach to stand up there through Seattle.

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

That brings me to the purpose I must make about viewing Aurora. If that’s the one motive you might have for going someplace, you could be upset for those who don’t see them, which is an actual chance. So decide a spot that has actions you need to do as effectively!

In Fairbanks you too can journey to the North Pole to see Santa, go to the Chena scorching 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 by deep snow to get to it

So let’s get one very apparent factor out of the best way; Alaska is large and also you’re going to must slender it down in terms of your winter travels there.

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

We primarily based ourselves roughly 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 appreciated Fairbanks for its quick access and placement within the Aurora oval. It’s the biggest metropolis in Alaska’s inside, and is simple to fly into and well-connected.

Some Components of Alaska Might 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. For those who had been hoping to

For those who had been hoping To drive the Dalton Freeway, Denali Freeway, McCarthy freeway, and extra gravel roads, these are typically not accessible in the course of 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 clever to aim, within the winter months.

We went within the winter time understanding 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 very totally different expertise. However that totally different expertise is precisely what I needed. However for those who had been hoping to have the identical accessibility within the winter as you’d have in the summertime, then you definitely could be upset by the Alaska within the winter.

The Roads + Renting the Proper Automobile

alaska in winter roads
What are the street situations?

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 communicate from my very own expertise, however there had been loads of snow proper earlier than my journey and a bit throughout, and for probably the most half, the roads had been very effectively plowed and had been usually right down to tar.

As a baby of Southern California, I keep away from driving in any type 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 effectively beneath 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 automobile that had four-wheel-drive AND snow tires. Since we did drive some mountain roads, together with into Denali Nationwide Park and to an attractive mountain yurt in Fairbanks’ ski space, we had been very glad to have it.

That mentioned, Most main automotive rental firms don’t put winter tires on their vehicles. I solely discovered one, by Alaska Auto Rental, that supplied each four-wheel-drive and snow tires. Snow tires are vital, as a result of even with four-wheel-drive, for those who don’t have traction you may slip and slide. Renting from this firm was a bit annoying and costlier, notably 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’d nonetheless hire from them once more to have the snow tires.

Temperatures and Gear

alaska in the winter
Bundle up!

For those who’re visiting a few of the coastal areas in the course of the Alaskan winter, get ready for some critical chilly. I seemed on the climate for probably the most northern metropolis, Utqiagvik, and noticed that that they had a a lot greater humidity share and frequent wind. So though the temperature was -8 F°, it ‘felt like’ -33° in keeping 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 unsuitable, I nonetheless wanted snow pants, a heavy jacket, merino wool layers, and boots which can be suited to these temperatures, however with the precise gear we had been out for hours at night time chasing aurora with out feeling uncomfortable.

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

So total I’m happy to say that I used to be extra impressed with Alaska within the winter than I assumed I’d be. I anxious about street situations, anxious that we must be utterly self-reliant, and that hardly something can be accessible or open. And whereas many issues round Denali Nationwide Park had been closed, we nonetheless had a tremendous time there, seeing solely a handful of different folks all day.

I doubt anybody within the summertime there can say that!

So in case you are hoping to see the northern lights, need to expertise Alaska with out the crowds, are on the lookout for the peace and quiet that solely the useless of winter can present, and need a true arctic expertise with out leaving the US, Alaska within the winter is superior, and I’ve a sense I shall be again!

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