Alaska's Winter Festivals
Sample Alaska’s biggest winter festivals and carnivals, including the world-famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and give yourself good odds of seeing the northern lights with this seven-day itinerary through Anchorage, Fairbanks, and neighboring small communities.
Day 1: Anchorage
Time your arrival in Anchorage for a few days before the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race begins on the first weekend in March. A quick consultation with staff at the downtown log cabin visitor center will point you to a wide range of Fur Rondy events happening citywide. This annual festival features a different selection of events each day as well as ongoing activities, like snow sculptures and a selection of carnival games and rides. Events include the Running of the Reindeer, a zany outhouse race, snowshoe softball, art exhibitions, and much more.
Day 2: Anchorage
Take a quick break from Fur Rondy events to visit the Anchorage Museum. The museum features stunning displays of Alaska Native clothing, tools, and art items in its permanent collection; iconic Alaska art; fun, hands-on activities for kids; and a constantly rotating schedule of visiting exhibitions. Winter is a great season to visit, because light crowds mean you can take your time exploring.
Day 3: Anchorage
Don't miss the ceremonial start of the Iditarod on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage. Teams line up for blocks as they await their turn to leave the starting chute, cheered on by enthusiastic spectators. All the people and activity bring a lively atmosphere to the entire downtown area, and it’s a great day to wander and explore Anchorage’s shops and restaurants after the mushers are on their way.
Day 4: Willow
For an entirely different sort of carnival atmosphere, rent a car and follow the Iditarod mushers, their dogs, and what feels like half of Anchorage out to the official Iditarod race start in Willow. The ceremonial start in Anchorage was just that—a ceremonial procession that only lasts about a dozen miles—but the Willow restart marks the beginning of the true race to Nome and feels more like a serious sporting event, with tailgaters and lawn chairs scattered in open areas and spectators packing the sides of the starting chute.
Dress warmly, bring a picnic lunch, and plan to stay a while and socialize with the locals. End your day by driving back to Anchorage and taking a short jet flight to Fairbanks. One there, make sure to let the front desk staff at your hotel know that you’d like a wake-up call if the aurora borealis, AKA the northern lights, are visible at night.
Day 5: Fairbanks
For more Alaska culture and art, visit the University of Alaska Museum of the North and its displays on local history, Alaska Native culture, and fine art. Then, check out the intricately-carved ice sculptures at the World Ice Art Championships, attracting talented sculptors from around the world. This event runs from mid-February through the end of March, giving you plenty of time to check out the festivities.
Day 6-7: Chena Hot Springs
Today, rent a car and head out to Chena Hot Springs for a night or two of hot springs soaking, skiing, dog sledding, and exploring a year-round ice museum that was sculpted by two of the most decorated ice artists in the world. The hot springs resort, located about 60 miles east of Fairbanks, is also an excellent place to view the northern lights.
As in Fairbanks, make sure you let the front desk know that you’d like a wake-up call if the lights are visible at night. There’s no guarantee you’ll see them, but if you spend at least three nights in this part of the state actively looking for them, your odds are 80 percent or better. Once you’ve thoroughly soaked away your woes, fly home from Fairbanks.
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