10 Best Winter Activities in Anchorage, Alaska
Winter in Anchorage is a sparkling season packed with a fun and frosty array of classic Alaska activities. Enjoy outdoor sports and recreation, art and culture, cozy relaxation, and unique northern natural wonders. Whether you've been dreaming about catching the northern lights or riding a snowmobile to the luminous turquoise face of a massive glacier, Anchorage offers the perfect winter experience.
Chasing the Northern Lights
Few phenomena are as awe-inspiring as the northern lights. Seeing the aurora takes planning, patience and a peck of luck. Thankfully, there are ways to improve the odds. Anchorage is a great start. It has mild winter temperatures and is home to some expert aurora chasers. And in between nights, there’s more to do. Spend a sparkling night under the northern lights, and enjoy the best of Anchorage after sunrise.
Many of Alaska’s favorite activities never hibernate. Sightseeing flights are a textbook example. Flights are an excellent way to soar over the landscape, explore glaciers and spot wildlife no matter the season. Circle Denali, cruise the glaciers of Prince William Sound, or explore the vast Chugach Mountains using wheeled planes – or even some equipped with skis.
Many come to cheer the pros at the Iditarod or the World Championship Sled Dog Races, but Alaska’s state sport isn’t just for spectators. Mushers open their homes and kennels to visitors. Pet puppies, go dog sledding, learn the history of sled dogs in Alaska, and step onto the runners to learn what it takes to run an energetic team of your own.
Fat Tire Biking
Of course, there’s more than one way to move over snow. Dog sleds may have the historical precedent, but more and more Alaskans now use fat tire bicycles to get up to speed in winter. Wide, moon rover tires float over snow, and chunky frames add stability to a ride through the winter wonderland. Most of Anchorage’s 135 miles of paved trails are groomed during the winter, and more companies offer rentals and tours than ever before, so exploring is a snap.
You'll find rinks and skate ponds everywhere you turn (or figure eight, or pirouette). Local parks and schools host outdoor hockey rinks, neighborhood skate ponds, and even an Olympic-size outdoor speed-skating track – one of only a few in the country.
Slap down skis in a winter wonderland. Both downhill and cross-country skiing are big in Anchorage. The biggest ski resort in Alaska, Alyeska Resort, is just 40 miles from Anchorage in the town of Girdwood. With 1,610 skiable acres, 76 named trails and over 669" of snow annually, Alyeska’s a prime spot on a powder day. Or spend time at community hills at Arctic Valley and Hilltop for an easy intro to the sport.
Flatlanders should know Anchorage’s Nordic skiing community is strong too. The Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage grooms nearly 100 miles of trails specifically for cross country, and they’re all available to the public for free.
Winter’s Biggest Events
Three big events cap winter in Anchorage, making late February and early March one of the best times for a winter visit.
Anchorage Fur Rendezvous fills two weekends with unique Alaska events. Snowshoe softball, outhouse races, an Alaska Native arts market, a blanket toss and snow sculpture competitions are just a few of the ways Anchorage unwinds as winter ends.
Rondy also dovetails with the start of the Iditarod. The world-famous sled dog race stretches 1,000 miles across Alaska, and the start is smack in the middle of downtown Anchorage on the first Saturday in March. Wish the racers luck along the 11-mile route through Anchorage trails.
The Tour of Anchorage devotes a day to exploring city’s trails on cross-country skis. While you’ll often see Olympic-level cross-country skiers leading the pack, everyone can enjoy the tour.
Snowmachine. Sno-go. Sled: The rest of the country calls them snowmobiles, but for some reason, that name never took in Alaska. Whatever you call them, they are the perfect device for a backcountry tour of Alaska in winter. Carve wide turns in snowfields, wind through forested trails, or motor right up to the face of a glacier.
Trout, landlocked salmon and other species lurk below the surface of frozen lakes and ponds around Anchorage. Local ice fishing guides know the waters best, and bring all the gear to make fishing fun and the day comfortable.
Museums & Culture
The Anchorage Museum is a must on any visit, and things shift into another gear in the winter. In addition to the permanent galleries filled with Alaska art, Alaska Native objects and Arctic science, winter typically means the unveiling of a new set of limited-engagement exhibits. The museum also hosts Polar Nights, special Friday evening events with music, artist conversations and other hot happenings.
Performing arts have a long history here. Both the symphony orchestra and local opera company have entertained audiences since before Alaska was a state. Many traveling Broadway shows, musicians and comedians swing through Anchorage in the fall and winter, often as they shift between tours in the U.S. and overseas.