Planning for Alaskan Winter was an experience in itself! We had a lot of stressful days at work thinking about it alone. However, with a lot of research we came across a lot of facts, information, things to know, things that would help in making our trip stress free and fun. So I thought of sharing it all.
We started planning three weeks before the trip, Which is sufficient. There a lot of things to take into consideration before you plan this trip!
- You would need to layer up a lot to survive the winter here. I am talking about -4 to 14-degree Fahrenheit. So be prepared for the weather. I would say if you truly want to enjoy this place just accept that whatever you plan might not go accordingly since the weather is always unpredictable but try to make the most of it.
- Do a proper research on car rentals. From my experience, rental companies are a rip-off here (I know because I rented from Avis- pathetic experience) Rental companies don’t have winter tires. They provide all-season tires, which are good enough if you are not planning on driving far. I will cover more on renting a car. But yes, be prepared to drive on snow/ice roads.
- Alaska is famous for having dry cabins but you will find a lot of Airbnb’s that provide bathrooms. We went for a dry cabin (experience sake :p ) I would not recommend one. It’s not easy to be in a dry cabin where you have to step out of the cabin and walk for a min or two to get to the outhouse and then do your thing when it’s beyond freezing outside. Some of the places do provide heated bathrooms and are most expensive ones.
Now, let’s start one by one:
Flying to Fairbanks
From Seattle, the tickets were only $190 when we checked a month prior to our trip. But we got caught up so had to buy tickets last min which cost us around $240. I like Alaska Airlines and the fact that we had free wi-fi on the flight. If you have your own laptop you can connect to the wi-fi and watch movies. And if you don’t, you can also rent their tabs for $8. Its a total 4 hrs flight from Seattle.
We were looking for something scenic and adventurous for our stay. I mostly like booking Airbnb and if the place has a good location, unique experience, I am sold! When I was looking at my options, I came across a lot of cabins that were dry. However, they were the most beautiful and scenic ones. So I reconsidered and narrowed down a few. I looked at the reviews and the cabin’s actually had good reviews and people were okay with just having an outhouse. I knew that outhouse will only have pooping and peeing option. What about bathing? My friend Navadeep and I thought about it and just went ahead with it anyway.
We booked the Goldstream Studio Cabin. So this cabin was very comfy and cosy from the inside. Had all amenities required to survive the weather. The outhouse is right in front of the cabin. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a door which we knew about. But we still went for it. Our mornings were usually about layering up a lot, gloves on, boots on and go for it! We would really just need it in the morning before we left for our excursions. And during the day we would just use public restrooms in the restaurants or on our way. It wasn’t really difficult to find one. So that’s what we really did and it worked out.
As far as a shower is considered, we were there for 4 days and took shower just once when we went to check out Chena Hot springs. The hot springs have an indoor shower. So we took a quick shower before and after the hot springs.
If you decide on staying in a dry cabin, I would suggest stocking up on water bottles, some food/groceries so you can cook in the cabin and won’t need to make lunch or dinner trips.
Booking a rental was a painful and a time-consuming task. We wanted to be safe and sure. Car rental companies provide all season tires and not winter tires. Which is why they don’t allow their cars on Dalton highway, Dempster highway, Denali Highway. These roads are gravel roads and require winter tires. Nor do these roads have any reception/ network. These are mostly truck roads and communication is via radio. On Dalton highway, you will only see trucks, tour buses. I would definitely not recommend driving on these roads by yourself. It’s risky because:
- There is no network
- There are no gas stations for the longest time. On our way to Arctic circle, there was only one gas station called Hilltop near the transatlantic pipeline. After you have covered over 200 miles you will come across Yukon river camp where you can get next set of fuel. So you need to carry your own fuel.
- Roads are very rough so winter tires are a must. And if something happens, trucks driving by will help you.
- It can get super cold. It could snow and driving becomes risky then. So it’s important to have an extra heater in your vehicle.
- It’s a pretty long drive if you are planning Arctic Circle (we booked a 14hr tour). Its a 400 mile drive one way. So it can get tiring if you are planning on doing it on your own. (Since we were going for the first time. We booked a tour to Arctic circle. They took care of everything and the tour only cost us 225$ per person. They know all the places from where they can get fuel and of course restroom stops)
- Some of the local rental companies rent their cars for these destinations. However, they cost a lot around $1000 minimum. They will also provide you with details on where you can fuel up and two spare tires. So it’s pretty important to have winter tires and ability to fix a flat if you are planning on driving up Dalton highway, Dempster highway, Denali highway. It can be very expensive to tow the vehicle in case something happens and that could be difficult since there is no phone coverage.
We booked a tour, only for our ride to Arctic Circle. So for the rest of the days, we rented a Toyota Forerunner which was a really good choice. They had all season tires which was pretty good for driving to Chena hot springs, North pole and everywhere around the city. We wanted to drive to Denali but since most of the park was closed we didn’t see a point in driving 4 hrs there.
Chains are required if you are driving in a very icy condition and to get you out of the snow. But we didn’t need them at all during our driving experience.
You only need to plug in your car if it’s not in use for more than a day or if the temperature is below 10 degree-Fahrenheit.
I would also recommend getting a GPS with the car rental. We got one and it really helped in the areas with no coverage.
Layers, layers and lots of layers! Yes, for -4 degrees Fahrenheit that’s exactly what you will need. I bought like three jackets for Seattle winter. However, I made sure one of them was a thick ass snow jacket. So I used this Tommy Hilfiger jacket in Alaska with at least three more layers inside. On our drive to Arctic circle, we were extra careful. With two gloves, and three socks under my snowshoes. Scarf wrapped around my neck, one beanie and the hoodie of the jacket. And it was perfect. We stopped at arctic circle for a while to look around, drink some coffee and enjoy our victory. So layering up was a must. On other days while driving around the city, two layers of clothes and one snow jacket worked just fine.
I would recommend getting good snowshoes. I bought these shoes from Columbia for $90 on sale. These shoes are a life saviour. They have amazing grip so no falling especially for my clumsy ass, these were just perfect. I bought a size up so I didn’t have to struggle while removing or wearing them (I am size 5.5 so I bought them in size 6). They are super thick and the insulation inside keeps your feet from getting cold or wet and have extraordinarily awesome grip. I could run, walk comfortably in these. Now I can use them in Washington as well!
***Alaska has good uber/lyft services. We were staying in the most remote area and we could still get an uber/ lyft ride to and from home. So if you are staying in a downtown area or somewhere close by, instead of driving you could just uber around within the area.***
Hope this gives an idea of what to expect if you are planning a winter trip here. With these preparations, we could actually enjoy and experience true Alaska! Read my second blog to check out the fun we had 🙂