Thanks to these winter activities, I had the adventure of a lifetime exploring Alaska over the past month. I never expected to visit Alaska for the first time in the winter, but I couldn’t be more ecstatic that I did! Alaska was a winter wonderland and an absolute dream come true. I had experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life. In fact, my winter Alaskan travel may even be my favorite of all time. Throughout my journey, I felt utterly and wholly alive among such raw beauty and wilderness. I hope this post will inspire you to take on the wonders of an Alaskan winter.
*Note: this blog post takes place in the south/south central region of Alaska. See more below.
- Flight to Alaska
- Where to stay
- How to Get Around
- Winter Activities in Alaska: 10 Adventures of a Lifetime
- What to look forward to next!
WINTER ACTIVITIES IN ALASKA:
Flight to Alaska
First, book your flight into Anchorage, Alaska using the best deal finder: Kiwi. Among many reasons why Kiwi is the optimal choice, it allows you to pick date ranges in which you wish to travel and shows you the cheapest options. Its flexibility combined with its quality and assurance make it my favorite flight booking site to-date. Currently, round-trip flights from Pittsburgh (my home) to Anchorage are only $322 this winter season.
Furthermore, I highly recommend flying with Delta for a multitude of reasons. A big one being: they’re taking the utmost safety precautions during the pandemic. Delta still leaves all the middle seats open; they are sparkling clean and take their sanitation to the next level; they enforce mask wearing and even hand out sanitization supplies pre-flight.
Lastly, be sure to check Alaska’s travel portal for covid rules and regulations. It is required that all travelers arrive with a negative test taken within 72 hours of departure. Find out more information here: https://www.alaska.covidsecureapp.com/
WINTER ACTIVITIES IN ALASKA:
Where to Stay for your Winter Activities in Alaska
The three cities/towns I recommend staying in or near during your Alaskan journey are:
- Seward, Alaska
- Wasilla, Alaska
- Talkeetna, Alaska
They’re conveniently located to all the adventures showcased in this post below and, they offer an array of lodging options during the winter season.
- Borealis Cabin – Private Cabin W/Loft on Airbnb
- Cost: ranges from $77-95 per night (depending on the dates)
- Suitable for up to 6 guests
- Where? About 10 minutes from Seward, Alaska
- Why I recommend? It’s affordable, clean and boasts a rustic charm that is ideal for a cozy winter getaway. It’s surrounded by snow-covered pines and we had the best nights around the campfire pit there. Also, the owners offer a convenient self check-in so you’ll have no need to interact with anyone outside from your own family/party
- Best Western Lake Lucille Inn
- Cost: ranges between ~$100-135 per night (depending on the dates).
- Where? In Wasilla, Alaska
- Why I recommend? Not only is it rated the #1 hotel in Wasilla on TripAdvisor, but it’s also conveniently located to many of the adventures listed below (such as: Matanuska Glacier, Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine, etc). Even more, the views behind the hotel of the frozen Lake Lucille and majestic mountains are stunning! It’s a perfect view for sunrise (peep the photo above).
- Raven’s Roost-Tiny House in the Woods on Airbnb
- Cost: ~$65 per night
- Suitable for up to 3 guests
- Where? Nestled away in the woods only minutes from downtown Talkeetna
- Why I recommend? To me, this is the quintessential cozy winter experience in Alaska: staying in a tiny home among a sparkling winter scene and sitting on the little front porch, sipping hot tea, while searching for the northern lights. It has all the essentials: kitchen, heat, wifi, two beds, workspace, tv, and a 1/2 bath (outhouse). Plus, you can’t beat that price!
WINTER ACTIVITIES IN ALASKA:
How to Get Around to your Winter Activities in Alaska
Once you arrive in Anchorage, you have many options in regards to vehicle rentals from the airport. I strongly encourage searching Priceline to find the best deals! Even more, I absolutely recommend renting a 4WD or AWD vehicle as it is winter and the roads can be snowy/icy.
I get many questions regarding driving in the Alaskan winter and, rest assured, the roads that we drove on (to get to the adventures listed below) were all fairly easy to navigate. But, it will certainly vary depending on the weather and when you decide to go. We did encounter icy conditions along our drive to Denali National Park from Talkeetna, but it was nothing our decked-out and powerful 4WD GMC Yukon couldn’t handle. We rented it from Hertz, via Priceline, for $43/day.
WINTER ACTIVITIES IN ALASKA:
10 Adventures of a Lifetime
This small Piper Cherokee plane took us into the heart of some true wilderness and I had never in my life experienced anything like it! This tour, costing ~$260.00 per person, flies you over some of the most unbelievable and breathtaking scenery in the country, such as: South Face of Denali, Don Sheldon Amphitheater, The Sheldon Mountain House, The Great Gorge, Moose’s Tooth and Broken Tooth, Mount Dickey, Ruth Icefall, Mount Hunter, Mount Huntington and the Susitna Valley.
One of the most memorable parts of this unreal flight was seeing a pack of wolves directly below us in Denali National Park. We were so fortunate to witness these extraordinary animals and our pilot was awesome enough to fly us back and forth for better views of them. You can see the pack of wolves in the second photo in the above photo slide.
Another favorite part of this journey, for me, was flying over the Great Gorge, the world’s deepest, of Ruth Glacier. Ruth Glacier is 40 miles long and comprised of ice 3,700 feet deep. It’s upper reaches are approximately 3 vertical miles below the summit of Denali. Impressive doesn’t even begin to describe the sights here (see photo 3 above). Furthermore, Mt Dickey (amid the gorge) is the highest granite wall in North America! It would take two El Capitans (in Yosemite) , one on top of the other, to equal its height.
Throughout Hatcher Pass, there are endless opportunities for snowshoeing, skiing and sled riding. You can rent a pair of cross-country skis from the nearby Backcountry Bike and Ski Shop in Palmer, Alaska for only $30 per day or opt to hike throughout this pristine winter scene as we did!
The Government Peak Recreation Area is located at the base of Hatcher Pass, on North Mountain Trails Drive, and features fantastic winter trails! Including 4.5 miles that have lighting and is a series of loops.
Independence Mine, itself, is now a State Historic Park that visitors can roam about, being transported back in time to an era of gold mining dating back to the late 1800s.
I will never forget just how PERFECT (and I mean perfect) this place looked on this sparkling and sunny winter afternoon! We could see the clouds above the town of Palmer far below as the endless, deep white snow glistened all around. The mining village was capped with snow and it honestly looked like it was straight out of a north pole / holiday movie.
This tour will go down in history as one of my all time favorites! We spent this incredible day exploring all over Resurrection Bay, around the Kenai Peninsula and Kenai Fjords National Park. We encountered wildlife such as sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles and mountain goat and we awed over staggering mountain scenery, jutting from the ocean and blanketed by snow, every which way we turned. As if that’s not mesmerizing enough, we witnessed a stellar rainbow (or, shall I say, snowbow?) and jumped ashore to wander around Fox Island with a cool little sea cave. We sipped tea in Thumb Cove and marveled at the clarity of the blue waters – so clear that we could see jellyfish swimming around below!
All in all, this excursion is a MUST-DO when in Seward, Alaska, For $164 per person, you’ll spend the day cruising with a small group (up to 6 people max, plus the captain) amid some of the country’s most jaw-dropping and stunning scenery (it may be my favorite place in the USA now). After all, when you combine the sea, wildlife, mountains and fjords… I don’t know how a place could get more beautiful. It’s certainly my ideal dreamscape.
*WARNING: This is a dangerous activity and you should use your best judgement and take utmost precaution when deciding whether to do this adventure or not. It’s a high risk area due to avalanches (as you can see the remnants of one in the above photo at the opening of the cave).
According to All Trails, this hike is a 3.2 mile, round-trip, trek and rated “easy”. But, All Trails is only taking into consideration this trail in the summer months / warmer seasons WITHOUT snowfall.
In the winter (when we hiked it), the trail was covered in knee-deep to waist-deep snow and the road to the trailhead was not plowed and inaccessible. Thus, adding an extra mile (each way) onto our hike. With this being said, I would say this trail during the winter is rated “difficult” and is 5.2 miles round-trip with the added trek along the unplowed road.
So, why is this an adventure of a lifetime if it is dangerous and difficult? Well, if you’re coming to me for adventure advice, you should know I live for these types of challenges! Testing oneself in nature is an adventure in all senses of the word. However, we also know what we’re doing – so, if you’re a novice in these conditions, I would recommend forgoing this one for the time being. Or, perhaps, hiring a professional guide. Regardless of experience level, heading out into the Alaskan wilderness is always a risk.
Now, on to my experience hiking to Byron Glacier and Ice Cave:
This hike definitely kicked my as$! As if trudging through multiple feet of snow up a mountain pass wasn’t tough enough, add some massive boulders, water and crevasses to navigate WITH piles of snow on top (hiding it all). It became a game of guessing and chance. When everyone else turned around, our stubbornness and determination motivated us onward.
We were the only people to make it to Byron Glacier and Ice Cave that day (after a massive snowfall the day prior). We fell more times than we could count and, at times, fell into holes up to our chest STILL not touching solid ground below us.
Even more, we witnessed the results of three recent avalanches (adding more snow to our trek). And, it took us so long to find our way that we hiked the majority of the way back in the dark…in the Alaskan wilderness. Doug even had to yell at a spooky shadowy animal stalking us at one point. But, we did it! And we came out of the experience safe and sound (due to luck along with knowledge and skill). It was certainly an adventure that I’ll never EVER forget (to say the least). Plus, it led us to one of the most awesome-looking ice caves I’ve ever seen. Overall, it was a wild, wild day!
The trail begins at Miller’s Landing at the Caines Head Trailhead and takes approximately 2 miles of trekking to reach Tonsina Cabin (plus 2 miles back – equaling 4 miles roundtrip). The hike takes you through enchanting, grand spruce forests up a cliffside (paralleling the ocean) before winding down to an ancient rainforest hanging with moss and ferns (total PNW vibes). Eventually, leading you out to a mysterious and hauntingly beautiful blacksand beach fit for vikings. Continue another 0.4 miles past the beach (of Tonsina Point) to reach the public use cabin: Tonsina Cabin.
The cabin, itself, can sleep up to 6 guests and can only be accessed by hiking or boating in. Guests are permitted to stay between 1 and 7 nights at a fee of $100 per night. Split that cost between your adventure buddies, and that’s a steal for such cozy seclusion in a winter wonderland wilderness!
The Tonsina Cabin includes:
- Fire Ring
- Wooden Bunks (bring your own sleeping bag and gear, same as if you were tenting – minus the tent).
- Heating Method: Oil Stove (Kerosene or Diesel Fuel – Bring your own fuel)
- Pets allowed: yes
- Cabin dimensions: 14′ X 18′
According to the Alaska Almanac, Alaska is home to 100,000 glaciers! This particular glacier, Matanuska, is 27 miles long by 4 miles wide and is the largest glacier accessible by car in the U.S. You can walk on Matanuska Glacier during the summer months alone (self-guided) but, during the winter months, you must pay for a guided tour (due to increased dangers).
The Guided Winter Glacier Walking Tour costs $100 per person, including all fees and equipment, and it departs daily at 11:00am and 2:00pm. The tour lasts anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours depending on weather conditions.
Walking on this massive beast is such a rad experience! But the drive to the glacier is an insanely cool experience as well! We encountered many gorgeous vistas, overlooks and viewpoints among the King Mountain State Recreation Area and spotted a plethora of wildlife, including the bald eagle that Doug captured in the above photo (slide number 2).
Talkeetna, Alaska is a quaint and picturesque village nestled about 14 miles back from Highway 3 (between your drive from Wasilla to Denali National Park). This festively decorated town lights up the Alaskan night and is the perfect spot to search for the Northern Lights with its little light pollution (population of 965). The fact that it’s further north than Seward, Anchorage and Wasilla (the other destinations in this post) make it that much better for aurora viewing.
After a day chockfull of adventuring, slow down and relax beside the outdoor fire pit at Denali Brewpub in the heart of town – while keeping your eye on the sky (of course)! Using local ingredients from Alaska Grown, they offer a wide variety of deliciously crafted beers (see their full list of beer here).
Peep the Northern Lights dancing above Talkeetna in K2 Aviation’s instagram video below:
Talkeetna is also renowned for their quirky and artsy shops, including:
- Village Arts & Crafts
- Once in a Blue Moose
- Aurora Dora
- Heritage of Alaska Gift Shop
- Beadberry Patch
- The Patchwork Moose
- Kahiltna Birchworks: Alaska Birch Syrup and Wild Harvest Products
Just to add to the awesomeness of Talkeetna, the area offers spectacular views of Mount Denali and the Susitna Valley, as well! And, if you continue driving along Highway 3, towards Denali State Park, you’ll be inundated with even more fantastic Denali views, like the Denali Viewpoint South photo’d above.
Make the surreal 3.5 hour drive from Wasilla to Denali National Park (or 2.5 hours from Talkeetna) to see some of the land’s most outstanding scenery – perhaps, one of my favorite drives to-date! Not only will you have plenty of opportunities to see Mt. Denali, but the wildlife you’re sure to encounter will blow your mind! We dubbed the one stretch “Moose Highway” because we saw SO MANY MOOSE (see photo number 2 in above slide).
Furthermore, Denali National Park is, indeed, open during the winter months and is a wonderful time to visit! It’s so peaceful to hike, snowshoe, cross-country ski or even dog sled among the quiet and still park during this time of year! We had the trails ALL to OURSELVES (which is my kind of park visit).
From Anchorage to Seward, this 127 miles stretch is abundant with dramatic views! You begin winding along the Turnagain Arm Waterway where the sea will be directly on your right side with staggering mountains all around. And, you bet, there’s many viewpoints to pull over at along the way for incredible photo-ops (such as Beluga Point).
Once past the sea, you’ll meander through the Chugach Mountains, passing exquisite hiking trails all the way! Some great trails to take advantage of include:
- Johnson Pass Trail, South Access
- Devil’s Creek Trail
- Carter Lake Trail
- Meridian and Grayling Lakes
- Lost Lake Trail
Along your scenic drive from Seward to Anchorage (or visa versa), be sure to spend one day/half day snowmobiling this beautiful region! Cost is $235 per person for a 3.5 hour snowmobile tour through the snow-covered mountains. You can also opt to rent a snowmobile and explore Chugach National Forest at your own pace for $295 per day (choosing your own pickup and dropoff location).
About the tour:
Go snowmobiling in the high country of Turnagain Pass to seek the legendary snow the Chugach National Forest is famous for. Meet your guide for instruction at the trail head in Turnagain Pass before heading out to ride along historic wagon trails, to a roadhouse, around a campground loop and to a salmon habitat restoration project in Johnson Pass.
The Iditarod National Historic Trail unfolds as you’ll continue to follow gold miners trails made famous by Alaskan huskies. Weather permitting, you’ll even climb to elevation at Lynx Creek for panoramic views of the surrounding valleys and creeks. Alternately, if weather does not permit the former, you’ll ride the meadows and trails of Turnagain Pass.
Sourced from: Turnagain Pass Snowmobiling. Alaska Backcountry Access. https://alaskabackcountryaccess.com/alaska-snowmobile-tour/
Though we did not get to do this adventure, because we visited too early in the winter season, you best believe it was on our list! Take the ultimate Alaskan adventure via dog sled to Kenai Fjords National Park’s famous Exit Glacier with Seavey’s Ididaride. The Seaveys are a family of Iditarod Champions and I even watched Dallas Seavey (the youngest Iditarod Champion) compete on multiple seasons of “Ultimate Survival Alaska” (on NatGeo). Thus, you know you’re in the best hands for a whirlwind adventure!
Between December 21st – March 15th, this tour takes you 15 miles roundtrip to Exit Glacier for a total of 3.5 hours of adventure with your 5-dog team. You will even stop for snacks and warm drinks (provided). The cost is: $249 per person.
WINTER ACTIVITIES IN ALASKA:
What to look forward to next!
Next up, I will be releasing my guide on how to dress/ what to wear for your Alaskan Winter Travels. If you have any questions, regarding this topic or any of the topics in this current post, feel free to ask in the comments below! Be sure to subscribe to my site below so that you can stay up-to-date on my new content releases.
Subscribe to my website, for free, below at “Learn how I edit my photos“.
WINTER ACTIVITIES IN ALASKA:
As always, thank you so much for reading and I’d love any feedback at all! Please share your thoughts, comments and questions below.
Enjoy this post? Feel free to Pin it below!