Fairbanks Winter Vacation
If you’re looking to get away this winter, forget about the tropical beach and sunscreen. Why not embrace the cold. Head northwest to Alaska for an action-packed trip you won’t forget.
Winter days in Fairbanks Alaska provide about 5 hours of daylight between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Due to the latitude, when the sun is up, it barely peeks over the horizon. The sky is streaked with the colors of perpetual sunrise or sunset.
Fairbanks Alaska Winter Temperatures are Not So Bad
The weather in Fairbanks during the winter is surprisingly tolerable. Being from Chicago, I literally cried before boarding the Alaska bound plane, scolding myself for not choosing Florida or somewhere warmer. I expected the worst…but was going on an Aurora Quest…cold or no cold. (It was gonna be cold.)
It turns out, Fairbanks weather is dry and mostly windless in the winter, a huge change from the damp, punch-in-the-face winds of Chicago. Fairbanks can be cold…even in the single digits or below, but it doesn’t feel that bad.
It is almost desert-dry in Fairbanks, the snow doesn’t melt in the spring…it just evaporates and goes away…no slush…no mess. The winter roads are less slippery and are given a layer of sand and gravel for traction rather than salt. Car rentals are equipped with an Engine Block heater to plug in at restaurants and hotels to keep the engine from freezing.
How to Dress for Fairbanks Winter
With battery powered socks and scarf and some layers, it is entirely possible to have hours of outdoor adventures, even for cold weather wimps like me. The battery socks and scarf don’t get super warm like I had hoped. I had visions of steam rising from my toasty feet and neck that unfortunately didn’t happen. However, the socks give enough to prevent the toes from freezing when walking on frozen snow and ice for an hour…and the scarf gave a place to duck my face in for a warmness break.
I opted for 3 pair of fleece lined leggings if we were going to be out for a while. I wore regular socks under the battery socks. Top layers started with a body hugging tank top and then a thermal long sleeve shirt. I wore a thick faux fur lined hoodie and a jacket over the top. On my hands were the kind of thin gloves that have the phone-using finger pad. On top of those gloves were very thick winter fingerless gloves with the pull back mitten for the fingers. When taking outdoor photos, I could pull back the mitten portion of the glove and use the thin glove for less frosty fingers. On my head I had my hood from my hoodie and my big fuzzy “babushka” hat and was good to go.
Alaska Winter Transportation
There are a couple of modes of transportation into Fairbanks in the Winter. Most flights require a layover in Anchorage and then an almost 2 hour flight into Fairbanks airport.
Another option is renting a car in Anchorage and driving about 7-8 hours through Denali up to Fairbanks…but the roads may be unpredictable.
A third option, the one I chose is the Aurora Winter train. The train ride is 12 hours long and seemed like a great idea…more sights…less driving.
Fairbanks is a Hot Spot for the Aurora Borealis Viewing
Fairbanks Alaska is known as one of the best places in the world to witness the magical Aurora borealis. There is an 80% chance of seeing the northern lights during a 3 night stay in Fairbanks during the winter months. Due to its location of 65 degrees latitude inside the Arctic oval, a ring- shaped area where the Aurora Borealis activity is generated.
Hotels in Fairbanks offer an “Aurora Wake up Call.” Sign up at the front desk and sleep easy. No worries about waiting up for the green glowing lights. Someone will call when the magical colors start streaking across the sky. Some hotels offer glass Aurora viewing domes or shuttles to bring guests and hot cocoa to dark park northern lights viewing hot spots.
The 6 Day Itinerary of Things to Do in Fairbanks in the Winter
Day 1- Aurora Winter Train Ride from Anchorage to Fairbanks
Board the Aurora Winter Train at 8 a.m. in Anchorage. During the first few hours of the ride, the sky is still dark. The Aurora train passes through Denali and Mt McKinley can be seen in the distance. The conductor points out attractions along the way, including the Dr. Seuss House and random moose sightings. A food car is available and meals are served during the journey. Occasionally the train will make unplanned stops to pick up locals standing along the route who live tucked into the snowy wilderness and need a ride to town for supplies. During the daylight portion of the ride, spectacular mountain views surround the train. There is a short stop on top of the Hurricane Gulch bridge for jaw dropping photo opportunities. The Winter train only runs on Tuesdays and Saturdays so plan accordingly if choosing this option.
Day 2 – Discover the Town…Fairbanks Winter Activities
After a long day of travel, the 11 a.m. sunrise affords a little bit of sleep-in time…or time for a leisurely breakfast and maybe the hotel sauna or spa.
To get around town, most hotels offer free shuttles to guests. We stayed at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge and their accommodations, aurora wake up call, shuttle services, sauna and fresh cookies were amazing. Taxi services or car rental options are also available to get around town.
There are a lot of things to do in Fairbanks, Alaska. The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline is close by as well as Gold Dredge 8. The Fairbanks Ice Museum and the Museum of the North are right in town. Fairbanks also has 2 distilleries (Fairbanks Distilling Co. and Hoarfrost Distilling) and three breweries in town (Midnite Mine Brewing Co., Black Spruce Brewing and Hoodoo Brewing Co.)
Day 3 – North Pole Alaska…Santa Claus House
The North Pole is only about a 20 minute drive or 30 minute bus ride from Fairbanks. All of the streets have holiday names and the light posts look like candy canes. Santa’s house is the hot attraction.
Inside is the Big Man…Santa himself and Mrs. Claus. Letters from children around the world line the wall. There is an extensive gift shop and hot cocoa.
Outside Santa Claus’ House is the reindeer barn with live reindeer. There are photo opportunities with Santa’s Sleigh and the dozens of carved glowing ice sculptures. The best part of all is hopping aboard a sled and zipping at lightening speed down the many neon ice slides in the dark.
Afterwards, it’s a short drive into Fox to the Silver Gulch Brewing Company for great food and freshly brewed beer.
Day 4- Arctic Circle – Fairbanks Aurora Borealis Tours
Tours can be booked through specialty companies such as the Northern Alaska Tour Company that will pick up guests at their hotels at 10 a.m. and bring them past the Alaska Pipeline and up the famous Dalton Highway in the heated tour vehicles. The route crosses the Yukon River and ceremoniously enters the Arctic Circle. Guests onboard receive an Official Arctic Circle certificate. There is a chance of seeing polar bears and seals in the daylight hours.
During the dark hours, the tour stops at the Arctic Circle Trading Post in Joy, Alaska (about an hour from Fairbanks) for Aurora Viewing. The shuttle drops visitors back at the hotel between 3 – 4 a.m. Good thing it’s dark till 11 a.m. for a full night of sleep.
Days 5 & 6 – Chena Hot Springs Resort
One day at Chena Hot Springs is not enough, especially after a late night of aurora viewing and sleeping in. A great time to visit is the week after New Year’s. Chena sees a huge crowd between Christmas and New Year’s Eve that drops off significantly on Jan 2.
Chena Hot Springs Resort is located about an hour and a half from Fairbanks and is a straight shot down Chena Hot Springs Road. Many hotels also offer a shuttle service for day trips to Chena with return service. Chena Hot Springs Resort also offers a pick up shuttle in Fairbanks for guests who would rather not drive the winter Alaskan roads with overnight packages available.
At the guest services area, tickets are available for the many activities they have to offer. Chena Hot Springs Resort has their own kennel and offers dog-sled rides and kennel tours. Guided snow-machine tours are also available. And after all the cold weather activities, the geothermally-heated hot springs feel amazing and the healing natural minerals sooth weary muscles.
Chena has changing rooms, towels and a heated walkway down to the water. What an experience to be out in the Alaskan winter air in a swimsuit. The water is about 104° and feels perfect after the frosty entrance.
Some people opt for hats in the springs. The steam can freeze on eyebrows and hair leaving little bits of frost and icicles.
There are a few outdoor soaking areas under the stars to choose from and an indoor swimming pool. Cross fingers for the Aurora borealis to make an appearance while soaking.
Chena Hot Springs Resort has a lodge style restaurant to enjoy a late dinner after all the fun.
Then…head over to the Aurora Ice Museum to be amazed by the intricately carved ice sculptures and enjoy an apple-tini in a glass made of ice.
Tours can be booked for a night-time Aurora Viewing Tour… complete with snacks and cocoa and a shuttle ride to Charlie Dome, one of the best Aurora Borealis viewing spots in Fairbanks.
Fairbanks Winter Dreaming
Take a COLD weather winter break to Fairbanks Alaska for 6 fun filled days of snow, Aurora Borealis Viewing and hot springs soaks.
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