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Alaska in January: A Complete Guide to Visiting in Winter

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There’s something magical about your first experience of winter in Alaska. Maybe it’s spotting the alpenglow on mountains as your plane descends down to land; maybe it’s stepping off the plane onto the jetway and seeing it covered in snow. No matter what, you probably won’t forget those first few moments in The Last Frontier in the snowy months – a true winter wonderland.

Having spent 15 winters in Alaska growing up, I well remember the short days, the biting cold, and the awe inspired by a fresh layer of snow to go out and play in no matter your age. Visiting Alaska in January is a great option if you want to enjoy that true winter weather, but want to escape the crowds that visit during other times of the season (though admittedly, these crowds are far smaller than those that flock to the state during the summer months).

Alaska in January Hero

If you’re planning a January trip to Alaska, below you’ll find all the basics you need to know: weather and daylight hours, activities and places to visit, and what to pack to stay warm enough to enjoy it all. Don’t forget to also consult my Alaska winter itinerary for non-January-specific tips, and – of course – to have a great time.

In this post, I promote travel to destinations that is the traditional lands of many Alaska Native groups, including the Aleut, Athabascan, Haida, Inupiat, Tlingit, and Yuit peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally published in October 2022, and is updated annually in October each year.

Weather in Alaska in January

Talking about the weather in Alaska is tricky, given it varies considerably depending on the region. This said, I’ll focus on the weather you can expect in Anchorage (in Southcentral Alaska) and Fairbanks (in Interior Alaska), which are the bigger cities I recommend visiting in January in Alaska. 

Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city and sits on the southern coast. Consequently, it enjoys a more temperate climate and receives more precipitation. Winter weather peaks in January in Anchorage, and is the city’s coldest month of the year. During January, Anchorage’s average high temperatures are around 23°F (-5°C), while average lows are around 11°F (-12°C). The sky is overcast about 60% of the month and snows about 5” (13 cm) over the course of the month. 

Fairbanks sits about 260 miles north of Anchorage. Don’t be fooled by the short distance! This has a huge impact on the weather. In January in Fairbanks, average high temperatures are about 5°F (-15°C) and average lows are about -12°F (-25°C). It’s cloudy about 40% of the time and the average snowfall is 2” (53mm). 

As you can see, you should never underestimate the impact that a few (hundred) miles can have on the weather in Alaska. In January temperatures range from an average low of 9°F (-13°C) to an average high of 22°F (-5°C) in Alaska. It’s clear about 60% of the days, so you should be able to see what little sun is visible (only about 5-6 hours per day on average).

Daylight Hours in Alaska in January

You’ll also benefit from knowing how many hours of daylight Alaska gets in January. While January is not the darkest month of the year, most towns in Alaska still don’t get to see the sun very much during this month.  

Just like the weather, sunlight varies a lot depending on the geography:

  • In Anchorage, days have about 6 hours and 30 minutes of sunlight on average. The shortest day of the month is January 1st with 5 hours and 40 minutes of daylight. The good news is that days start to lengthen from here, reaching a total of just under 8 daylight hours by the end of the month.
  • In Fairbanks, the shortest day of the month also is January 1st, with just over4 hours of daylight. The longest day, which is also the last one, has almost 7 hours of sunlight. 

As a general rule, the further north you go during the winter months, the shorter the days and the longer the nights. If you’re traveling above the Arctic Circle, be prepared for no daylight! 

Top Events to Attend in Alaska in January

There’s no shortage of things to do in January in Alaska, and each area has activities that are unique to it. January is a quiet month when it comes to entertainment outside the seasonal activities, or at least not many events have been announced at this point – I’ll try to update this post once we get closer to January in case new events are announced.

Nonetheless, you can check to see if any special events are happening at the site for each city or community: Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer, Juneau, Ketchikan, Seward, Sitka, and Skagway.

Celebrating New Year’s in Alaska (Dec 31-Jan 1)

Alaska in January - New Years Fireworks

While it’s been a while since I last celebrated the New Year in Alaska, I’m certain there are always fireworks that light up the dark night, and a unique ambiance that will make you start your New Year off right.

  • In Anchorage, people descend to the downtown area where there are all kinds of festivities. The fireworks start at 8pm.
  • In my hometown of Eagle River (about 10 miles north of Anchorage), you’ll find fireworks and food trucks at Lions Park from 6-8pm.
  • South of Anchorage in Girdwood, the Alyeska Resort hosts the Torchlight Parade, where 300 volunteer skiers and snowboards glide down the mountain with bright, phosphorus flares. There’s also a fantastic fireworks display. Celebrations start at 9 pm.

Seward Polar Bear Jump Weekend (Jan 13)

Alaska in January - Polar Plunge

Daring travelers with a big heart can participate in the Seward Polar Bear Jump Festival. This winter festival is based in Seward, and every year, brave locals and travelers dress up with their craziest costumes and jump into the frigid waters of Resurrection Bay. 

It isn’t just for fun or to show their prowess as winter swimmers; they do it in an effort to raise money for charity. All the funds raised by the festival go towards the Kenai Peninsula Children with Cancer Grant Program, which gives money to families that have children battling Cancer on the Kenai Peninsula here in Alaska.

If you’re in Seward for the weekend of January 13th, you can register for the event if you’re up for the challenge – or just watch and cheer for those brave enough to hop into the frigid waters.

AK Beer Week Month (January 15-February 14)

Where to Eat in Skagway - Skagway Brewing Company Beer

After the success of hosting a state-wide beer week for a few years, AK Beer Week, I mean, Month, is back for 2024. There will be events held throughout the state to celebrate the diverse craft beer scene, ranging from scavenger hunts to beer releases and keg talks to specialty tastings.

This is a must-attend for all fans of a fine brew; be sure to check the website to see when and where events are happening during your planned Alaska trip. It’s especially well-timed given the lack of events during this month otherwise, and the fact that a great beer can help cut the chill when you step back outside to head to your hotel or next adventure.

Anchorage Folk Festival (January 19-28)

If you love live music and are planning a mid-winter trip to Alaska’s biggest city, be sure to schedule time to enjoy performances as part of the Anchorage Folk Festival (folk music is popular across Alaska so there are a number of these festivals in different communities across the state and throughout the year!).

This year, the two headline acts are Frog Holler and I Draw Slow, hailing from Pennsylvania and Ireland, respectively. The festival lineup promises nights of great music and art – and best of all, it’s free to attend thanks to the many large sponsor companies!

What to Pack for Alaska in January

Alaska’s weather calls for careful preparation when it comes to packing. That is why I have written an entire Alaska winter packing list so you can see the basics I recommend for any trip. But, if you want the ultimate advice for what to pack for Alaska, it is to bring layers. 

Layers allow you to stay warm according to the temperature changes you experience while doing different activities – you want to avoid overheating and sweating as much as you can. 

To give you more specific advice on how I layered to stay warm in the Alaskan winter, here’s what I’m wearing in both of the photos above:

  • On top, I’m wearing a base layer (I love Unbound Merino), a long-sleeve cotton shirt, my favorite North Face green jacket, and a heavy, down jacket from Columbia. I have links for both of those jackets in my Alaska jacket guide.
  • On the bottom, I have a base layer (usually also Unbound Merino) and a pair of UNIQLO jeggings for the day; at night, I added on my snowboarding pants from Burton (recommended in my winter packing list linked above).
  • On my feet, I have Smartwool socks; during the day I was wearing my favorite Norwegian-style snow booties, and I switched to heavy-duty snow boots at night when it got colder. Both are linked in my Alaska shoe and boot guide.
  • On my head, I’m wearing a simple synthetic beanie. I also have a synthetic scarf (not the best choice, I’d choose a merino wool today).
  • On my hands, I have liner gloves as a base layer, and my snowboarding mittens to layer them up, especially at night.

I also had hand and foot warmers that I tucked into my boots and mittens to help keep my fingers and toes warm at night – I visited at an especially cold time in February 2020 when the lowest temp we experienced was -35°F in Fairbanks! BRRRRR!

Have any other questions about visiting Alaska in January? Let me know in the comments below!

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

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