March is when Alaskans fully embrace winter. Combined with the last weeks of February, it’s the season of peak snowpack, when every landscape has been laced with packed trails perfect for winter sports and cross-country travel. The days grow long—12 to 15 hours of daylight all month—and the weather starts busting into sunny, blue-sky conditions that sometimes feature afternoon thaws. For Alaskans, it’s a time of high energy—invigorating and interesting, abounding with noisy festivals and grueling races and epic personal adventures. Many locals feel like they’ve paid their winter dues in full—dark times are over and the cold snaps are (mostly) past—and it’s time to for them to get out and seek fun. If you’re drawn to winter sports either as spectator or participant, March may be the best month to visit Alaska.
What It’s Like
So much to do. Tons of snow, gobs of daylight, and endless activities. Think of it as the launch of “springtime winter.” (See our discussion of Alaska’s seasonal rhythms.) Temperatures moderate, with most days reaching high 20s and above, with nighttime freezes typically in the teens. Though storms still roll through—and frigid cold snaps are possible—hard-core winter conditions become increasingly rare. In recent years, it’s not uncommon for March to morph into full-bore break-up, with puddles and meltdown at low elevations dominating the afternoons. And yet, the nights remain dark enough for stargazing and aurora viewing, while snow conditions can be supreme.
What about winter sports?
Think winter paradise. With the snowpack at its sturdiest and daytime temperatures trending up, Alaska in March may be one of the best places in the world to pursue winter outdoor sports. Inside Anchorage, a network of multi-trails provide direct connections to groomed cross country ski areas, and it’s easy to ski, snowbike or even hike across the whole town, from the mountains to the seashore. In the backcountry, the snow-machining season is at its peak, creating routes and travel corridors that are often shared by skiers, snow bikers and snowshoers. Downhill ski areas experience the deepest coverage, with grooming in full force and powder days possible. It’s the same dynamic across the state—from Homer to Soldotna, from Talkeetna to Fairbanks and into other Interior communities or down in Southeast. Lodges and venues are maintaining trail networks, and people are heading out for long days of fun and exploration.
Will I see wildlife?
Yes, but it’s still largely the same crew that’s been present since the snow fell last fall. Moose will be the most visible large mammals, and their browsing paths will be well trod. March is the period when they can be under stress for finding enough to eat, when they concentrate on tree buds and even begin stripping bark. Ravens dominate urban settings during the day, but it’s fun to watch groups migrate back into the foothills in late afternoons. Chickadees and redpolls converge on tree crowns for berries and seeds, often in busy, noisy flocks. Snowshoe hares remain brilliantly white and common, but keep an eye out for their much less common nemesis, the lynx. In some ways, this is a best time of year to look for tracks because Alaska’s winter wildlife, just like Alaska’s people, get energized by the season and become more active than they’ve been in months.
What should I wear?
Regular winter clothing will handle most March conditions. Carry a hat, a buff, gloves, a snow parka, insulating fleece and synthetic inner clothes that wick moisture—with a satchel or daypack to carry items you don’t need at the moment. Layering becomes even more important this time of year because the temperatures can fluctuate 30 to 50 degrees over the course of a single day, from single digits at dawn to well above freezing in a sunny locale by late afternoon. The return of intense afternoon sunlight adds another wrinkle. You will find that good polarized sunglasses are essential for both snow sports and for driving—it can be extraordinarily bright, especially in the weeks after the equinox. All this reflected sunlight is intense enough to sunburn susceptible people, so consider using sunblock between noon and 2 pm (Solar noon is about 1 pm that time of year on Alaska’s road system.) If you don’t already have winter wear, consider renting instead of investing hundreds of dollars in something you might not need again. Anchorage Outdoor Gear Rental & Outfitters rents and sells high quality winter apparel and gear – from base layer to outerwear, from snow shoes to sleds. More details on what to wear in winter.
Things to Do in March, in Cities and Towns Across Alaska
- The Anchorage Fur Rendezvous is a ten-day celebration of winter with dozens of activities, ice sculpting competitions, carnival and fireworks, live music and a world championship sprint sled dog race that begins and ends on a downtown avenue. Late February to first weekend in March.
- Ultimate mushing. The world-famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race crosses a thousand miles from Anchorage to Nome, with the ceremonial start on the first Saturday in March in downtown Anchorage. This event transfixes the whole state. Dog teams launch down city streets and travel along park trails into the forest. Tailgate-style barbecues erupt all over town at good viewpoints.
- Tackle the Tour of Anchorage ski marathon. Hundreds of people ski across Anchorage in four races that range from 25K to 50K, both classic and skate styles. The Tour is often the second biggest citizen race in the United States (second only to the American Berkenbeiner in Wisconsin.) Usually the first Sunday in March (the day after the Iditarod ceremonial start.) Even if you don’t come to race, you will find the best and most extensive grooming of the year.
- Hit the trails. So, whether you stroll, run, ski or snow-bike, do check out the trails. Anchorage’s extraordinary winter trail system hits its peak in March, with multiple groomed areas suitable for cross-country ski athletes, extensive multi-use routes and a myriad of single track networks both official and below-the-radar. We’re talking more than 300 miles of packed or groomed trails, including cross-town connections (see the Tour of Anchorage.)
- Take a day cruise on the ocean out of Whittier. With snow down to the tideline, Prince William Sound is off-the-scale beautiful. Lazy Otter Charter's Blackstone Glacier Cruise starts for the season in Mid-February.
- Get caffeinated. Kaladi Brothers and Steamdot are favorite local hangouts when it’s time to warm up. Both have multiple locations.
- Enjoy a show. Anchorage’s Performing Arts Center and local theatre scene is hopping. The popular Anchorage Symphony generally has at least one well-attended concert.
- Take in a University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves hockey game. Wear yellow and green if you’ve got it!
- Learn more about Alaska cultures and history. Alaska has an amazing history, which you can explore with an exclusive Alaska Native Heritage Excursion with Salmon Berry Tours. Or spend half a day at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmussen Center or the Aviation Museum.
- Ride the rails on the Aurora Winter Train. View 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).
- Escape: Escape: Head to Alaska Escape Rooms, and spend an hour solving to puzzle so you can "escape". A great family activity, especially if the weather outside isn't ideal!
- Drive up to Glen Alps for aurora viewing. If the forecast calls for good aurora viewing in Anchorage, you’ll want a close spot where you can get away from the city lights. The Glen Alps parking lot is a popular spot, and it’s just a 20 minute drive from downtown.
- Let the fur fly. Check out the sport of dog sledding with Salmon Berry Tours or Alaska Mushing School.
- Snowmachine tours. Try Alaska Backcountry Adventures or Alaska Wild Guides for an unforgettable adventure at a time of year when the travel possibilities might be literally endless.
- Ski Alyeska Resort. Spring conditions start hitting lower slopes while the upper mountain and its advanced runs remain solidly in the realm of winter. Powder days alternate with decent grooming. Ski conditions can be as good as it gets.
- Treat yourself to old-world luxury. Enjoy the spa, dining and nightlife at Hotel Alyeska, and hike through a temperate rainforest on the nearby Winner Creek Trail.
- Ride the Aerial Tram. For an experience that rivals anything you’ll find in the Swiss Alps, join skiers and photographers (and sightseers) on a 2,300-foot ascent from the Hotel Alyeska to an overlook station featuring one of the most spectacular views in the world. The Bore Tide Deli & Bar and the high-end Seven Glaciers Restaurant are inside the upper tram station, and a way-cool ski museum with free admission is a few steps away in a historic roundhouse with its own incredible views.
- Explore dining hot spots at sea level. Head to The Double Musky for Cajun Alaskan, Jack Sprat for “fat & lean world cuisine,” and Chair 5 for pizza and pub food.
Portage and Portage Valley (inside Anchorage but 45 to 50 miles from the urban area at the head of Turnagain Arm)
- Visit the animals. Tour the Wildlife Conservation Center (open year-round, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. this time of year) for guaranteed wildlife viewing.
- Embark for Placer and Spencer glaciers. Most years, a deep snowpack means the big valley at the head of Turnagain Arm opens to snowmachine travel. Motorsport enthusiasts, skiers, snow bikers and even hikers follow a network of unofficial routes into the snowbound country. Make it all the way to Spencer (about 12 miles one way) and you’ll be rewarded with royal blue bergs and glimmering caves at the glacier face on frozen Spencer Lake.
- See Portage Glacier up close. Located about three miles across Portage Lake—and tucked behind a mountain from the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center (closed in winter)—this active glacier becomes a major weekend destination once the lake freezes solid and the days grow long. Families towing kids in sleds, hikers with picnic satchels, skiers, snowbikers, snowshoers and (sometimes) ice skaters converge at the face and explore perimeter of the lake. It’s a unique opportunity to experience a glacier accessible only by tour boat or adventure hiking during summer. On a sunny March afternoon, it can be an easy day hike over a flat route requiring no technical skills and reasonable winter outdoor prep. Check the forecast and don’t forget sunglasses!
- Watch the northern lights. March may offer the perfect month to enjoy the aurora borealis—nights are still long and dark, while temperatures have begun to moderate. 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.
- Cheer for sled dog athletes. Some of the fastest sprint sled dog teams in the world compete each March in the GCI Open North American Championships. The race starts and finishes in downtown Fairbanks, with teams racing through the hills north of town.
- Inspired by dog mushing? Try it for yourself with a mushing guided tour and you’ll see why it became a favorite mode of travel in the Far North.
- Warm up naturally. Visit the historic Chena Hot Springs to take a soak, see ice sculptures, and try dog sledding or snow machine tours during the season when snowpack peaks. The lodge and complex exude that old-time Alaska ambience.
- Explore the Arctic. The Northern Alaska Tour Company offers multiple snow season adventures into Alaska’s Interior and Arctic zones.
- Learn about the north. Fairbanks has great museums for open all month. The Museum of the North on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus features world class exhibits drawn from exhaustive paleontological and archaeological collections. For an other-worldly experience where light and sound are powered by the solar wind in real time, visit the place where you go to listen.
- Walk with Reindeer. Visit Running Reindeer Ranch, the home of local Alaskans Jane and Doug. Take the reindeer for a walk, pause for photos, and learn about these magnificent animals.
- Go snow machining. With snow deep and trails packed, riding a snowmachine into the wilderness becomes a great way to explore Fairbanks area’s boreal forest. Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service will take you into gorgeous country where you can look for caribou, coyote, lynx, red fox, grouse, ptarmigan, and moose
- Try out ice fishing. Fish can be ravenous inside their ice-bound world. Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service offers both day and night trips to plush, heated cabins perched on local frozen lakes. Imagine hauling in a foot-long lunker, then stepping outside to gaze at dancing northern lights.
- Check out a gnarly outdoor race. A 100-mile human-powered endurance race winds through the frigid and snowbound White Mountains about 40 miles north of Fairbanks at the end of every March. While registration for the White Mountains 100 opens and closes in November, checking out the venue and the trails would be an unforgettable experience. You will feel like you’re deep in the Far North.
- View dazzling art carved from ice. The annual World Ice Art Championships brings the world’s top ice sculptures—animals, castles, fantastic shapes. The works will be on display all month at the Tanana Valley State Fairgrounds.
- Travel like a local. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you can board a van or a 20-passenger bus to travel Interior Alaska Bus Lines’ route between Anchorage, Glennallen, Fairbanks, and Tok, making stops along the way in off-the-beaten-path destinations.
- Stay in a B&B. With the main visitor season between mid-May and mid-September, the Denali Park hotels, restaurants and venues will be closed. But there’s still much you can do. Winter trail network will be at its peak.
- Explore the trails by snowshoe. Borrow a pair at the Murie Science & Learning Center, open 9 am–4:30 pm.
- Take a tour. Join Northern Alaska Tour Company on a guided tour to Denali National Park with a road trip through an Interior Alaska blanketed in snow. This is a great way to experience the northern winter—with expert guides ensuring safety and comfort—when days are long and snowpack is deep.
- By train, by plane. Year-round flightseeing tours around Denali are one highlight of this picturesque community, which you can get to on an easy train ride from Anchorage on Saturdays on the Aurora Winter Train. Mid-week service available sporadically.
- Do an epic ski tour or marathon. The Oosik Ski Classic sends hundreds of skiers out into the hills for 25K and 50K classic style fun. The whole village celebrates during this mid-March event.
- See The Iditarod Race re-start. The world famous 1,000-mile dog sled race across Alaska begins in earnest on the first Sunday in March, almost always at the Willow Community Center. Drive to Willow for the day if you want to witness Alaska’s state sport when the stakes are highest and the dogs go all out.
- Rendezvous with gray whales. The annual epic migration from Baja California to the feeding grounds in the Arctic begins during March, with the vanguard of whales crossing the mouth of Resurrection Bay. This 10,000-mile roundtrip is thought to be the longest mammal migration on the planet. It’s best to call Major Marine and Kenai Fiords Tours before booking, to gauge what the boats have been seeing.
- Meet other marine mammals. Tour Resurrection Bay by boat with Seward Ocean Excursions or visit the public aquarium inside the Alaska SeaLife Center to see seals, sea otters, ocean fish and more.
- Curl up with a coffee. Local hangouts include the SeaBean and Resurrect Art Coffee House.
- Take a charter to fish for king salmon that swim across the North Pacific to fatten in Kachemak Bay during the winter—savory white-fleshed visitors thought to originate in British Columbia. Then participate in the Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament.
- Enjoy winter sports. Skiing and snow machining are favorites mountains and windswept hills above the bluffs and beyond. The groomed crosscountry ski trails at Lookout Mountain include some of the most challenging and exhilarating terrain in the state for both classic and skate styles. Maintained by the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club.
- Explore art or traditional crafts. Take in a live performance or art show. Look at the Homer Arts Council calendar. Or tackle traditional skill or craft through a class at the Homer Folk School.
- Get back to nature. Learn about the area’s natural history at the Pratt Museum and the Islands and Oceans Visitor Center. Or go tidepooling with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies.
- Stop at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum for a better understanding of Juneau's cultural heritage and community history. During the winter months you'll enjoy programs from local experts and artists that allows you to really experience the local culture.
- Go skiing. The snowpack will be at its peak at Eaglecrest Ski Area, with sunny days and spring conditions possible.
- Engage both brain and palate. Tour the Alaska State Museum and then swing by the Alaskan Brewing Company.
- Sing your heart out. Or just listen at the Thursday night Open Mic at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar.
- Find solitude and inspiration. Visit the Shrine of St. Therese, 22 miles north of Juneau. Stroll peaceful trails and even stay the night in a cabin.
- Learn about salmon. Make an appointment during the week to visit the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery and view its saltwater aquariums.
- Take a hike and explore natural history. The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center remains open all year.