Alaskans know when temperatures plunge and snow begins to fall, it’s time to play outside. From placid skating ponds to rugged mountaintop ski runs, the 49th state embraces winter with enthusiasm, especially in Anchorage, where access meets adventure quite comfortably. Expedia.com asked me to share my favorite snowy-day fun spots with the hope that more families will take advantage of Alaska’s wintertime appeal.
Whether you’ve years of outdoor experience under your belt or none at all, Anchorage is the place to be during winter’s extended appearance. While many visitors assume they’ll have to travel quite a distance from Alaska’s largest city to find the snow sports they crave, Anchorage is a doorway to skiing, snowshoeing, skating, and sledding. Located at the foot of the Chugach Mountains east, and Cook Inlet to the west, Anchorage is perfectly situated for outdoor recreation. This city of 360,000 knows how to keep kids active during long and cold Alaska winters, with fun events, activities, and independent exploration that rivals other cold-weather destinations.
Alyeska Resort is located in Girdwood along the Seward Highway, about 45 minutes south of Anchorage. A scenic drive along frozen Turnagain Arm lands families at the base of Mount Alyeska, where alpine and Nordic skiing is extremely popular. Spend the night at Hotel Alyeska, and enjoy snowshoeing along Winner Creek Trail, or take an aerial tram to the tippy top of the mountain for a 360-degree-view of glaciers and Turnagain Arm, below.
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, just 10 miles south of Girdwood, is a wintertime treat for kids. Home to rescued and orphaned Alaska animals, the center provides an intimate educational experience, especially in the winter. While cold temperatures and snow mean hibernation for the black and brown bears who reside there, the facility is by no means quiet, with a herd of Wood bison, musk ox, moose, elk, foxes, and a cheeky porcupine. Kids will love borrowing a kick-sled at the Welcome Center for use along the property’s trails, and parents will enjoy the opportunity to savor stunning scenery.
Downtown Anchorage bustles during the winter months, with local ponds open to ice skating as soon as frigid weather hits and surfaces freeze over. The Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department provides Family Free Skate events on weekends throughout the winter, with music, burn barrels, and hot chocolate, but the ponds are also open to anyone, any time. Bring your own skates or grab a pair for cheap at one of the local thrift stores or sporting goods outlets. The parks department also provides a comprehensive list of park sledding hills so families can schuss down the snowy flanks of Anchorage parks with ease.
Just east of Anchorage, Eagle River Nature Center, snuggled in Eagle River Valley, is a longtime family gathering spot for outdoor recreation. Weekly programs designed for children kindergarten through 6th grade incorporate outdoor education with playtime, and kids learn skills of tracking, survival, wildlife awareness, and outdoor-themed crafting. For those who wish to explore independently, miles of trails span nearby hillsides, including the Historic Iditarod Trail, a former freight line run by dog teams in the late 1800’s. Snowshoeing and Nordic skiing are excellent here, with snowshoe rentals available for a small fee at the center. The grounds are open every day, but the center itself is closed weekdays between October and March.
Looking for an event to anchor your other activities? Fur Rendezvous, or “Fur Rondy” as locals call it, is an annual festival celebrating all things winter and outdoor recreation. Held each February in downtown Anchorage, Fur Rondy features a parade, fun run, outdoor carnival complete with rides, and hundreds of snow-themed activities to observe, or participate in, if you dare. Run with reindeer, play snowshoe softball, or test your mettle at the annual outhouse races. Considered one of the biggest winter festivals in the world, Fur Rendezvous has been an Anchorage fixture for nearly 80 years, and just keeps getting better.
Alaska winters may be cold and dark, but the famous Last Frontier spirit shines through with warmth of activity and hospitality. Bundle up, bring the hot chocolate, and see if your snowy-season vacation isn’t made better for heading outdoors.