Why This Trip?
Each year the Iditarod Sled Dog Race kicks off on the first Saturday in March. You'll want to arrive in Anchorage the day before to follow this itinerary and join in all the celebratory events.
You'll watch the ceremonial start in Anchorage, followed by the official start in Willow -- both huge celebrations. Then continue north to Talkeetna, Fairbanks (with a stop to soak in Chena Hot Springs), then back south with a visit to Denali National Park. Along the way, enjoy some iconic winter activities like dog sledding, and keep an eye on the sky for the northern lights.
Arriving Amidst a Celebration - Anchorage
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We kicked off our first day in Anchorage at the fun Fur Rondy Festival, an annual celebration of winter that occurs before the famous Iditarod race. We enjoyed walking and driving around town, visiting the Native arts market, fawning over the intricate snow sculptures, jamming at the locally hosted concert, and eating carnival snacks while watching families enjoy the Alaskan carnival!
Pups, Pizza, and More - Palmer & Matanuska Glacier
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Today we watched the ceremonial start of the Iditarod—our first Iditarod experience!—and marveled at all the happy dogs living their best life. After the event, we drove north to Glacier View, where we photographed the Matanuska Glacier and hiked part of the Lion’s Head trail. Then we circled back to the Palmer Train Depot to see the Black Water Railroad Company perform their lively and soulful bluegrass music while we enjoyed pizza and locally brewed beer.
And They’re Off! - Willow
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Today we left Anchorage and drove north toward Willow to celebrate the official Iditarod start. We walked out on the frozen Willow Lake, where crowds of people had gathered to watch the sled teams glide by, kicking off the grueling 1,000-mile race to Nome. After the event, we drove an hour north to Talkeetna, where we marveled at the elusive Mt. Denali and capped off the day there with delicious specialty pizza at Mountain High Pizza Pie.
Getting Into the Talkeetna Groove - Talkeetna
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We were gifted a beautiful winter day and spent the morning walking through Talkeetna, visiting shops and galleries. We then donned outdoor gear and headed out on the frozen river, following a ski trail toward Mt. Denali, passing wildlife tracks as the soaring peak sat dominantly in the foreground. At night, we headed back out to the frozen river for an unobstructed view of the northern lights dancing and glowing overhead, with stars filling the rest of the sky.
Driving the Dogs - Talkeetna to Fairbanks
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We spent the morning at five-time Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey’s dog kennel in Talkeetna and were thrilled to give some attention to the snow-loving dogs. We then learned how to drive our own team of dogs, and the excited pups pulled us a few miles around the property. After the tour, we drove five hours north to Fairbanks, where we stayed in a cute hostel.
Warming Up In Chena - Fairbanks & Chena Hot Springs
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Today we drove 90 minutes north to the Chena Hot Springs Resort, where we followed snow-covered trails along the river, trying to identify the endless wildlife tracks. We visited the onsite dog kennel, where we pet and photographed a number of the excited dogs. Then, in the middle of a snowstorm, we put on swimsuits and took a dip in the hot springs, happy to be immersed in the warm water.
Doing Denali - Fairbanks to Denali National Park
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Today we made the 3.5-hour drive south to Healy, just outside of Denali National Park. We then drove the plowed road into the park as far as we could go, stopping to photograph and observe moose hanging out along the road. An early snowstorm tapered off, giving us clear skies at night to observe the northern lights. If you come to see this phenomenon, be sure to download one of the apps that tracks the aurora—very helpful!
Time for Home - Denali to Anchorage
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Before our late-night flight out of Anchorage, we drove five hours south to visit the Alaska Wildlife Center. There, we got to safely observe and photograph rescued Alaskan wildlife, including brown and black bears, musk ox, moose, fox, coyotes, lynx, porcupine, wolves, and so many more furry friends! We ended the trip with a delicious seafood meal at the 49th State Brewing Company before saying our final goodbyes to Alaska.