While summer brings the largest number of visitors to Anchorage, a vibrant winter market is beginning to emerge as a close competitor for unique family vacation opportunities. From festivals to activities that rely upon Alaska’s frosty temperatures, wintertime means time for kids to experience the things that make Alaska famous.
When should you visit? Typically, families with kids want snow, and who can blame them? Snow is what makes an ordinary landscape extraordinary, and though Alaska is beautiful any time of year, the addition of white stuff turns even the surliest teenager into a grinning goof with the arrival of s.n.o.w. If snow is a priority for your family vacation, try arriving mid-November or later, creating the perfect atmosphere for a holiday celebration. Snow usually sticks around Anchorage until at least April, and for many Alaskans, this early-spring season means soft trails, increasing daylight, and warmer temps. Regardless of the month, Anchorage bustles with a full slate of kid-friendly options. Below are five of our favorites:
Skiing: For alpine enthusiasts, try Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, or Hilltop, located in the middle of Anchorage’s Hillside neighborhood. If backcountry tracks make your expert kids go ‘Wow!’ try Alpenglow/Arctic Valley Ski Area, a small, volunteer-run operation perched on the upper ridges of Anchorage’s Chugach Mountains.
Nordic trails are plentiful in Anchorage as well, with at least a hundred miles of groomed tracks for skate and classic skiers in town, and many more among the local parks and recreational areas. Grab a map from the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department, rent skis at REI, and head out for an accessible, family-friendly day on trails we residents use and adore.
Snowshoeing: Those same Anchorage parks that provide tracks for skiing also offer a bit of the Alaska backcountry for budding snowshoers. We like the Campbell Tract, a 670-acre swath of BLM land in southeast Anchorage where kids and parents can enjoy the feel of wilderness combined with the comfort of close-in access. Kincaid Park, located in southwest Anchorage, is a similar-sized park run by the Municipality of Anchorage, with hills, hidden trails, and stunning vistas offering views of Cook Inlet, the Alaska Range, and sometimes, Mount McKinley. The Alaska Botanical Garden offers periodic guided snowshoe walks suitable for all ages, too. REI also offers snowshoe rentals at very reasonable rates for both kids and adults.
Sledding: What kid would visit a snowy destination and not mention sledding? Anchorage kids have it pretty good in this department, with most schools boasting sledding hills on the playground (a great choice for visiting families), but sometimes we all want to find a bigger, badder place to tear it up with the grownups. Russian Jack Springs Park has a nice sledding hill and a small chalet in which to warm up, as does Kincaid Park. Find a list of all Anchorage sledding hills run by the Muni Parks and Rec Department HERE.
Want a thrill ride? Alpenglow/Arctic Valley is firing up the tubing hill once again near the ski area. AK Kid loves this crazy spot; the tubes are fast, and the hill, bumpy enough for my 10-year-old daredevil. Word to the wise parent: Put helmets and goggles on ALL kids. Encourage a ‘heads up’ mentality at all times. Station an adult at the bottom of the hill for safety and to encourage a swift departure from the tube.
Wildlife: Even though most people know Alaska’s bears are (likely) snoozing through the winter months, a number of other creatures are quite active. Moose can be observed at the Potter Marsh/Coastal Wildlife Refuge, just off the Seward Highway south of town. Moose are frequent browsers of shrubs and trees in the wintertime, so look in brushy areas, along roadways, and in yards, too. Remember to keep your distance; winter makes moose cranky, and at 1,000 pounds, not an animal to be bothered. Do not approach. Not ever.
The Alaska Zoo is also an excellent spot for families, especially those young enough to require a bit more success with wildlife viewing. The Zoo is located in Anchorage on O’Malley Road, and is open 10-5 during the winter. However, the season is approaching for the annual ZooLights display, and the zoo is offering extended hours Thursday through Sunday evenings until 8 p.m. Find the details HERE.
Festivals: Alaskans know that providing an opportunity for families to get out and about during our darkest months is critical to winter survival. Thus, Anchorage becomes a beautiful, light-filled wonderland of fun between November and March. The holiday season kicks off winter with the arrival of Santa Claus at Town Square Park November 28 at 5 p.m., and morphs into a delightful display of ice carvings throughout New Year’s Day.
Try the Anchorage Museum’s Wonderland of Toys during the same time, reminiscing and sharing with kids the toys you, or even your grandparents, treasured under their own Christmas trees as youngsters. The Museum also hosts several concerts during the holidays, so check their events calendar for details, HERE.
February means Fur Rendezvous arrives in Anchorage, a time for amusement rides, a parade, sled-dog championship races, and a reindeer race down 4th Avenue. With a history going back nearly 80 years, “Fur Rondy” is a beloved festival that celebrates winter, the fur trade, and Alaskans’ ability to make it through another winter season.
The first weekend of March means one thing to Anchorage; the Iditarod Sled Dog Race is about to begin. This historic race has a ceremonial start hosted by Anchorage, then dog teams are driven to the town of Willow about 90 minutes north for the official start of this 1,100-mile race to Nome. We love Iditarod day; the energy is contagious, and kids will enjoy the active aspects of trailside viewing.
Mush your kids to Alaska this winter; they’ll have a lot to share with friends and family upon their return! For more information about Alaska’s largest city, and wintertime recreation opportunities, go to the Visit Anchorage website, the official visitor bureau of our fair city.