Alaska in January and February: Things to Do, Places to Go & What to Pack
If you’re up for a full-on winter experience, Alaska in January and February can be otherworldly. The spectacle of white mountains against azure skies make it a photographer’s dream, while festivals and sporting events rock communities just about every week.
Is it cold? Yes. And though January starts out pretty dark, the days grow continually longer, going from about eight hours of light in early January to more than 12 hours by February’s end. During that window, you can experience amazing winter sports like dogsledding and skiing, and at night you'll have the chance to check out the famous northern lights. Of course, off-season prices can make this time pretty enjoyable as well!
- January and February have a bright, bracing and wide-open feel. Every weekend seems to anchor a race or a festival, with spectators and athletes (and howling dogs.) Cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks host a full range of concerts and performances. There’s so much to do that deep winter can seem busier than summer.
- These months are usually snowy and cold across Alaska, just like you’d expect, with more snow in coastal mountains and deeper cold in interior valleys. If you want to venture outdoors, be comfortable with the possibility of serious winter.
- This is a time of austere beauty, with the sun rising earlier and setting later, adding about five minutes of daylight every day. Frigid snaps deliver stunning blue-sky conditions that last for days. The white mass of Denali shimmers on the horizon, visible from Anchorage and Fairbanks about twice as often as during the summer.
- Cross-country ski systems and downhill ski areas max out with full coverage. The extensive multi-use trails inside Anchorage (and other communities) grow busy with skiers, snow-bikers, joggers, and skijoring enthusiasts.
- Dog mushing—Alaska’s official state sport—hits full stride, with extensive wilderness trails and in-town loops. Many of the classic distance dogsledding races occur in January and February.
- People start traveling into the country on full-day adventures on snowmachines, skis, bikes and dog sled. It’s also the season of winter festivals, climaxing with the Anchorage Fur Rondy, a carnival of spring mushing, ice carvings, and more.
Winter is not the best time to see most of Alaska’s iconic animals. Still, moose remain remarkably visible, especially once deep snow has driven them into cities. Natural areas like the windswept Palmer Hay Flats and Potter Marsh also concentrate moose. Gobs of ravens converge on urban settings—it’s not uncommon to see a half-dozen cavorting in parking lots—and resident forest birds like chickadees and redpolls flutter through the trees. Visiting the Alaska Zoo and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center can be a great way to see Alaskan animals in their thick winter coats.
What to Pack
Bring winter clothing that allows you to dress in layers. Including a warm parka with a hood, combined with insulated boots and a hat-buff-glove ensemble. Alaska’s low winter humidity can take the edge off frigid temperatures, making it seem warmer than the same temperature elsewhere. But winter sports may require extra layers or specialized winter gear. Get more tips in our winter clothing guide.
Things to Do during January and February
- Hit the trails. Whether you stroll, run, ski, or snow-bike, Anchorage’s extraordinary winter trail system has more than 300 miles of packed or groomed trails. Check out the city’s trail guide, a popular local trail report blog or the Anchorage Nordic Ski Club for updates. Ski rentals are available from The Hoarding Marmot.
- Downhill skiing. Hilltop ski area is in Anchorage's backyard. 90 minutes north of Anchorage is Hatcher Pass - a place backcountry skiers have always loved. Skeetawk Ski Area makes the great terrain available to even more snowsports lovers. Alyeska Resort, in Girdwood, is just 45 minutes south of Anchorage. If you want to rent ski gear to keep with you the duration of your trip, contact The Hoarding Marmot in Anchorage.
- Guided Hikes & Snowshoe Excursions: Go Hike Alaska offers guided walks, hikes, and winter snowshoe tips (including heli-snowshoeing!).
- Celebrate winter. The Anchorage Fur Rendezvous is a 10-day party that begins in late February. Enjoy dozens of activities, ice sculpting competitions, fireworks, live music, and a world championship sprint sled dog race
- Try dogsledding. Here are the operators we recommend near Anchorage.
- See the northern lights. If the forecast calls for good aurora viewing in Anchorage, head to the Glen Alps parking lot, just a 20-minute drive from downtown. Join a guided tour with Alaska Photo Treks or Wild Journeys Alaska.
- Enjoy a show. The Anchorage Concert Association hosts at least one major production during the holidays, while smaller troupes like Cyrano’s and Alaska Junior Theater also have shows.
- Learn about Alaskan cultures. Visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the Anchorage Museum at Rasmussen Center or the Aviation Museum.
Other Cool Stuff
- Ride the rails. Board 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 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.
- Watch local hockey. Take in a University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves hockey game. Wear yellow and green if you’ve got 'em!
- Art Workshops Wild Starr Creations is not only a place to discover gorgeous creations from Alaskan artists—it’s also a community gathering space that hosts fun events focused on creating your own works of art.
- Meet marine mammals. Tour Resurrection Bay by boat with Seward Ocean Excursions or visit the Alaska SeaLife Center to see seals, sea otters, and more.
- Take a cruise. Depending on the weather, take a winter day cruise out on Resurrection Bay with Seward Ocean Excursions.
- Go cross-country skiing. Enjoy the area's great collection of maintained trails.
- 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. Depending on snowfall, downhill skiing spreads throughout all 1,600 acres at Alyeska Resort, with one of North America’s biggest verticals and a full range of trails from beginning to expert.
- Visit the animals. Tour the Wildlife Conservation Center for guaranteed wildlife viewing.
- 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.
- Check out local artists. On the first Saturday of each month, The Flying Squirrel Bakery & Café sponsors an artist of the month, with a reception from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
- Ride snowmachines on private trails through forests while keeping an eye out for wildlife on your way to visit sled dogs and mushers and learn what it’s really like to run the Iditarod while mushing your own team with Alaska Wild Guides: Denali View Snowmobiling & Dog Sledding.
- 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 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.
- Meet locals at a weekend carnival. Sponsored by the National Park Service in late February, Denali Winterfest features four days of activities, in late February. Events include bingo, stargazing, an art workshop, an outdoor ice hockey tournament, fat-tire bike rides, snowshoe walks, and cross-country ski races.
- 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!
Check Out an Event
- Catch the world’s “toughest” sled dog race. The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race starts on the first Saturday of February—a 1,000-mile epic mush between Fairbanks and Whitehorse that traverses the snowbound terrain of the classic pioneer Gold Rush.
- See sprint dog sledding. At least five different sprint mushing races take place in the Fairbanks area during January and February. They're a great way to meet locals immersed in Alaska’s state sport. Check Sled Dog Central for dates and venues.
- Get dazzled by ice. The World Ice Art Championships runs from mid-February to April at the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds, attracting carvers from all over the world. Come admire more than 100 competition sculptures and playful ice attractions for kids.
Enjoy Fun Winter Stuff
- See the northern lights. You can check them out on your own, or opt for a guided excursion or overnight experience. Recommend tours: Arctic Circle Day & Overnight Adventures, Aurora Pointe, Multi-Day Winter Northern Lights Tour, Northern Lights & Chena Hot Springs, Borealis Basecamp clear-roofed igloos & Aurora Ice Fishing.
- Check out Denali National Park. Join Northern Alaska Tour Company on a guided tour with a guided nature walk.
- Warm up naturally. Visit Chena Hot Springs to take a soak, see ice sculptures, and try dogsledding or snowmachine tours.
- Learn about the north. Fairbanks has great museums for chilly November days.
- Walk with reindeer. At Running Reindeer Ranch, you can take reindeer for a walk and pose for photos.
- Go snowmachining. Ride with Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service and Alaska Wilderness Guide.
- Try ice fishing. Angle for trout, pike, or grayling with Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service from inside a heated structure.
- Join the 40-below club. When the mercury hits that level, become a member by donning a bathing suit and standing in front of the University of Alaska Fairbanks thermometer sign!
- Catch a king! Take a charter to fish for king salmon and halibut in Kachemak Bay.
- Enjoy winter sports. Skiing and snow machining are favorites if there’s enough snow. The Kachemak Nordic Ski Club maintains some of the best cross-country ski trails in the region. Check with Ulmer’s Drug & Hardware Store for equipment rentals.
- Take in a live performance or art show. Look at the Homer Arts Council calendar.
- Get back to nature. Learn about the area’s natural history at the Pratt Museum and the Islands and Oceans Visitor Center.
- 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.
- Find solitude and inspiration. Visit the Shrine of St. Therese, north of Juneau. Stroll peaceful trails and even stay the night in a cabin.