In Alaska, November is a time when hibernation mode sets in, as people and animals both start getting used to lower temps and less light. In Anchorage, the month starts out with about 8.5 hours of light a day and ends with just 6. Once there’s enough snow – typically mid-month or later – the world gets brighter, and kids of all ages head out with sleds, skis and snowboards.
What It’s Like
Everyone’s heard about the darkness of the Arctic. Alaska’s northernmost city, Barrow, doesn’t see the sun for six weeks. You can experience that partially in Anchorage, which has a 9:45 a.m. sunrise and a 3:50 pm sunset by the end of November. Neighborhoods and businesses begin putting up cheery light displays and there are plenty of lit trails around town for a winter hike or ski. The darkness does mean it’s easier to see the aurora, and the temperature is not as cold as it is in January or February. In early November the high temp in Anchorage hovers around freezing, and drops to around 25 by end of month.
What about winter sports?
If you’re visiting in the first part of November, winter sports will be iffy. Anchorage typically gets its first snowfall in mid-October, but it rarely sticks. By mid-to-late November, Nordic skiing, downhill skiing and sledding are usually a go. Lakes may be frozen enough for skating by mid-November, but aren’t a sure bet. Bottom line? If your heart is set on experiencing Alaska’s winter sport scene, visit between December and March.
Will I see wildlife?
In the winter, it’s easier to spot moose among the leaf-less trees, where they spend most of their time eating. Ravens are ubiquitous in winter, and you’ll find these opportunistic omnivores near dumpsters or anywhere else with free food. You won’t see bears, as they enter hibernation mode in the fall and don’t emerge until spring.
What should I wear?
Once you know how to layer – with synthetic materials that wick away moisture, you’re ready for a winter trip to Alaska. November is not the coldest month, but still deserves some thermals. 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 November, in Cities and Towns Across Alaska
- Hit the trails. The crisp November air is invigorating and you can hike or bike no matter the conditions. When the snow finally sticks, there are miles of groomed trails to explore in Anchorage and at the Eagle River Nature Center, about 40 minutes from downtown Anchorage. Fat tire bikes are extremely popular and you can find the best route for current snow conditions on a guided trip with Alaska Trail Guides.
- Get caffeinated. Kaladi Brothers and Steamdot are favorite local hangouts when it’s time to warm up. Both have multiple locations.
- See local wildlife at The Alaska Zoo. Open year-round, and a special event that begins each year the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Check out Zoo Lights, where the zoo is lit up with colorful Christmas light displays, Thursday - Saturday until January 31.
- Take in a University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves hockey game. Wear yellow and green if you’ve got it!
- Enjoy a show. Anchorage’s Performing Arts Center and local theatre scene is hopping, and the Nutcracker Ballet is a highlight of the Thanksgiving season.
- 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: 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 GlenAlps 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.
- 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.
- Go adventuring. Guided sea kayaking, camping and snowshoeing.
- Curl up with a coffee. Local hangouts include the SeaBean and Resurrect Art Coffee House.
- Relax in the serenity of the off-season. Enjoy the spa, dining and nightlife at Hotel Alyeska, and hike through a temperate rainforest on the nearby Winner Creek Trail.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Explore the trails by snowshoe. Borrow a pair at the Murie Science & Learning Center, open 9 am–4:30 pm.
- Chill out at a free campground. Riley Creek campground is about 1.5 miles from the Science Center, but go prepared (the average low temp is a chilly -3!)
- Travel to Fairbanks from Anchorage with RavnAir on a quick flight 1-hour flight. The Aurora Winter Train is an option on the weekend, and sporadic weekdays throughout the winter. Or, rent a 4x4 vehicle with Alaska 4x4 Rentals and drive! Another option would be to 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.
- Watch 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. Visit the Arctic Circle. Fly up with Warbelow’s Air Ventures and you may see northern lights here too.
- Guided Tour to Denali National Park. Join Northern Alaska Tour Company on a guided tour to Denali National Park. Stop in at the Murie Science & Learning Center and enjoy a guided nature walk.
- Warm up naturally. Visit Chena Hot Springs to take a soak, see ice sculptures, and try dog sledding or snow machine tours when there’s enough snow (usually by end of month).
- Learn about the north. Fairbanks has great museums for chilly November days.
- 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.
- Catch a King! Take a charter to fish for Feeder King salmon and halibut in Kachemak Bay.
- Enjoy winter sports. Skiing and snow machining are favorites if there’s enough snow.
- 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.
- Solve a murder! A new Homer mid-November tradition is the fun and intriguing Land’s End Resort interactive Murder Mystery.
- 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.
- Two noteworthy tours. A trip to the Alaska State Museum and 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.
- 3,500 reasons to go. There’s no better time to visit the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. See thousands of eagles gathered to feast on salmon. Go mid-month to coincide with the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival.