Are you like us who had Northern lights in your bucket list from the first time you set eyes on the aurora in wallpapers? Yes, we have all been there. Planning for Winter in Alaska seemed more thrilling than a vacation. And it truly was!
We landed in Fairbanks a little after 9 pm on Christmas eve. This would be our coldest temperature we have been. We were so excited to feel how cold it actually is outside. When the airport exit door opened and the cold wind hit our face, it was surreal. We had to walk about 100 meters to get our rental car. Imagine walking inside a freezer. Except it was twice as cold. It was -28 degrees celsius. We did layer up but I forgot to wear my thermal gloves and wore only the normal ones. My hands started freezing to a point were the finger tip were in pain. I knew I was opening the door to the car but I couldn’t feel a thing. We started the engine and took legit 10 minutes to warm up before heading in to town!
What took us by cold surprise!
❄️ The Sun is only around for couple of hours in the day. The sunrise is at 11 am and sets around 2 pm. This was not really a surprise as I knew before. But to watch the sun go up and down in a rainbow shape in the horizon when you are on a car ride for few hours is just so unreal!
❄️ Think of the coldest wind around you. It is probably going to be colder than that. Layering up was the trick! When you are inside a building or a car, you will start getting warm because of the heater so you can layer down accordingly.
❄️ Driving in Alaska is not as bad. Both of us having limited experience driving in the snow in the past, we had our doubts. But the roads are regularly cleared off snow and it is so comfortable to drive around in the car. It is in fact an experience on its own to see the serene beauty, while being in your comfort spot.
❄️ Heater pads! Get the heat pads for your palm and foot. You can get them at convenience store. They are a life saver. My hands and feet are the first to start freezing. It was so helpful when we had to wait for long hours in the cold. Especially while watching the Northern lights.
❄️ A landscape covered entirely in snow as far as your eyes can see! The pictures speak for themselves here!
How to catch the Northern Lights!
✨ Northern lights aka Aurora Borealis are the lights you see in North Pole and South pole and occurs when Earth’s magnetosphere is disturbed by the solar wind.
✨ When particles collide with oxygen, yellow and green are produced. Interactions with nitrogen produce red, violet, and occasionally blue color lights
✨ The suggested time to see the Aurora in the North Pole is from September to March. We were there during Christmas time.
✨ You can book a Northern lights tour where they take you on a guided tour or you can adventure on your own.
✨It is best to give 3 to 4 nights chance to catch the lights. You can see them when the sky is clear. We were chasing the stars to find a good spot away from the city lights.
✨ Learn the setting for your camera to capture the lights as the auto options won’t capture them.
✨ Check the forecast https://www.gi.alaska.edu/monitors/aurora-forecast before you go. Remember it is not cloudy in all spots at the same time. We made 2 or more stops when we went on our own and were able to see brighter lights a few miles away from the previous spot. The trick is to watch for the clear sky. If you can spot the starts clearly you have a high chance to catch the lights!
Playing with weather extreme is what I did not know I was missing in my life. Haha.
☃️ Ice rainbow: When you pour hot water into the freezing temperature it turns into snow instantly creating the ice rainbow!
☃️ Turning into an ice sculpture: You can feel your hair freeze within seconds at Chena Hot springs during winter. It is located within a few hours drive from Fairbanks.
☃️ Learn more about the thermal expansion and the layout plan for Trans Alaskan pipeline when you visit. It was pretty cool to see how the pipe was designed as it actually moves over the months depending on the weather.
If you are wondering what else you can possibly do in Alaska winter, we got you!
🥶 Dog sledding
🥶 Hot Springs
🥶 Ice museum (You can try a drink from the glass made of ice!)
🥶 Train ride from Anchorage to Fairbanks
🥶 Flight seeing
🥶 Ice fishing
We were sceptic about dog sledding thinking we may be actually hurting the huskies. It turns out they actually love sledding. They need intense exercise and sledding is their favorite workout. You can tell by their tails and ears. Talk about loving your job! It was interesting to learn the sledding positions in a team and their voice commands. These Siberian Huskies are highly intelligent and eat like a king.
What to Pack
- Winter Parka and layers of jackets!
- Thermal Socks/ Smart Wool Socks
- Thermal wear (I had the Uniqlo ones)
- Hiking boots (water proof recommended)
- Gloves and mittens (Smartphone tips recommended as it is a pain to take off your gloves each time to access your phone)
- Snow pants
- Tripod (especially for capturing the Aurora)
Last but not least. Let’s talk about fooood!
Anything warm seemed heavenly when we looked for food. We had lots of hot chocolate, soup, cider and hot wine. Since we don’t eat red meat we opted most of our meals with Alaskan Salmon, Wild Alaska Seafood Etouffee, King Crab Legs and Halibut specials. Don’t forget to try Birch syrup made in Alaska.
Tried to fit in as much info as possible. Happy to answer more questions you have for us. Leave us a comment we can share more details about the trip or point you in the right direction! Travel safe 🙂