In an article released by the Alaska Dispatch News this morning, the prospect of an actual winter scenario in the nation’s far North sounds pretty grim. Alaska is setting weather records, and not in a good way. Normally, Anchorage residents are tossing hand warmers into kids’ backpacks so they can enjoy recess without freezing fingers. Normally, ski boots line the hallways and staircases of family homes and many hotels, a cheerful reminder of the outdoor recreation for which Alaska is famous. From Ketchikan to Fairbanks and everywhere in between, Alaska is in a winter weather funk, and so, it might seem, are many residents and visitors who hope for more white stuff and a dropping thermometer.
We can’t change the forecast, folks, but we can endeavor to make the best of an odd situation. School dismisses on Friday for the winter holiday break, so I’m rallying my troops for a few unique experiences that just might turn the tides of grumbling around here.
Take a hike: One advantage of less-than-normal snowfall is easier access to local trails. Southcentral Alaska families, try Thunderbird Falls near the Eklutna Exit of the Glenn Highway, or a stroll through the Campbell Tract in Anchorage. Kincaid Park and Beach trails are perfect for some winter wandering, too, and the Alaska Botanical Garden is a wonderful spot to take a break from holiday busyness. Stop by the Alaska Public Lands Information Center on 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage during the week for a list of winter-worthy trails that appeal to kids.
Hop a train: AK Fam and friends will be skipping the drive to Talkeetna the weekend after Christmas, riding the rails instead. The Alaska Railroad Aurora Winter Train is 20% off for Alaska residents, and allows for more than 24 hours of family fun in this little mountain village. Find the schedule and fares, HERE.
Play: Did you know Alaska playgrounds are wide open and full of wintertime fun? Ever slid a slide with snowpants on, mom and dad? How about a game of tag? And hey, have you seen the new structures at Abbott Loop Community Park? Grab a soccer ball or frisbee and round up the neighbor kids for a little friendly pre-holiday competition. Find a complete listing of play-ready parks and open spaces for the entire family, HERE.
Learn something together: From Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks, Eagle River Nature Center near Anchorage, to the Center for Alaskan Costal Studies in Homer, families are offered a wide range of outdoor-themed opportunities to spend a winter break learning about the natural environments of Alaska. Indoor opportunities abound, too, at places like the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature and the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum in Anchorage, or try the Museum of the North in Fairbanks. Each provides geographical perspective and education about this amazing state we call home. Schedule an entire day to learn, together.
Do some critter-viewing: Zoo Lights will be illuminating the animals at the Alaska Zoo throughout the winter break, and it’s lots of fun to visit the property at night. Take the kids, a thermos of hot chocolate, snacks, and a sled, and ring in the holidays with twinkling lights. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is always open and ready to show off their ever-growing bison herd, elk, moose, and musk oxen. In Seward, every Wednesday is FREEzing Winter Wednesday at the Alaska Sea Life Center, with no-cost admission for Alaska residents. See the seals, sea lions, fish, and touch tank with your kids for an extra-special winter break getaway. The Williams Reindeer Farm in Palmer is scheduling two days of holiday fun on December 23-24, with sleigh rides, visits with Santa, and more. Up in Fairbanks, the Running Reindeer Ranch is all set for winter walks through the birch forests with Willow, Jasper, and the rest of the herd.
Take a road trip: With fairly stable driving conditions around the state (always check the Alaska DOT 511 page before heading out), a family road trip has never been easier during the winter months. Try Seward and Miller’s Landing; they’ve opened up the Admiral’s Cottage for winter rentals and can fit up to 12 happy folks. Hatcher Pass Lodge is always a good bet for hiking and relaxing in one of their cozy cabins or in the main lodge. If some pampering is on your list, try the beautiful Hotel Alyeska, where a roaring fire, good food, and oh-so comfortable beds might be calling your name. Road trips don’t have to be far, but sometimes the simple act of getting out town for a night or two can boost the spirit.
The snow will eventually fall, and normal Alaska winter operations will resume without a missed beat, but in the meantime, put a smile on your face, pack the gear, and remember how blessed you are to be in such a unique part of the world.