15 Jan A Photo Essay: Winter in Anchorage, Alaska
For some reason, Alaska has always seemed so unattainable. There’s so much to see over such a large area, and I figured we would need several weeks during both winter and summer to even scratch the surface. Well, after spotting cheap airfare last winter, we decided to bite the bullet and plan a weeklong trip to Alaska. Winter in Anchorage to be exact. It is true that we barely even made a dent in our list of sights we want to see, but we found out that a weeklong visit in the winter was still a fantastic choice.
We planned our visit to coincide with the Fur Rondy festival in Anchorage, and ended up finding plenty of winter adventures to add to our schedule, as well. Our days were filled with snowshoeing, exploring glaciers and ice caves, a sightseeing plane ride, a road trip to the cute town of Homer, breweries, a movie pub, northern lights, the Fur Rondy festival, and even a walk on a sandy beach at sunset. We were a bit worried that the weather would interfere with our plans, but we ended up having significantly warmer weather than we had back home in Minnesota! There were days that were over 50°(F) warmer than the temperatures back home.
Our trip was so much fun that we actually just planned another winter trip to Alaska. This time we are going to Fairbanks, and we can’t wait. We will be sharing more about that trip soon, but in the meantime, here’s some of our favorite photos from our last trip to Anchorage.
The first adventure of the trip was snowshoeing about 40 minutes south of Anchorage in Girdwood. We made our way to Chugach State Park and rented snowshoes from the Alyeska Resort. After lacing up our boots and strapping on snowshoes, we found the Lower Winner Creek Trail and started our hike with views of the snowcapped mountains and pine trees that towered over us.
The trees were so heavy with snow that when a pile fell off the branches, it came sprinkling down and glistened in the sunlight.
We didn’t make it to the end of the fairly short trail because we were too busy taking some photos for a company we were working with. That and also because we probably didn’t even really need snowshoes. The trail was so packed down that it was almost harder dragging the snowshoes around that it would have been to just hike. Oh well, it was still fun to go on a little snowshoe adventure, especially in a setting so beautiful. Part of the trail was even a portion of the Iditarod National Historic Trail.
After the hike, our next stop was Flattop Mountain for views overlooking downtown Anchorage. We didn’t have much time before sunset, so we walked the short trail by the parking lot and found amazing views in all directions.
Then it was time to catch the sunset over the Turnagain Arm, which is a waterway that branches off from the Gulf of Alaska. We drove along Highway 1 and found a pull off spot near the fresh spring water at Mile 109. Filling up our water bottles was a must, and nothing beats fresh spring water! When we arrived, there was a local there filling up a case of water bottles. We waited our turn and then settled in for a sunset over the mountains.
We didn’t catch any spectacular colors in the sunset, but we did have fun watching the tide carry the giant ice chunks floating in the water. It was amazing how fast the water was moving and the ice almost looked like rocks!
Moose’s Tooth Pizza was on the agenda for dinner—we had heard many great things about this spot, so we just had to check it out. And, we were certainly glad we did! Both the pizza and my side-salad were delicious. We enjoyed it so much we almost went back a second time.
When researching spots to see near Anchorage, we read about an adorable town called Homer and we had to plan a road trip there. We rented a little cabin for the night and made our way south towards the Kachemak Bay. On our way there (and all over in Anchorage), we kept spotting these cute little drive-up coffee huts. We couldn’t resist stopping at several of them because we are coffee obsessed and it is such a great and convenient concept!
Our first stop in Homer led to us practically crashing the set of a reality TV show. Yep. We basically barged right into a scene of Alaska the Last Frontier. It was both embarrassing and hilarious, and it is kind of a long story. If you want to hear more about it, you can check out our post recapping our favorite travel moments in 2017. I still get the giggles thinking about it to this day! After that debacle, our next stop was checking into our cabin for the night. The cabin was cozy and we had views overlooking the bay and mountains in the distance.
Then we went over to Smokey Bay Air for a sightseeing flight over the nearby glaciers and mountains. It was a turbulent ride, but we barely even noticed because the views out our windows were stunning. The 45-minute flight was over in a flash, and we couldn’t pull ourselves away—we wanted it to continue!
The weather was gorgeous when we were in Homer for the evening, and we made our way down to the beach to catch the sunset and to watch the drastic tide. The tides can reach over 28 feet and we had a lot of fun exploring the sand at low tide, especially since it was so warm and sunny. We didn’t even need our jackets; it was so warm that only a sweater was necessary! To finish out the night, we met up with one of our friends from high school who happens to live in Homer now. It was a fun night catching up—it had been well over 10 years since the last time we all hung out!
When we got back to Anchorage, we spent the next couple of days soaking up the Fur Rondy festival. The Fur Rondy is a winter festival that has been going strong since 1935. It began as a 3 day sports festival and has turned into 10 days jam packed with a wide range of events. I wanted to attend so many of the events during the festival, but there just wasn’t enough time. We did get to check out eight of the events though, and it was fun to see Anchorage so alive in the winter.
We kicked things off with a parade through downtown Anchorage, where I scored a nice little handful of loot.
Then it was time for the Outhouse Races where teams build an “outhouse” sled for a street race.
We watched dogsled races start and finish right downtown on main street.
There were ice hockey tournaments.
And, snowshoe softball tournaments.
Even a Blanket Toss right by the carnival.
A visit to the snow sculptures was also a must.
And we can never resist a great show of fireworks.
One of our favorite lunch spots during the events was Brown Bag Sandwich Company, which was walking distance from the main events downtown.
49th State Brewery in downtown Anchorage was another great spot to stop during the festivities—the beer was good, the food was delicious and the atmosphere was warm and cozy.
The last adventure during our week of winter fun was glacier hiking and exploring ice caves. But first, we had breakfast at Snow City Cafe, a delicious spot right downtown.
Then it was time to make our way out to the Matanuska Glacier. We booked a glacier hike tour that lasted several hours, and we were able to explore so many ice caves during the hike. The ice formations that we saw during our hike were simply amazing, and I can’t even begin to find the words to describe them. There were ice tunnels, giant crevices, and deep caves, and they were fascinating.
After an action-packed week, we were wiped and needed a bit of downtime. So, we ended up going to a movie! Normally, we wouldn’t go to a movie when we are traveling, but this theater sounded like a fun concept. We went to the second run theater called Beartooth Theater Pub & Grill where every other row of seats is removed and replaced with a table. You can order from a full menu and bar, and your meal will be delivered to your seat. It’s like a laid-back version of those fancy movie theaters, and we loved every minute of it. And the best part is the price—seats start at $4 per ticket!
We had been hoping to see the northern lights throughout our entire visit, but the weather just wouldn’t cooperate. We had cloudy skies every night, but then on our last night in town, the skies decided to clear. So, instead of getting any sleep before our 6 a.m. flight, we decided to leave our Airbnb at midnight to search for the aurora. Thankfully, we lucked out and caught a fantastic show of lights over the mountains. I was so excited to finally see the northern lights. It was such a beautiful and wonderful way to end the trip!
Have you ever been to Alaska in the winter? What’s your favorite snowy destination?