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While March might signal the end of winter in some parts of the country, that’s not the case for Alaska: March is still very much a winter month, tapering toward the “break-up” season as it comes to an end. (Break-up refers to the time when all the snow and ice melts, creating a muddy mess – it’s the start of Alaska’s short spring season.)
That said, March is an incredible month to visit Alaska. The sun is slowly coming back as days get dramatically longer, aurora season is at one of its semi-annual peaks, and there are a variety of fascinating events and things to do in bigger cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks. If you’re planning to visit Alaska in March, you’re in for a treat.
During my last winter visit in 2020, I was in Alaska for part of March. While there, I had the chance to ride the train across snowy landscapes, hold on to a dog sled tearing across the frozen countryside, and warm back up in hot springs after long nights under the northern lights.
That all sounds pretty good, right? Whether you’ve booked your trip already or are considering dates in March, here’s how to plan your Alaska trip in the third month of the year.
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.
Weather in Alaska in March
As mentioned above, March is not the end of winter in Alaska – it’s still part of the winter season. This means you should pack and plan for winter weather if you want to visit Alaska in March.
Additionally, Alaska’s huge geography plays a role in what you can expect regarding temperatures. In this section, I’ll give you an overview of the weather you can expect in Anchorage (in Southcentral Alaska) and Fairbanks (in Interior Alaska), which are the bigger cities I recommend visiting in March in Alaska.
Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city and the one with the most amenities. It sits on the southern coast and has a subarctic climate. March is the first month of spring in Anchorage. However, don’t expect the temperature to vary a lot. March is still freezing, with an average temperature ranging between a high of around 29 °F (-2°C) and a low near 18°F (-8°C). It snows (or possibly rains if it’s unseasonably warm) most of the month.
Fairbanks is about 260 miles north of Anchorage; while it may not seem a considerable distance, in Alaska, the weather dramatically changes in a small radius. Fairbanks is (still) frigid cold in March, with an average temperature fluctuating from as high as 21°F (-6°C) to a low of 2°F (-17°C). Surprisingly, Fairbanks is drier in March, only snowing about half of the month.
Daylight Hours in Alaska in March
You may not consider it when you’re first planning your Alaska trip, but knowing how much sunlight Alaska receives during March will help you organize your itinerary better. While days have started to lengthen, Alaska doesn’t get a ton of sunlight during March.
Daylight hours in Alaska change depending on the region:
- In Anchorage, March days range in length from about 10.5 hours in length at the beginning of the month to almost 13.5 hours in length at the end of the month.
- In Fairbanks, days increase from 10 hours long on the 1st to 13.5 hours by the 31st.
This huge increase is in part due to daylight savings time, which occurs in early March, as well as the time surrounding the March equinox when Alaska gains the greatest number of minutes per day as the days increase in length.
Destinations to Visit in Alaska in March
Like in all my itineraries, I recommend you plan your trip to Alaska around Southcentral and Interior Alaska if you’re visiting in March. Keep reading below to find out which destinations are worth visiting during this final month of winter.
Whether you visit in winter or fall, summer or winter, Anchorage is an excellent base for any Alaska trip. The largest Alaskan city thrives during the summer months, however it’s still has a great tourist offer in winter. In fact, Anchorage offers endless opportunities for you to experience the baby of Alaskan winter.
I’ve got a complete list of winter activities to do in Anchorage, and I recommend giving yourself at least two nights here to enjoy them.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park is a destination that should always have a place in every Alaska itinerary. However, if you plan to visit Alaska in the winter, you may wonder if the park is open. The short answer is… kind of. The National Park Service states that Denali National Park is open during the winter, and there is staff available to support the park and visitors who make their way.
Having said this, you should take into account a few things:
- The Park Road closes at Mile 3, so vehicle access into Denali is limited in winter. For those who enjoy the outdoors, there’s the option of getting a permit to ski, snowshoe, or hike back into the park at your own risk.
- If you’re driving, you can also book accommodation in Healy, a community 11 miles north of the park entrance which is active year-round (unlike the tourist-oriented Nenana Canyon area that closes in mid-September each year).
- If you don’t have a car (or don’t want to drive in the snow), the Alaska Railroad offers a flag-stop service to Denali Park as part of the Aurora Winter Train; this means you can book a ticket to/from Denali in advance or flag down the train. As a heads up, the only accommodation in the Denali area during the winter is the campgrounds.
Fairbanks is another excellent city to visit on your March trip to Alaska. I’m not supposed to choose favorites, but to me, Fairbanks is Alaska’s top winter playground. There are some incredible and unique things to do in Fairbanks in the winter, like winter walking with reindeer, riding a dog sled, and soaking in hot springs
While Fairbanks is a great destination, you’ll need to rent a car if you want to get the most out of your visit. Be sure to rent a car with studded tires to help you better drive on the snow and ice!
Top 5 Things to Do in Alaska in March
You’ll never run out of things to do in March in Alaska, with each area offering activities that are unique to them. Since I can’t include them all, I’ve narrowed this list down to my top five activities to help you plan your own itinerary for this trip.
People are drawn to Alaska for its incredible landscapes, beautiful wildlife, and, yes, for being one of the best places in the world to view the northern lights. Luckily, viewing the aurora or northern lights is one of the top things to do in Alaska in March, and is possible from both Fairbanks and Anchorage.
Alaska’s endless hours of darkness and its location close to the Auroral Oval are perfect for seeing the northern lights in all their glory. If viewing the northern lights is the main reason you’re visiting Alaska, check out my guide to help you organize your trip.
Dog Sledding & the Iditarod
Some of the best activities Alaska offers can be enjoyed in the winter season only. Dog sledding is one of these. Both Anchorage and Fairbanks are home to numerous kennels offering winter excursions. (It is worth noting that there are dog sledding tours in the summer, but they don’t happen on the snow unless you take a flight up to land on a glacier!)
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, more commonly known as The Iditarod, is another unique event you can enjoy during your trip. This annual long-distance sled dog race takes place in early March and travels from Anchorage to Nome.
For travelers, dog sledding may seem like a fun and unique experience. But, this activity has played a huge role in Alaska’s settlement. Dog sledding was a primary means for personal transportation and mail delivery across the state. The Iditarod commemorates and acts as a reminder of how important four-legged friends have been throughout Alaska’s history.
Ice fishing is an awesome way to enjoy the outdoors if you’re not the active kind. It’s fun, it’s easy, and you’ll get to explore wonderful scenery. Anchorage’s lake area is a great place to go ice fishing, and you’ll find numerous tour operators offering ice fishing excursions.
Tour guides will guide you through the whole process. You’ll learn how to drill a hole in the ice, how to catch fish if you’re a newbie, and about the different types of fish in Alaska.
For the intrepid traveler, snowshoeing is a great alternative for exploring the beauty of Alaska in the winter. Don’t have room in your suitcase to pack snowshoes? No worries – there are places to rent them in both Anchorage and Fairbanks.
In Anchorage, there are a couple of snowshoe rentals, with Alaska Outdoor Gear Rental and Alaska Mountaineering & Hiking as two popular options. There are also plenty of nice trails around. My favorite place is out at the Eagle River Nature Center near where I grew up, as the trails are flat and easy for most people; you will need a car to reach this spot.
In Fairbanks, Trax Outdoor Center rents snowshoes. Head to Creamer’s Field on the edge of town for a nice flat area to walk in the snow.
Soaking in Hot Springs
So far, all the activities I’ve mentioned demand a fair amount of energy. Luckily, Alaska also has the perfect activity to slow down when the time for relaxing comes: soaking in hot springs.
There are two spots where you can take a dip and enjoy a peaceful time in Alaska:
- Chena Hot Springs – Located near Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs are the most popular hot springs in Alaska. Both the community and resort have grown exponentially since I was a kid. The property now has a large outdoor pool to soak in naturally-heated water.
- The Nordic Spa – Part of the Alyeska Resort, this property is a newer alternative in the hot spring scene. I visited the spa during my August 2022 visit, and I believe this place it’s going to be even better in the winter months than it is in summer. They have different dry and wet saunas, hot pools, and cold plunge pools, with more options planned soon.
Both venues open the hot springs day or night, meaning you can take a dip first thing in the morning to start your day fresh or at night to go to sleep warm and relaxed.
As a heads up, you will also need a car to reach both of these spots. Yes, in case you’re wondering, you’ll be driving a lot during your trip to Alaska.
What to Pack for Alaska in March
Alaska’s March 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 March? Let me know in the comments below!