How to Travel to Alaska in December

If you love deep, dark winter punctuated by the dazzle of holiday activities, December is an exhilarating time to visit Alaska. The days are short, the nights are long, and usually, the landscape has been stunningly transformed by a durable white cover. While the famous attractions are closed for the season, city museums are open, and winter sports like dogsledding and skiing are getting into their seasonal groove.

Alaskans embrace this season with high spirits; restaurants, shops, theaters, and malls grow crowded and sometimes raucous. In fact, the last two weeks of December often feel like one continuous festival. Amid the celebrations, it’s a great time to meet locals.

Key Details

  • December is full winter. You may find a foot or more of snow, icy roads, and single-digit temperatures at night.
  • Dawn blooms at mid-morning (about 9 a.m. in Anchorage, later as you go north), with sunset fading by mid-afternoon (about 3:30 p.m. in Anchorage).
  • Clear nights will turbocharge viewing of the northern lights.
  • Many of Alaska’s famous attractions and visitor facilities are shuttered, but you can find plenty of lodges and bed and breakfasts operating on winter schedules. Lodging can be less expensive than during summer, though venues sometimes charge more during the holiday weeks.

Getting Outdoors

  • Cross-country and downhill ski venues usually open by early December, and major rural trail systems often accumulate enough cover to allow snowmachining, dog mushing, and snowshoeing by late December.
  • Anchorage, Fairbanks, and other communities feature extensive groomed trail systems—both multi-use and ski-only—with many miles of lighted recreation. (Night skiing is a blast.)
  • If there's no snow yet, plunging temperatures almost always freeze bodies of water and make trails rock hard. Hiking with ice-grippers and ski poles is very doable—no bugs or bears! Studded-tire biking and skating on wild ice are other popular alternatives to snow sports.

Seeing Wildlife

December is not prime time for seeing most of Alaska’s iconic animals. Still, scores of moose often converge on urban areas; in Anchorage, they can be easier to see than during summer. Natural areas like the windswept Palmer Hay Flats and Potter Marsh also also good spots to see them. Ravens seem to dominate the sky, with resident forest birds like chickadees and redpolls making appearances in the barren trees. Snowshoe hares have gone bright white, and it’s not uncommon to see the tracks of their nemesis, the lynx, printed in fresh snow. In fact, taking a stroll with a guide to animal tracks can make any fresh dusting into an open book about wildlife activity.

What to Pack

Bring winter clothing that allows you to dress in layers. Including a warm parka with a hood, combined with insulated boots, hat, and gloves will enable you to comfortably take a stroll or visit outdoor venues. (And keep in mind that Alaskans almost always dress in regular clothes when shopping and going out to eat). Of course, tackling winter sports might require extra layers or specialized winter gear, especially if you plan to be outdoors for many hours or to travel into the backcountry. For tips, see our winter clothing guide.

Things to Do in December

Jump to: Anchorage | Seward | Girdwood | Portage | Talkeetna | Denali | Fairbanks | Homer | Juneau

Anchorage

Go Outside

Get Cultural

Other Cool Stuff

  • Catch the holiday spirit. The city’s Christmas tree is lit all month in Town Square Park at Fifth Avenue and F Street. Go on the 31st for the New Year’s Eve extravaganza, with a dance party starting at 5 p.m., followed by a kid-friendly fireworks display at 8 p.m.
  • See local wildlife. Check out local critters at The Alaska Zoo; come Thursday to Saturday to enjoy Zoo Lights, where the zoo is lit up with colorful light displays.
  • Ride the rails. Take the Aurora Winter Train to see the snowy backcountry on a weekend trip to Talkeetna or Fairbanks. The train heads north on Saturday and returns to Anchorage Sunday. (Or you can ride one way to Fairbanks, spend a few days, and fly back with RavnAir).
  • See local hockey. Take in a University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves hockey game. Wear yellow and green if you’ve got ’em!

Seward

Girdwood

  • Explore dining hot spots. Head to The Double Musky for Cajun Alaskan, Jack Sprat for “fat & lean world cuisine,” and Chair 5 for pizza and pub food.
  • Go downhill skiing. On New Year’s Eve, the Alyeska Resort features a Torchlight Parade, where skiers and snowboarders descend the mountain with torches in hand. You'll also find fireworks and parties.

Portage

Talkeetna

  • Go flightseeing. Take a once-in-a-lifetime flight around Denali, North America's tallest peak. It's just one highlight of this picturesque community, which you can get to on an easy train ride from Anchorage.
  • Celebrate Winterfest. This month-long festival launches on the first weekend of December with a "Wilderness Woman" competition and bachelor auction. Later in the month, there's a ceremonial lighting of the Christmas tree, a parade of lights, and a progressive dinner showcasing the village’s many restaurants.

Denali

  • Go snowshoeing. Explore the trails in a unique way. You can borrow a pair of snowshoes at the Murie Science & Learning Center for free!
  • Enjoy other activities. There are gobs of things to do near the visitor center every winter day. Many people bring their own equipment for snow biking or cross-country skiing. Anybody can take a winter hike and then eat lunch in the indoor picnic center.
  • Take multi-day winter adventures. Traverse Alaska offers adventures from Tonglen Lake Lodge. Try winter hiking, ice bowling, or dogsledding with a local musher. The northern lights can be outstanding from the lodge.
  • Chill out at a free campground. Riley Creek campground is about 1.5 miles from the Science Center; just come prepared, as the average low is a chilly minus-3 degrees!

Fairbanks

Homer

Juneau

  • Learn the history. Stop at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum for a better understanding of Juneau's cultural heritage and visit the Alaska State Museum.
  • Visit Mendenhall Glacier. One of Alaska’s most accessible glaciers becomes even easier to view once its lake freezes solid and winter trails get packed. The visitor center is open winter weekends.
  • Downhill ski with an ocean view. Just 25 minutes from downtown Juneau on Douglas Island, the Eaglecrest Ski Area generally opens by early December.
  • Sing your heart out. Or just listen at the Thursday night Open Mic at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar.

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