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 tricky journey. I frightened concerning the roads and excessive chilly, however I’m blissful to report that my fears have 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. Pondering 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 essential to find out about touring to Alaska within the winter:
The Finest Time for Aurora is Close to the Spring Equinox
I’m guessing that your greatest purpose for selecting Alaska within the winter is to see the northern lights, or the aurora borealis.
I’ve seen all of them at totally different occasions of the 12 months, however Alaska particularly affords clearer skies in March, plus the spring equinox tends to have the interval with the most viewing probability.
Alaska can also be the most cost effective place I’ve ever gone to see the Aurora. The Nordic international locations may be fairly costly, as can attending to the Arctic in Canada. However with Alaska airways, residing on the West Coast means we’ve got a fairly straightforward option to rise 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 purpose you could have for going someplace, you could be upset should you don’t see them, which is an actual chance. So choose a spot that has actions you wish 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 National Park as much as mile 12.5 and see the World Ice Art Championships.
Planning Your Itinerary
So let’s get one very apparent factor out of the best way; Alaska is big and also you’re going to need to slim it down in terms of your winter travels there.
You possibly can 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 based mostly ourselves kind of out of Fairbanks, and that is what we noticed:
Although I’m positive 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 straightforward to fly into and well-connected.
Some Elements of Alaska Might be Inaccessible within the Winter
This brings me to my subsequent level. There are some gravel roads and elements of Alaska that aren’t drivable within the winter.
Should 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. Most of the hikes and mountain routes which can be lovely in the summertime will even not be almost as accessible, or clever to aim, 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 could be a very 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 upset by the Alaska within the winter.
The Roads + Renting the Proper Automobile
My greatest concern was how driving could 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 have been very effectively plowed and have been typically all the way down to tar.
As a baby of Southern California, I keep away from driving in any form 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 stated, 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 ravishing mountain yurt in Fairbanks’ ski space, we have been very glad to have it.
That stated, most main automobile rental corporations don’t put winter tires on their vehicles. I solely discovered one, via 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, should you 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 you need to Uber or taxi to their workplace, however I’d nonetheless hire from them once more to have the snow tires.
Temperatures and Gear
Should you’re visiting among the extra northern coastal areas through the Alaskan winter, get ready for some serious cold. I regarded on the climate for probably the most northern metropolis, Utqiagvik, and noticed that that they had a a lot greater humidity proportion 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 mistaken, I nonetheless wanted snow pants, a heavy jacket, merino wool layers, and boots which can be suited to these temperatures, however with the appropriate gear we have been out for hours at evening chasing aurora with out feeling uncomfortable.
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 frightened about highway situations, frightened that we must be utterly self-reliant, and that hardly something could be obtainable 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 on the lookout for the peace and quiet that solely the useless 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 can be again!