Unforgettable Alaska Winter Adventures for Families

Feb 21, 2019

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If you think summer’s the only time to travel to Alaska, think again. There’s much more to do here than just cruise the Inside Passage with the family.

Alaskans love winter, and you can follow their lead by bundling up and getting right outside with them to enjoy it while taking in the Northern Lights, mushing a team of huskies, riding the rails aboard the Aurora Winter Train or fat tire biking around Anchorage. Follow our lead for some of the unforgettable Alaska winter adventures for families.

To get to Alaska, if you have Alaska Airlines miles, consider cashing them in from the lower 48 for a fabulous family winter vacation for as little as 12,500 miles each way.

Alaska Airlines unveils special-edition Captain Marvel plane
Alaska Airlines unveils special-edition Captain Marvel plane

American Airlines will want a little bit more for award flights to Alaska than for awards within the contiguous United States. Award flights to Fairbanks and Anchorage will run you at least 30,000 American Airlines miles for a round-trip saver award, which isn’t bad considering the distance traveled. 

American Airlines’ award chart for flights to Alaska versus those in the contiguous US and Canada.

Mush Your Own Alaskan Husky Sled Dog Team

Fly into Anchorage for the chance to try your hand at Alaska’s official state sport during all-day dog mushing excursions with Salmon Berry Tours. Transportation is included from Anchorage to Talkeetna, the gateway to Alaska’s interior, with the possibility of spotting Mount Denali along the way. 

Then you’ll arrive at the homestead of four-time Iditarod champion, Dallas Seavey, where your family will meet the huskies and be indoctrinated into the skills needed to properly mush the dogs along the snowy trails. Once it’s time to go, there are two guests per sled (one standing/mushing and one riding) for each team of Alaskan Huskies, and you’ll get to alternate positions half-way through the tour. Cruising along a mushing route roughly 7 miles long is one very Alaskan experience you won’t soon forget. Mommy Points visited the Seavey sled dogs in the summer a few years ago and had a blast. 

dog mushing in Alaska
Try your hand at mushing. (Photo by Richard Tilney Bassett / Salmon Berry Tours)

You can also book dog sled adventures directly and there are no official age minimums, though some of the longer days do have a recommended age of 6+. When we called, we were told you could take a little one under 2 on a sled dog tour at no extra charge.

Ride the Aurora Winter Train With Alaska Railroad

The Alaska Railroad operates year-round, but there are some special reasons to consider hopping aboard for the 12-hour trip between Anchorage and Fairbanks during the dark and snowy winter months. The Aurora Winter Train runs weekends from mid-September to mid-May, with select midweek service, too, from December through March. And while it takes the same route as summer’s Denali Star Train, views blanketed with snow make the experience entirely different. Passengers can look forward to Denali views on clear days, and moose are often spotted close to the tracks, too. Winter packages from the railroad wrap excursions, such as dog sledding, chasing the Aurora and even taking in some winter flight-seeing, into your family’s itinerary.

Aurora Winter Train in Alaska
Aurora Winter Train (Photo by Richard Kelly / Salmon Berry Tours)

Depending on route, prices start at around $30 for kids and $60 for adults — be sure to pay with a credit card that awards a bonus on travel.

Winter Glacier Walks

In Alaska, glacier-spotting is hardly reserved for cruise ship passengers and guests on flight-seeing tours. All year-round, you can head out with your family north of Anchorage with Salmon Berry Tours for a wintry walk like no other that takes you along part of a 27-mile-long frozen river of ice. Bundle up with the warm outerwear provided for you (including boots, gloves and snow pants) during two-hour walks that take you atop the Matanuska Glacier to marvel at the bright blue meltwater pools and other glacier features. Helmets, a trekking pole and spikes to help keep your boots from slipping are also provided to make the glacier outing as comfortable and safe as possible for the entire family.

Alaska glacier trekking
Glacier trekking in Alaska (Photo courtesy of Salmon Berry Tours)

Note that these tours are recommend for those who have kids at least 8 years of age and up and run about $299 per person.

Soak in Hot Springs While Watching the Northern Nights

When it comes to seeing the Northern Lights, nothing is guaranteed — the phenomenon is notoriously elusive, but if you’re lucky enough to catch it, you’ll remember it for life. 

Alaska northern lights
The Northern Lights at Chena Hot Springs Resort. (Photo courtesy of Salmon Berry Tours)

And while there are many ways to head out looking for the Northern Lights, we love the idea of soaking with the family in the balmy waters at Chena Hot Springs Resort while waiting for the sky to work its Aurora Borealis magic. The resort also offers snow coach tours to bring you out deeper into the night looking for the lights, as well as dog sledding and snowmobile tours into the surrounding wilderness.

Chena Hot Springs Resort
The hot springs at Chena Hot Springs Resort north of Fairbanks in Interior Alaska. (Photo by Matt Hage / Salmon Berry Tours)

While kids are welcome to use the indoor pool and the hot tubs, note that children under age 18 are not allowed in the natural Rock Lake due to naturally occurring bacteria that may impact them more than adults.

Family Fat-Tire Biking in Anchorage

You know what they say about the family that fat bikes together — they have a ton of laughs. You can rent the wide-wheeled rides at a downtown Anchorage shop starting at $25 and head out on the snowy trails around downtown or further afield. While the shop doesn’t offer guided rides, the owner can point you on your way along a route that matches your family’s fitness level and there are even trailers for rent if your children are too young to pedal.

fat biking Alaska
Fat biking on Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. (Photo by Jody O. / Salmon Berry Tours)

Plan a Family Ski Vacation in Southcentral Alaska  

Less than an hour southeast of Anchorage, in the town of Girdwood, Alyeska Resort is the go-to spot for families looking for an all-levels ski vacation in Alaska. From your beginners who are just getting a foothold on the sport with ski lessons to your confident teenage shredders and those family members keen to try heli-skiing, it’s on the menu at this comprehensive mountain resort. True beginners pay just $5 for magic carpet access and all lift tickets are under $100 per day, with kids costing significantly less than that. 

Where to Stay in Alaska on Points

Your points hotel options in Alaska are limited once you get out of the main towns, but there are options in the state’s largest cities.

In Anchorage, you can pick from a variety of points hotels including, Embassy Suites by Hilton Anchorage (between 36k and 70k Hilton Honors points), Hilton Garden Inn Anchorage (from 23k to 60k points), Hampton Inn Anchorage (23k to 50k Hilton Honors points), Hyatt House Anchorage (from 8k World of Hyatt points), Anchorage Marriott Downtown (Category 5, from 35k Marriott points), Sheraton Anchorage Hotel & Spa (Category 4, 25k Marriott points), Residence Inn Anchorage Midtown (Category 4, 25k Marriott points) or Crown Plaza Anchorage-Midtown (from 35k IHG Rewards Club points).

Image courtesy of Hyatt House Anchorage
Image courtesy of Hyatt House Anchorage

In Fairbanks, look to the Best Western Plus Pioneer Park Inn or Best Western Plus Chena River Lodge (both 16k points per night), Hampton Inn & Suites Fairbanks (25k–50k points), SpringHill Suites by Marriott Fairbanks (Category 4, 25k Marriott points) or Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Fairbanks (from 25k IHG Rewards Club points).

Bottom Line

While most families head to Alaska in the summertime, don’t discount the opportunities available in winter. If your crew loves the outdoors and activities to get the heart pumping, you can’t do better than a cold-weather trip to the snowy north.

Has your family been to Alaska in the winter? What did you think?

Featured image courtesy of Sheldon Chalet

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