Alaska Is a Winter Wonderland

If you're looking for a trip that takes you far outside your comfort zone, head north—far north

By Hilary Meyerson January 30, 2020


This article originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Seattle Magazine.

This article appears in print in the January 2020 issue. Click here to subscribe.

The summer cruise ships out of Seattle are blissfully absent in winter, and it’s a great time for Seattleites to head to the Land of the Midnight Sun. There’s a lot to cram into the few daylight hours, and the long nights make for some nocturnal fun—don’t miss the northern lights (see page 40). Fly into Anchorage, then pick and choose from this wintertime itinerary:

Hit the slopes
Just 40 miles southeast of Anchorage is Girdwood, home of Alyeska Resort. There, adventurers can glide over mounds of fluffy powder within view of Turnagain Arm, a branch of the Cook Inlet. (There aren’t many places you can ski with a view of the ocean!) Don’t be fooled by a lower-elevation ski area: The snow is deep, the slopes are challenging, and the lines are short. Do you like waking at the crack of dawn to be first on the lift? If so, this isn’t the place for you—lifts open at a relatively late 10:30 a.m., thanks to the shorter days, so sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before hitting the slopes.

Though there’s half a dozen dining options at the resort, head into Girdwood (there’s a shuttle from Alyeska) to try the Cajun food at the Double Musky, a local institution.

PORT APPEAL: Coastal Ketchikan is known for its colorful totem poles.

Experience glacial splendor

Frozen lakes and the otherworldly blue ice of glaciers are distinctive Alaska winter phenomena, and you need to see them before they’re gone. Check out either the Skookum or Spencer Glacier, both located near Girdwood, by snowmobile; if you’re lucky, you’ll get to stand in a sci-fi-esque glacier ice cave. There are numerous guides and outfitters that will pick you up at your hotel, outfit you in gear and get you on your own “snow machine” (that’s Alaskan for snowmobile).

Wander the winter coast
The Kenai Peninsula is a popular warm(er)-weather destination, but if you’re game for some cold-weather touring, rent a good four-wheel-drive vehicle and travel an hour and a half from Girdwood to Seward, where the Alaska SeaLife Center sits on the shore of Resurrection Bay. It’s the only facility in Alaska that combines a public aquarium with marine research, education and wildlife response. You can get a close look at puffins, octopuses, harbor seals, sea lions and other marine life. The Exit Glacier is another hot spot (OK, a chilly spot) to visit in summer; in winter, take a dogsledding tour to the glacier and get firsthand experience in this supremely Alaskan form of transportation.

Alyeska Resort’s majestic lobby. Photo by Ralph Kristopher.

A three-hour drive south around the peninsula’s western curve will take you to Homer, the self-proclaimed halibut fishing capital of the world. You won’t be taking a charter boat in winter, but the beaches are stunning year-round, as are the food options. The Homer Spit is a long beach peninsula, pleasantly quiet in winter and definitely worth a look. Check out the Salty Dawg Saloon at the end of the spit: a dive bar institution originally built in 1897 and adorned with the hanging dollar bills of countless patrons.

Join The Must List

Seattle's best events delivered to your inbox

Follow Us

Seattle Avalanche Center Keeps an Eye on Hazards

Seattle Avalanche Center Keeps an Eye on Hazards

Avalanche forecasting is a blend of science and art

A mass of heavy snow slides down a 40-degree mountain slope, hissing as it gains speed and momentum. The concrete-like mix comes to a slow stop along Highway 2 near Stevens Pass, completely blocking the road from vehicular traffic and knocking over large Douglas fir trees, upturning boulders and causing destruction in its wake.  For…

Sagecliffe Offers Some Welcome Sunshine

Sagecliffe Offers Some Welcome Sunshine

Sagecliffe Resort and Spa unites people and nature

For savvy Seattleites, the secret is out: Winter snowbirds in search of sunshine don’t have to fly south in winter — they can also drive east. A quick trip over Snoqualmie Pass opens a world of possibilities for vitamin D-deprived city dwellers, from Suncadia to Spokane. For turnkey sun and relaxation just two-and-a-half hours away,…

Travel Destination: Palm Springs

Travel Destination: Palm Springs

How to make the most of a trip to Palm Springs

“The desert tells a different story every time one ventures on it.” — Robert Edison Fulton Jr. Everything about Palm Springs defies easy description. It is both the name of a city and a catch-all term for the small towns scattered along the vast Coachella Valley, from Cabazon to Indio. It evokes hedonism, as well…

Explore Washington State's Outdoor Treks

Explore Washington State’s Outdoor Treks

Explore These Backcountry Treks This Winter

November in Seattle means you can count on a few things; Seahawks games, the start of holiday gatherings and rain. The long days of summer, with perfect weather that makes living in this region so worth it, are long behind us. Darkness has set in. Wetness has enveloped our city. It’s easy to get the…