Tips for creating an elevated experience!
Winter tourism is hot in Alaska right now, and as a result visitors now have access to areas of the state that only residents knew about in the past. This is exciting! Now, let's elevate your Alaska vacation from typical to amazing with these insider tips.
Simply planning ahead in a few areas makes all the difference. If you still aren't confident in your ability to achieve the vacation you desire, we've done the leg work for you with two itineraries that might fit the bill.
WEATHER TEMPERATURES & CONDITIONS
If you are worried about the temperatures in Alaska as this time, don't be. Winters in southern Alaska tend to be relatively mild, and John Hall's Alaska guests will be fashioned with black, sub-zero jackets. is a great website for tracking temps and predicting the weather when you get ready to pack...more on packing later. Snow storms are hit and miss and not unlike the lower 48 in their intensity. (yes, large snow falls do happen, but they are not the norm). In Anchorage, there may be snow on the ground, there may not be. In past years, the city has had to truck in snow in early March just to have something for the Iditarod sleds to slide on during the ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage.
Here is some helpful information about average winter temperatures at the time of our tour departures in late February/March:
• Anchorage Average Temperatures: High 34°F Low 17°F
• Willow Average Temperatures: High 35°F Low 8°
• Fairbanks Average Temperatures: High 25°F Low 2°F
• Arctic Circle Average Temperatures: High 15°F Low -10°
Late February and March are great times for another reason- sunlight! Days have grown long enough to supply visitors with 12-15 hours of daylight, plenty of time to get outside and have some fun!
THE BEST WINTER MONTHS FOR OUT OF STATE VISITORS AND WHY
Winter tourism in Alaska is really focused around a number of festivals happening in late February through March. Usually the last week of February, Alaska's begin to celebrate a 10-day cultural mish-mash called Fur Rondy and in early March the state of Alaska is home to the last great race, The Iditarod, which comes with its own host of celebrations. If you plan to do more than just ski on your vacation, then keep your travel time within this time frame for the largest selection of activities available, mainly grouped along the Anchorage to Fairbanks travel corridor.
Fur Rondy Festival: Based in Anchorage, its easy for our guests to hop of the plane, settle in to their hotel and then head out at their leisure to enjoy the events of Fur Rondy. After a long flight, we suggest you do the same! Stay awake and get accustomed to the time change while enjoying shopping, food vendors, dog sled races, Outhouse Races, and our favorite, the Running of the Reindeer.
Iditarod: Early March visitors can take in the celebrations surrounding the Iditarod. The Musher's Banquet and Iditarod Ceremonial Start in Anchorage provide opportunities for visitors to chat with mushers. The Ceremonial Start allows you the chance to observe dog teams as they gear up and get ready to race. If you enjoy the Iditarod, we encourage you to continue north to Willow to participate in the Official Start of the Iditarod. This is when things really get serious and you can actually feel, and definitely hear, the anxious energy of the dog teams.
Additional activities to build into your vacation could include skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, photo safaris, brewery tours, dog sledding, wildlife viewing, fat bike tire riding (rentals available in Anchorage), Northern Lights viewing, and ice fishing.
HOW TO PACK FOR YOUR WINTER VACATION
If you're willing to travel all the way to Alaska for your vacation you should prepare to be outside so you can enjoy an in depth experience. You'll need to prepare for extended outdoor time to remain comfortable throughout your trip. If you plan ahead, winter gear can be rented and picked up upon arrival, eliminating the need for buying your own which can get expensive.
Here is a basic guide packing guide to get you started:
Suggested packing list:
• Winter hat and gloves- mittens provide greater warmth but are more difficult to operate camera equipment
• Thermal base layers with materials such as synthetics, merino wool, or silk
• Sun protection such as sunglasses, cap & sunscreen
• Layers for various weather conditions and indoor use
• Face mask and/or balaclava
• Chapstick with SPF
• Snow pants
• Hand and/or foot warmers to enjoy the outdoors longer
• Ice cleats if planning to hike- suggested brands include Stabilicers, Yaktrax, ICETrekkers, and Kahtoola
• Winter boots rated -40°F - 0°F are best - or bring foot warmers to accompany warmer rated boots
• Binoculars or spotting scope for wildlife
Summer packing guides are available if interested.
VIEWING NORTHERN LIGHTS
Most winter Alaska visitors will expect to enjoy a grand Northern Lights display while on vacation. This is completely possible if you set yourself up to be in the right spot at the right time.
A grand display depends on three factors: atmospheric conditions; clear skies; and limited city light pollution. First, you need to know when atmospheric conditions are right for a bright display. Try installing an Aurora alert application on your phone before you leave home. Simultaneously, you will need to know which hours of the night are predicted to be clear and not cloudy. Clear Dark Sky updates a daily chart with each hour of the day and what to expect for light and cloud cover conditions.
Once you have a night with great atmospheric conditions and you've selected the best hours for clear skies, you need to travel outside of the city to eliminate city light pollution. If you are in Anchorage, it's best to head at least 1 hour north of the city or thirty minutes south along the Seward Highway to the town of Girdwood. If in Fairbanks, anywhere 20 minutes outside of town should do it. Smaller towns like Talkeetna are ideal so you don't need to move at all.
If you want to capture the Northern Lights on your camera, you'll need to pack a few more items:
Suggested (not required) packing list for Northern Lights photography:
• Camera with ability to adjust manually to take time exposures of 10-30 seconds or longer
• Tripod for photographing the northern lights
• Spare camera batteries for photographing in the cold
• Lens hood/shield
• Head lamp- preferably with red light option for hands-free operation
• 1 gallon or 2 gallon XL Ziploc storage bag to store camera for acclimation of outdoors to indoors (potential for condensation)
JOHN HALL'S ALASKA WINTER PACKAGES - FUN FOR ALL AGES
We've discussed that there are a variety of outdoor activities available and we want to assure you that many of our guests are of retirement age and still enjoying these excursions. Don't let your age keep you away from Alaska in the winter. If you have questions we would love to give you specifics on the types of daily excursions you can enjoy based upon your mobility comfort- Call 800.325.2270.
Here's the low-down on the John Hall's Alaska winter packages:
Our 8-day Alaska's Winter Wonders vacation spends time in Anchorage, Talkeetna and Girdwood. An Aurora Borealis viewing dream trip, guests will witness Alaska’s beautiful Northern Lights on up to seven nights. Fun for all ages, we’ve included the opportunity to go dog sledding, skiing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling. Plus, you will enjoy an amazing flightseeing tour around North America’s tallest mountain, Denali and a glacier landing for a snow ball fight or just a walk around. This trip includes two Adventure Days allowing everyone in the family to customize their vacation to fit their desires. Don't like to ski? Enjoy a day at the Alyeska Resort spa instead. Want to get outside and exercise? Choose to snowshoe or snowmobile in Fairbanks. You get the picture. This trip is a great choice for families of varied ages since the activity choices are there. Sled dog rides at Trail Breaker Kennels will appeal to all mobility levels. Up to seven nights of Aurora Viewing is possible on this itinerary.
Our 11-day Iditarod and Aurora Adventure has been recognized by the Travel Channel as a "great way to experience Alaska in the winter". We happen to agree! Be a part of Alaska's exciting Iditarod action with this tour. From meeting the mushers at Musher's Banquet to watching the start of the race in Willow and Anchorage, to a flight out to an Iditarod checkpoint. Interact with and experience first hand this legendary event! Enjoy up to seven nights of Northern Lights viewing plus choose your own adventure at Taste of Alaska Lodge. For 2022, the Iditarod checkpoint is an optional experience, so that guests who do not enjoy small planes can refrain from participating and be credited the cost of that excursion. However, this enriching excursion allows guests to interact with mushers after their dog teams arrive the checkpoint. Guests can observe as the dog teams are vet checked, fed, watered, and resting up for the next leg of their journey. Often, it is at these checkpoints that our guests get to take pictures with past and present Iditarod Champions!