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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.
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 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 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
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!
- Dog sledding (also called mushing)
- Downhill and Nordic/Cross-Country Skiing
- Fat Tire Biking
- Ice Fishing
- Riding the Alaska Railroad’s Aurora Winter Train
- 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!
#3. You can See the Northern Lights
I get emails all the time that read something like:
I’m visiting Alaska in April/May/June/July/August, where can I see the northern lights?
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
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
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!
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