Photo Credit: Kathleen Barth

Mat-Su Valley Winter Activities

Watch the Iditarod start and then experience the thrill for yourself by taking a dog sledding tour

Watch the Iditarod start and then experience the thrill for yourself by taking a dog sledding tour

There is a common myth that Alaska 'shuts down' in the winter, but nothing is farther from the truth. From world-famous races, to local carnivals, to snowy paths waiting for outdoor enthusiasts, there is something for everyone.

The Iditarod is the most famous winter event in the Mat-Su. The race has its ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage, but the real action begins a day later in the town of Willow. That’s where mushers and dogs officially head off on their 1,150-mile run to Nome. You can visit the race’s official start (on the first weekend in March) or even follow the mushers’ early miles by snowmobile, dog sled, or bush plane. Wasilla is also home to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race headquarters, which is a great place to stop in and learn about the historic race. There’s a museum, gift shop, and, during the summer months, sled dog rides. Even the younger crowd gets in on the action with the Jr. Iditarod Sled Dog Race, which takes place a week prior to the official race.

Guests adventure through a winter wonderland with Snowhook Adventure Guides

Guests adventure through a winter wonderland with Snowhook Adventure Guides

If you can't make it here in March, the region is home to many more activities during the snowy months. Warm and toasty bed and breakfasts make the perfect base for exploration, and winter carnivals and holiday festivals are exciting gatherings where you can rub elbows with locals. Favorites include the Cabin Fever Reliever, Willow Winter Carnival, Talkeetna Winterfest, and the Colony Christmas Celebration. Meanwhile, the adventurous can head outdoors for cross-country skiing, backcountry snowmobiling, ice fishing, and snowshoeing.

Mat Su Valley Winter Activities Talkeetna Air Taxi otterhr

Soar past Denali on a flightseeing tour with Talkeetna Air Taxi

The Iditarod isn't the only winter competition in the area. In mid-February the crowds roll in for the Iron Dog Snowmobile Race, which is followed with just as much excitement. As If traveling thousands of miles by dogsled or smowmobile isn't enough, Alaskan's also take to the famous trail by bike, skis, and foot in the annual Iditarod Trail Invitational. For something just as competitive, but a little more light-hearted check out the Iditarod Restart Golf Tournament where locals tee off with brightly colored golf balls in an attempt not to lose them in the snow.

The Mat-Su is also home to champion kennels, including those owned by legendary musher Martin Buser. You can visit these kennels year-round; tours vary from backcountry winter trips to summer visits to dog yards. There’s nothing quite like a yard of yapping, happy sled dogs and puppies! Learn about their training and diets as well as the bond between mushers and dogs. Or even experience the thrill of riding a sled. If you’re visiting in the summer but still want a “snowy” sled-dog experience, some tours are held on fly-in glaciers.

Dog Mushing Tours View All

Season: Year Round $99+ Summer | $169+ Winter 1 - 8 hours

Expe­ri­ence the excite­ment of rac­ing cham­pi­on sled dogs at the Alas­ka Mush­ing School, just 75 min­utes from Anchor­age. Get a professional’s insight into the mush­ing lifestyle as you ride behind a team of ener­getic sled dogs on trails con­nect­ed to the famous Idi­tar­od route. Bun­dle up and ride in com­fort, or brave the cold and dri­ve the team yourself!

Season: Year Round $59+ 1-3.5 hrs

Sum­mer or win­ter, vis­it a fam­i­ly-run cham­pi­on ken­nel, meet friend­ly dogs and an expe­ri­enced mush­er for a ride along pri­vate trails with views of Denali. Opt to ride in the sled or mush your own. Or, for a tru­ly authen­tic adven­ture, go on a train­ing run for the Idi­tar­od! Large groups and spe­cial events wel­come when orga­nized in advance.

Season: Year Round $150+ 2+ hrs

Win­ter or sum­mer, expe­ri­ence the thrill of run­ning Idi­tar­od sled dogs and even have a chance to dri­ve! Meet the sled dogs and hear first-hand just what it’s like to run the Iditarod.

[{"slug":"anchorage","title":"Anchorage"},{"slug":"willow","title":"Willow"}]

Snowmobiling Tours View All

Season: Nov 15 to Apr 04 $255+ Half Day, Full Day, Multi-Day

Own­ers Mat­ti and Dan can­not think of a bet­ter way to appre­ci­ate Alas­ka than shar­ing it with oth­ers. Mat­ti was born and raised in Palmer, Alas­ka and has been on snow­ma­chines most of her life. Alas­ka Back­coun­try Adven­tures offers mild to wild” expe­ri­ences and prides itself on pro­vid­ing a cus­tomized expe­ri­ence for all lev­els of abil­i­ty. It offers the widest vari­ety of expe­di­tions on the lat­est and great­est equipment.

Season: November - March $150+ 3 hrs

Feel the thrill of explor­ing the Alaskan wilder­ness while dri­ving your own snow­mo­bile over the tun­dra, look­ing for wildlife and tak­ing in amaz­ing views. And on a clear day you’ll get an amaz­ing view of Denali.

Season: Mid-November to mid-April $200+ 3.5+ hrs

Hop aboard an eco-friend­ly snow­mo­bile in Gird­wood and ride on groomed trails beneath mas­sive, 7,000-foot glaciat­ed peaks or vis­it the daz­zling blue ice of Spencer Glac­i­er. Or, head north of Anchor­age for a trail ride through mid-alpine black spruce forests. No expe­ri­ence nec­es­sary, all gear pro­vid­ed, and warm bev­er­ages and snacks included. 

[{"slug":"anchorage","title":"Anchorage"},{"slug":"willow","title":"Willow"},{"slug":"palmer-wasilla","title":"Palmer \/ Wasilla Area"},{"slug":"girdwood","title":"Girdwood"}]

Flightseeing Tours View All

Season: Year Round $379+ 1 hr - full day

For out­stand­ing view­ing and incred­i­ble access to remote places, there’s noth­ing like flight­see­ing by heli­copter. Join Alas­ka Heli­copter Tours – a local­ly-owned, high­ly-respect­ed heli­copter tour and char­ter com­pa­ny – for excur­sions that reveal hid­den sites just min­utes from Anchor­age. Spot wildlife from the air, stand on a glac­i­er or land on a remote airstrip.

Season: Year Round $220+

Local­ly known as The Glac­i­er Land­ing Com­pa­ny,” TAT has been fly­ing climbers and sight­seers to the Alas­ka Range and Denali since 1947. Tal­keet­na Air Taxi fea­tures a cus­tom-designed fleet of planes, a ded­i­cat­ed cus­tomer ser­vice team, and a vari­ety of tours for every budget.

Season: Year Round $230+ 1 to 2 hrs

While you may nev­er join the ranks of climbers who have sum­mit­ed Denali, an up-close view of North Amer­i­ca’s tallest peak can still be yours. K2 Avi­a­tion offers once-in-a-life­time flight­see­ing tours among and above the Alas­ka Range. Add a glac­i­er land­ing to get a sense of how immense these peaks real­ly are.

[{"slug":"anchorage","title":"Anchorage"},{"slug":"willow","title":"Willow"},{"slug":"palmer-wasilla","title":"Palmer \/ Wasilla Area"},{"slug":"girdwood","title":"Girdwood"},{"slug":"talkeetna","title":"Talkeetna"}]

Winter Sightseeing Tours View All

Season: Year Round $379+ 1 hr - full day

For out­stand­ing view­ing and incred­i­ble access to remote places, there’s noth­ing like flight­see­ing by heli­copter. Join Alas­ka Heli­copter Tours – a local­ly-owned, high­ly-respect­ed heli­copter tour and char­ter com­pa­ny – for excur­sions that reveal hid­den sites just min­utes from Anchor­age. Spot wildlife from the air, stand on a glac­i­er or land on a remote airstrip.

Season: Sep 19 to May 09 $63+

Win­ter in Alas­ka is a mag­i­cal time, with few­er vis­i­tors and a serene, snow-cov­ered land­scape. If you’re here from mid-Sep­tem­ber to mid-May, you can take it in from the com­fort of the Auro­ra Win­ter Train, which runs between Anchor­age and Fair­banks. It’s an easy and mem­o­rable way to trav­el north and expe­ri­ence the auro­ra bore­alis, or even do a week­end get­away to Talkeetna.

[{"slug":"anchorage","title":"Anchorage"},{"slug":"willow","title":"Willow"},{"slug":"palmer-wasilla","title":"Palmer \/ Wasilla Area"},{"slug":"girdwood","title":"Girdwood"},{"slug":"talkeetna","title":"Talkeetna"}]

Cross Country Skiing View All

In the Tal­keet­na Moun­tains between the towns of Wil­low and Palmer, Hatch­er Pass is a local favorite for recre­ation or a scenic dri­ve. Hike in alpine tun­dra dot­ted with wild­flow­ers and ptarmi­gan, ski fresh, deep pow­der, or vis­it Inde­pen­dence Mine His­tor­i­cal State Park.

Difficulty: Easy

A win­ter trail sys­tem con­sist­ing of two north-south trails and one east-west route that allow snow­ma­chin­ers, dog mush­ers and skiers to trav­el the area lying north of Petersville Road and west of the Parks High­way. The com­bined mileage of the trails is over 50 miles.

Difficulty: Moderate

With flat stretch­es and steep hills (that are groomed in win­ter), this trail is very pop­u­lar with moun­tain bik­ers, trail run­ners, and cross-coun­try skiers. It was built on land­fill, so as it expands, these trails will change. Most of it is rolling for­est that has cov­ered the grav­el­ly moraines left by retreat­ing glaciers.

Difficulty: Easy

Locat­ed north of Wasil­la about 45 min­utes on the west side of the Parks Hwy. Lakes are all con­nect­ed with trails, and make for a great day of canoe­ing. They can also be skied in the win­ter and camp­grounds are avail­able as well. This hike can only be done in win­ter or the lakes will not be frozen enough to walk on.

March is the month to get out­side. The days are longer and the weath­er is start­ing to warm, but win­ter still has its icy grip. To avoid going stir crazy or for some good, clean Alaskan win­ter fun, head north to Trap­per Creek for the Cab­in Fever Reliev­er. Held the sec­ond Sat­ur­day in March in this pic­turesque small town (there are great views of Denali), the cel­e­bra­tion includes a pan­cake break­fast, a raf­fle, cross-coun­try ski races, games,  ...more

Difficulty: Easy

At its peak, the Inde­pen­dence hard-rock gold mine was home to 206 work­ers and 16 fam­i­lies who lived high above tree line. Dig­ging and blast­ing, these work­ers recov­ered 140,000 ounces of gold before the mine shut down in the wake of World War II. There are 1.5 miles of paved walk­ways through­out the site, with infor­ma­tion­al plac­ards for a self-guid­ed tour. 

[{"slug":"anchorage","title":"Anchorage"},{"slug":"willow","title":"Willow"},{"slug":"palmer-wasilla","title":"Palmer \/ Wasilla Area"},{"slug":"girdwood","title":"Girdwood"},{"slug":"talkeetna","title":"Talkeetna"}]

Ice Skating View All

These frozen chan­nels wind for miles across the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge off the Glenn High­way in the mouth of the Matanus­ka and Knik riv­er val­leys, just 35 miles north of Anchor­age. Either trav­el the streams or explore exten­sive pond net­works on the flats.

A pre­mier pad­dling des­ti­na­tion in sum­mer, the eight-mile loop canoe trail through 14 lakes can be skat­ed after freeze-up and before sig­nif­i­cant snow­fall. Peo­ple often cruise the entire route in one long day, or skate out a few lakes and return. Be pre­pared to hike portages up to a half-mile between lakes. 71 miles north of Anchorage.

Difficulty: Easy

Locat­ed north of Wasil­la about 45 min­utes on the west side of the Parks Hwy. Lakes are all con­nect­ed with trails, and make for a great day of canoe­ing. They can also be skied in the win­ter and camp­grounds are avail­able as well. This hike can only be done in win­ter or the lakes will not be frozen enough to walk on.

[{"slug":"anchorage","title":"Anchorage"},{"slug":"willow","title":"Willow"},{"slug":"palmer-wasilla","title":"Palmer \/ Wasilla Area"},{"slug":"girdwood","title":"Girdwood"},{"slug":"talkeetna","title":"Talkeetna"},{"slug":"mat-su-valley","title":"3 Days in the Mat-Su Valley"}]