Attention, parents: March 8 is just around the corner. That’s the day schools around the state open their doors and release students for spring break.
Of course, the term “spring” in reference to a season still very much looking like winter is definitely a misnomer here in Alaska, especially when teaser advertisements for swimsuits, sunscreen, and beach chairs start appearing. While many families do take this March break as an opportunity to jet south to warmer places in a final push toward true springtime, lots of us don’t, sticking around our home state to experience our own increased sunshine, warmer temperatures, and abundant outdoor recreation.
Alaska’s spring break benefits also come in the form of early-season deals and opportunities to get kids outside, exploring our state before the rush of summer visitors begins to show up. The options are plentiful and range from day trips to overnight adventures meant to spark kids’ curiosity during this late-winter season. Spending spring break at home? There’s a lot to see and do.
GET OUT ON THE WATER. March (and spring break) is an excellent time to explore Alaska’s waterways, especially when gray whales are making their way north from Mexico. This spring Major Marine Tours is offering gray whale tours early – starting March 9 – so Alaskans can take advantage of the opportunity. The four-hour cruise departs from Seward and explores Resurrection Bay, spotting other wildlife along the way, for $89/adults, $44.50/kids 2-11.
Have a larger family or visitors heading to Alaska over the break? It might be worth considering a smaller vessel for your own personal tour. Seward Ocean Excursions offers a 3 1/2 hour, custom tour around Resurrection Bay for $164/pp for up to six people. Yes, it’s more expensive, but captain Bixler McClure can nose his smaller boats, Missing Lynx and Lost Lynx, into the coves of the bay, spotting otters, porpoise, and orca, in addition to the aforementioned gray whales.
In Whittier, Lazy Otter Charters is rolling out another springtime of sightseeing cruises into Blackstone Bay. I took this trip one March with some visiting friends and it was breathtaking. Prince William Sound’s towering, snow-covered mountains and flat-calm water of the bay made for stunning scenery, and Lazy Otter crew members delivered our group to a rocky beach near Beloit and Blackstone glaciers where we had the chance to explore a bit before heading back to town. At $175/pp for 3 1/2 hours of cruising, it’s more expensive than other trips, but if you’re looking for something unusual for spring break plans, this definitely meets the criteria.
HEAD NORTH. Longer days mean more time to explore the area between Talkeetna and Denali National Park, and the area’s visitor industry is responding with special dates and rates related to spring break. Many families drive the 2.5 hours north from Anchorage, but it’s worth noting the Alaska Railroad has added midweek departures from Anchorage and Fairbanks and points between, making it easier than ever to enjoy a family getaway.
A favorite trip of many families is to hop aboard the train in Anchorage and travel to Talkeetna, arriving just before lunch. Guests to this little village have the option of staying downtown (you can walk right from the winter depot) at the Talkeetna Cabins or Talkeetna Roadhouse. Or, if you’d like to see sweeping views of Denali right from your window, the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge is open March 1-18. They’ll even meet your train.
What can you do in Talkeetna? Ski or fat bike the trails near town or at Talkeetna Lakes Park not far away; bake a pie at the Talkeetna Roadhouse with a special package with the Alaska Railroad; or stay up late and view the aurora borealis. Don’t have skis or fat bikes? North Shore Cyclery rents bikes and skis to fit even small children, and they’ve also got a line of Altai brand skis – short, fat skis with skins attached to the bottom and metal edges on the sides. They are perfect for breaking trail and playing in the fresh powder.
Visit the Talkeetna Chamber of Commerce website for more information and options for dining and other accommodations.
Want to venture further up the Parks Highway? Denali National Park’s winter recreation is abundant during the month of March, and, with temperatures at a more reasonable level, it’s also a lot more fun for kids. While the park’s main visitor center stays closed during the winter months, the Murie Science and Learning Center is headquarters for information, activities, and free snowshoes to borrow while you’re on the park property. We like to take our cross country skis or bikes and explore the entrance area trails, most of which are in excellent shape and perfect for youngsters. The trails around the sled dog kennels are also a great option, and it’s fun to watch rangers take their teams out for a skijor when they aren’t away patrolling the backcountry.
For lodging, visitors have a few options, staying near the park entrance at Tonglen Lake Lodge and cooking their own meals, or heading 11 miles north to the small town of Healy. We’ve stayed at the Denali Dome Home and enjoyed the “bed and breakfast” service, and the Denali Lakeview Inn a few miles away, where meals are not provided but the skiing around Otto Lake is delightful fun. The Denali Chamber of Commerce has more information about lodging and dining during the winter months around Denali National Park, as well.