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5 Reasons to Visit Alaska in the Winter

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In the past few years since I started writing about Alaska, I’ve noticed a trend. While I still get tons of emails with summer travel questions, increasingly people want to know why and how to visit Alaska in the winter.

To this end, I’ve written this post about all the reasons you should visit Alaska in the winter months. (I’ve also defined exactly which months are winter in Alaska!). After a recent trip to Alaska in the winter (February 2020), I put together this post to help others discover what makes this destination so special during the “off” season. I also have an Alaska winter itinerary that will help you put together your own Alaska winter trip.

Alaska in Winter Hero

Okay, without further ado, let’s jump into those reasons to visit Alaska in the winter. If you’re on the fence, these five reasons will show you that winter is a great season to visit Alaska – according to someone who survived – aka lived there – for 15 winters!

In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are 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 September 2019, and was updated most recently in September 2023.

#1. It’s Not That Cold During Alaska’s Winter Months

I mean, it’s not Hawaii or anything, but whatever you have in mind for how frozen the Great Frozen North of Alaska might be during the winter is probably an exaggeration. Heck, I thought it was colder in Iowa during the winter because of wind chill – which isn’t often a problem in Alaska.

Yes, you’ll need to bundle up (so be sure to check my Alaska winter packing list before you board your flight), but with the right gear and a good attitude, you can handle all the cold Alaska throws at you.

Alaska in October

While September might mark the official start of autumn according to the celestial calendar, it’s really the only month of autumn in many parts of the state. By mid-October, winter weather is setting in across the Last Frontier – and cold, snowy days and nights are not only possible, but expected. In October, temperatures in Alaska range from an average low of 28°F (-2°C) to an average high of 40°F (4°C).

In terms of weather, October is one of the months where you can expect more precipitation – usually, this will be snow, but it might be freezing rain if it’s a warmer year. It’s also cloudy roughly 40-45% of days in October.

Check out my guide to visiting Alaska in October.

Alaska in November

By November, winter has fully arrived across almost all of Alaska. In November, temperatures in Alaska range from an average low of 16°F (-9°C) to an average high of 28°F (-2°C). In major cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks, you can expect an average of just 8 hours of daylight per day in November.

Check out my guide to visiting Alaska in November.

Alaska in Winter - Frozen Lake

Alaska in December

December marks the beginning of winter and also holds the darkest day of the year (the winter solstice on December 21st). If you’re visiting in December, plan for long, dark nights and frosty days (and nights!).

In December, temperatures in Alaska range from an average of 11°F (-12°C) to an average high of 24°F (-4°C). It usually doesn’t snow as much in December as earlier in the winter and you’ll more often find clear starry skies as the winter holidays approach.

Check out my guide to visiting Alaska in December.

Alaska in January

I’ll be honest, January was always my least favorite month while living in Alaska during the winter: it’s cold and dark and Christmas is over! In January, temperatures in Alaska range from an average low of 9°F (-13°C) to an average high of 22°F (-5°C). It’s clear about 60% of days, so you should be able to see what little sun is visible (only about 5-6 hours per day on average).

Check out my guide to visiting Alaska in January.

Alaska in Winter - Sunrise

Alaska in February

February is only a little less cold and a little less dark than January, but one of Alaska’s most famous winter events begin in February (see below!)! In February, temperatures in Alaska range from an average low of 12°F (-11°C) to an average high of 26°F (-3°C). This increase in temperatures is partly because there’s a bit more cloud cover (about 50% of days) and about 8 hours a day of sunlight.

Check out my guide to visiting Alaska in February.

Alaska in March

March is the final month that I consider winter in Alaska – Spring officially begins on March 21st, after all! It’s still cold and you probably won’t find any tulips popping up from the (still) frozen ground – but you’ll experience more sunlight and warmer weather.

In March, temperatures in Alaska range from an average low of 18°F (-8°C) to an average high of 34°F (1°C) – above freezing! There won’t be much snow in March, and you’ll get to enjoy the average 10 hours of daylight per day.

Check out my guide to visiting Alaska in March.

#2. There’s Plenty to Do in Alaska During the Winter

Alaska in Winter - Denali

Beyond sightseeing Alaska’s greatest sights with a coat of fresh, white snow, what else is there to do in Alaska during the winter? As it turns out: lots!

I’ve got specific guides to visiting Anchorage and Fairbanks in the winter with specific things to do in each of those cities in the winter, but here are some of the highlights:

  • Dog sledding (also called mushing)
  • Downhill and Nordic/Cross-Country Skiing
  • Fat Tire Biking
  • Ice Fishing
  • Riding the Alaska Railroad’s Aurora Winter Train
  • Snowmobiling
  • Snowshoeing
  • Soaking in hot springs

And much, much more. Hopefully this shows you that no matter when you visit Alaska during the winter, there’s plenty to do in addition to sightseeing!

Want help planning your Alaska trip?

I grew up in Alaska and it’s my favorite place to visit – let me help you make your trip planning easier!

#3. You can See the Northern Lights

Alaska Winter Packing List - Aurora

I get emails all the time that read something like:

Dear Valerie,

I’m visiting Alaska in April/May/June/July/August, where can I see the northern lights?

A Reader

The answer, dear reader, is nowhere. I probably should have led with this, but winter is the only season you can see the Northern Lights in Alaska. Because of axial tilt and other great astronomical facts, the sky is too light to see the aurora during Alaska’s summer months. That means if you have “see the Northern Lights” on your Alaska Bucket List, you must visit between October and March. Here’s a whole guide I wrote about planning a trip to see the northern lights in Alaska.

If you want a better understanding of how the seasons, weather, and time of year affect when the “best” time to visit Alaska is, I’ve got an article all about that!

Top Places to See the Northern Lights in Alaska

I’ve done a fair bit of research in addition to my own experiences seeing the northern lights while growing up, and here are some of my top spots to see the aurora borealis:

  • Outside Fairbanks – Widely considered the top destination for seeing the northern lights in Alaska, Fairbanks is where you can base yourself to optimize your chances to see them on a winter Alaska trip. There are great properties like Borealis Basecamp and Chena Hot Springs which host guests specifically for aurora viewing.
  • Near Anchorage – A popular hiking trail, Flattop Mountain lets you get above the city lights for a clear view of the night sky. The parking lot (near Glen Alps Overlook) can work for seeing the aurora, or if you’re feeling ambitious you can hike the trail for an even better view.
  • Near Eagle River – I grew up in Eagle River, so this is my favorite spot! There are two parking areas near Beach Lake, and depending on which one you can reach by car (depending on the snow). You’ll be well away from light pollution with great overhead views of the sky and the northern lights.

#4. You will encounter Approximately Zero Crowds

Alaska in Winter - Anchorage

On a scale of 0-5 for how much tourism Alaska gets each month, Alaska receives very little tourism in the winter months between October and March (source) – especially compared to the crowds you’ll encounter during the summer. This means that unlike during the summer, when you might have to queue up for great photo spots in downtown Anchorage, you’ll be rubbing elbows with locals instead.

Honestly, if you hate crowds and love bundling up to stay warm, winter is the perfect time to visit Alaska.

#5. Winter is the Budget-Friendly Season to Visit Alaska

Alaska in Winter - Mountains

Part of the reason to book a trip to any destination in the off-season is to save money. This is true in Alaska too – which is pretty great since a once-in-a-lifetime summer trip to Alaska often requires a once-in-a-lifetime vacation budget. In the winter, you can save some money to stock up on winter weather gear or splurge on meals to warm up after outdoor Alaskan adventures.

I love searching for flight deals with Kayak; they report that the peak season for booking Alaska flights is February to April. This is probably for people planning trips in May through August… so to get the best deal on flights, book your Alaska winter travel between October and January.

Booking platform Kayak reports that January is the cheapest month to find hotels in Alaska; the average weekend night is around $170 between December and February – compared to $350+ per night in June through August (source).

Are you sold on visiting Alaska in the winter yet? If you have other questions about visiting Alaska in the winter, let me know in the comments below!

Need More Alaska Travel Advice?

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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.


  • Gloria

    Hey V
    My family and I are planning a winter trip to Alaska in October of 2020 and are interested in doing the train ride with hopes of seeing the northern lights. What would you suggest we do and how do we start planning. We don’t even have an idea of how much it will be. My birthday is the 28th of October and I want us all to be there by then. HELP!!! Your advice will be highly appreciated
    Yours truly,

  • Marilyn Noguez

    Hello, I’ll be in Alaska from April 5-12. My main reason of going is to see the Northern Lights. I read so many articles , online websites and it was stating that the viewing was until mid of April . By reading your article you said until March. Please let me know if my chances are so low so I can see if I can do emergency changes. Thank you!

    • Valerie

      Thanks for your comment, Marilyn. That early in April, you have a good chance to see them – the peak of activity is around March 21st each year. It does depend on where you’re going and how much daylight there will be each day – so be sure to check sunrise and sunset charts so you know how late you’ll have to stay up!

  • Konjeti

    Hiiii V,
    I read most of your blogs and emails about Alaska and I really love them..Appreciate your effort on helping everyone to know in-depth about Alaska, which helps to plan their trips.
    Need a suggestion..I’m planning to visit Alaska for fulfilling one of my bucket list items, “THE NORTHERN LIGHTS”. Due to covid travel restrictions, most of the travel plans were cancelled.
    But, if I plan on visiting between Oct 2020 and Mar 2021 to see northern lights, which month would have maximum probability of seeing northern lights?
    And would a 4-5 day trip be sufficient to cover most of the winter attractions and to maximize chances of viewing northern lights??
    Your suggestion is really appreciated! Thanks!

  • Sid

    Hi Valerie!,

    Great blog with great info!. I am considering visiting Alaska in Thanksgiving 2020. How is the weather outlook around Thanksgiving in general? I plan to fly into ANC on 25th and do a day trip to Portage Glacier (see turnagain arm en route) and then drive the Geroge Parks highway to Fairbanks, visiting Talkeetna en route and flying out of Fairbanks on 30th.

    I understand that seeing the Northern lights is dependant on multiple factors , and that day light runs short during my visit. My primary aim is to experience the dramatic landscape and to capture a few good shots of the long twilight.

    I am concerned about real gloomy days, How is the weather around Thanksgiving in general? Are they very gloomy and overcast? or do we get periods of clear sky and sunshine now and then?

    Is it a good idea to take the drive to Portage on a cloudy day? Any chance I could capture the alpenglow on the Alaskan range around Talkeetna?

    Thank you, I’d really appreciate your suggestion.

    • Valerie

      Sid, sorry, but I honestly can’t tell you what the weather will be like! I can share that twilight isn’t particularly long – it’s only about 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes at night. I also wouldn’t spend the time driving to Portage as you can’t see the glacier without taking a boat ride, and that won’t be running at Thanksgiving time. Have a good trip!

  • Ali Campagna

    Hi there! I’m so glad I found your page. I live in Humboldt California, and I’d like to plan a trip to Alaska with my 19 year old son this winter (…maybe Dec.) to see the Northern lights. I’m just now looking into all that would entail, and I’m pretty unfamiliar with the state. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

  • karan

    Hye Valerie,
    Very informative. I am planning to visit Alaska for the first time in Nov for my bday. Between 19-27th. I would love an itinerary you can suggest please. Ill be flying from toronto.

  • Sarah

    Hi Valerie,

    I found your blog earlier today and have been reading it non-stop! Thank you for going to so much effort to inform the world about Alaska.
    I was wondering if you could provide me with some travel tips for late October till mid November? I am also wondering what it is like to drive in the Southern region (Anchorage to Seward)


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