This winter adventure through Southcentral and Interior Alaska features a scenic rail excursion, balmy hot springs, aurora viewing, dog mushing, and a visit to Santa’s house. Also included: A two-day extension to the remote community of Bettles for more aurora viewing and fun in the snow.

Day 1 Anchorage
Experience the drumbeat of Alaska’s indigenous cultures at the Anchorage Museum’s Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, or learn about the state’s pioneering bush pilots at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum. Wrap up the day by exploring downtown art galleries, followed by a hearty evening meal and locally crafted beers at one of the city’s many fine restaurants.

Day 2 Anchorage to Fairbanks by rail
Time your trip so you can board the Alaska Railroad for its Saturday northbound run to Fairbanks. The day-long journey includes brief stops in Talkeetna and Denali National Park, but you’ll want to stay aboard the train as it traverses the wide-open winter landscape. As Alaska’s short winter day fades into darkness you’ll be treated to the sight of alpenglow caramelizing the mountain peaks—including 20,310’ Denali, which is visible from the train on clear days—into shades of orange, pink and purple. When you check into your Fairbanks hotel, make sure the staff knows you’d like a wake-up call if the aurora borealis, or northern lights, are visible that night.

Day 3 Fairbanks
Spend the day exploring local museums, art galleries and cultural facilities, including the University of Alaska Museum of the North, the Fairbanks Community Museum, and the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum.

vacation in Santaland

Day 4 Chena Hot Springs
Rent a winterized car and make the 60-mile drive to Chena Hot Springs for a dog mushing tour, then spend the afternoon soaking in the hot springs. Explore the century-old main lodge building before driving back to Fairbanks.

Day 5 Fairbanks to North Pole
It’s always Christmas in North Pole, just a 15-mile drive southeast of Fairbanks—but winter is definitely the most picturesque time to visit. Stop by the Santa Claus House for Christmas-themed gifts, decorations and toys. You can also send letters from Santa (they’ll receive an official North Pole postmark) and have your photo taken next to a giant Santa statue. In the evening, return to Fairbanks and check out the events calendar for performances by local musicians and theater groups.

Optional Two-Day Add-on:

Day 6 Bettles
In the morning, check in with a local flight-service operator for your flight above the Arctic Circle to the remote village of Bettles. Guided activities in Bettles include dog mushing, wildlife viewing, snowshoeing, skiing and, if the skies are clear, northern lights viewing.

Day 7 Bettles
Enjoy another day of outdoor recreation and aurora viewing in Bettles. Other options include a flightseeing tour over Gates of the Arctic National Park and the Brooks Range, or a cross-country snowmobile (or as they call it in Alaska, snowmachine) tour along the frozen Koyukuk River. Return to Fairbanks in the evening.

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