Alaska travel guide

Seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska

The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, are a phenomenon that occurs near the north pole during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. Charged particles collide with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere, causing an aurora, or light display.

These can be green, red, yellow-green, or purplish-red and may show up as lines, curtains or waves that remain still or gently undulate in the sky. Seeing the lights is a “bucket list” experience for many people who many plan northern trips in the hopes of seeing them.

The best time to see the lights is generally from late September to early March, and one of the best places to see the Northern Lights is in Alaska. Bear Lake , located near the town of Seward offers some of the best viewing, as there is very little light pollution nearby. For this same reason, some dedicated viewers choose camping in Alaska rather than staying in a city. However, they can still be seen in cities on the clearest of nights. For example, Fairbanks, the largest city in the interior region of Alaska, is also ideal thanks to its high altitude.

Many companies arrange Northern Lights viewing tours, but really these aren’t necessary. The guide will help you find the best vantage point and arrange all the logistics, but with a little research and preparation you can do this on your own. Of course, even with all the preparation in the world, you’re still left at the mercy of the weather and the atmosphere when it comes to your chances of viewing the Lights. You can fly to Alaska, camp out in a prime viewing spot or spring for a pricey tour, but if heavy clouds decide to blanket the skies, you’ll have no hope of an Aurora Borealis experience. In some respects, it all comes down to luck.

Photo by Beverly & Pack

Alaska travel guide

Have you visited Alaska before?

Last year I read Nora Roberts’ “Northern Lights” and fell in love with the spectacular Alaska. I am sure you know the feeling when a book makes you want to visit a certain place. That’s what this book did to me. Made me want to go there.

Alaska is one of the at-risk places to visit and you definitely need to do more planning and research before your vacation. But it also offers some of the most spectacular landscapes on Earth. Unfortunately, some of them won’t be here for too long. Make sure to visit Alaska before the icebergs are just a reminder of what used to be Alaska.

With the climate dramatically changing and reshaping the face of our planet, it only makes sense to take advantage of the cheap Anchorage flights this summer and plan the vacation of a lifetime.

You’ll also need accommodation, so hostels in Anchorage can represent a good choice, especially if you want to save money (which you can use to plan different outdoor activities). Hiking during the summer is excellent but it’s advisable to choose a guided tour. Fishing is also excellent here. You can also take day cruises to see the famous spots at Glacier Bay, Kenai Fjords and Prince William Sound. You can also take wildlife viewing tours gray wolves, grizzly bears, orcas, lynx, moose, and hundreds of other rare and endangered species in their natural habitat.

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Alaska travel guide

What has the marmot done? Is Spring coming?

February 2. Every year this date is very important for those who believe in weather predicting traditions . In many European countries, they look to see whether the bear sees its shadow. If it does, it gets scared and goes back to hibernation for another 40 days. Argh! Update from Romania: it’s snowing and the bear hasn’t seen its shadow. So we can hope spring is coming!

Alaskans, on the other hand, are very careful to watch the marmots’ behavior on this particular day. The routine is the same as in the case of groundhogs, hedgehogs and bears: if the marmot sees its shadow, it’s six more weeks of winter.

After reading “Northern Lights” (by Nora Roberts) I’ve decided that regardless of the weather predictions, I’d love to spend a vacation in Alaska. Sure, it’s cold in the winter and spring is not exactly very warm either, but Alaska is a magical place.

And it’s also located pretty far for the rest of the US states. So, looking for a cheap flight into Alaska can be a bit tricky. But Alaska Airlines typically has excellent deals for those wanting to fly to the frozen state.

With the flight booked, make sure to also look for discount hotels , which aren’t that hard to find. You can find rooms in Fairbanks for rates starting at $58 per night (2 persons) , but the rates do depend a lot on the location of the hotel.

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Alaska travel guide

Ski Vacations to Alyeska Resort

You might expect that with a long, cold winter and abundant snow, Alaska would be covered with snow resorts. But there are surprisingly few all-inclusive ski resorts in the state, and biggest by far is Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. Lying only about 30 miles outside of Anchorage, Alyeska is conveniently located and offers over 1,400 skiable acres of terrain, ranging from the simple to the extremely technical. Although the owners are adding more beginner slopes, there’s a pretty limited number of them now, so if you’re a first-time skier, you won’t have all that many choices. But if you’re comfortable on your skis, Alyeska is a great spot for a ski vacation.

Getting There
If you’re not a local, then you will want to start with a flight to Anchorage. From there, it’s a 30-mile drive down the Seward Highway to Girdwood.

What’s the best time to come?
The regular ski season at Alyeska runs from late November to late April. Keep in mind that unless you want to do a lot of night-skiing, December and January might not be the best months. To get the most out of your full-day pass, look at a trip later in the season, in early to mid March. For more information on daylight hours, see our article, How Long are the Days in Alaska?.

What else is there to do beside skiing?
Alyeska is much more than a ski mountain. It really is unusual in Alaska in being a full resort, with tour guides, a spa, a sushi restaurant, a museum and more. You won’t be bored, and with an increasing number of family activities, neither will the kids.

How much will it cost?
Alyeska is definitely a resort, and most services on the mountain have resort (read “high”) prices. But if you pick the right pass, you can get a lot of skiing in without breaking the bank. A day pass is $60 and lasts from 10:30am to 5:30pm, and is your best option if you’re only skiing one or two days. There is a half-day pass, but unless you’re a local, it’s unlikely that you will be skiing for less than a full day, and the half-day is only $10 less anyway. If you’re planning an extended ski trip, you might want to consider the Ten X Powder Pass, which gets you ten full days for $450 (25% off). There are other pass options up to and including a season pass, but if you’re traveling to Alyeska, the Ten X is the largest pass you’ll be likely to need.

Enter your travel dates into the form below to search for hotel rates in Girdwood. As always, especially with a seasonal destination, the earlier you book, the better your chances will be to get exactly what you’re looking for.

More information
Alyeska Snow Report

Alaska travel guide

Looking for Santa Claus

A well known folk legend says that Santa Claus lives in the land of perpetual snow. The American version says that he lives in a house at the North Pole. The plump figure of Santa is attributed to Nast, an American cartoonist of the 19th century.

But regardless of the many legends and myths, we know for sure that Christmas should be spent with the ones we love. And we should all be each others’ Santa Claus.

If you are a looking for a place to spend a white Christmas then look no further than Alaska. Christmas in Alaska is always white and the smell of chestnuts roasting on the fire is very Alaskan. On a clear Alaskan night you might be able to see the Northern Lights.

Although Christmas is just several days away, you can still look for flights to Anchorage ; chances are you’ll be able to find some good last minute deals. Or you can check out the travel deals to Anchorage and opt for a flight and hotel package.

Just remember that Alaska has its particularities; in December the sun rises at 10:14 a.m. and sets at 3:40 p.m. And it is cold. Really cold. It is wild and beautiful but it can also be dangerous for those who pretend they know everything and nothing can hurt them. Alaska is huge and it’s not hard to get lost even very close to Anchorage. Consider travel insurance and if you plan to explore the wilderness, always hire a guide.

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Alaska travel guide

The Northernmost Hotel in the Americas

Many who come to Alaska don’t make it much farther north than Anchorage. Some with a little more time and ambition find their way to Fairbanks. But only a very small number continue farther north, all the way up to the north slope. Here they will find the unique town of Barrow, and with it, the northernmost hotel in the Americas, the appropriately named “Top of the World Hotel”.

Alaska travel guide

Top Five Places to Drink Beer in Anchorage

Beer-making was once the domain of a few large companies, but with the rise in popularity of microbrews and home-brewing, there are hundreds more beers to choose from, no matter what your style or budget. Alaskans, being fans of both locally-owned businesses and beer in general, have started to get in on the microbrew craze. Though Anchorage doesn’t compare to cities like Portland in the lower 48 for sheer number of breweries and brew-pubs, the educated traveler to the city can put together a decent little beer tour. Here are the highlights that any hop-obsessed traveler to Anchorage must see:

1. The Moose’s Tooth
3300 Old Seward Highway, Anchorage
* One of the best-known brewpubs and eateries in Alaska, the Moose’s Tooth offers not only 17 styles of beer but also home-made root beer, ginger ale and cream soda for the tee-totalers in the group (or the designated driver), and award-winning pizza. Can be a little touristy, but worth it, especially for the combo of great beer and great pizza, not always easy to find in Alaska.

Alaska travel guide

How Big is Alaska?

This post is part of our ongoing Alaska FAQ series, answering commonly asked questions about the state.

Short answer: Really, really big. To many travelers from Europe and the rest of the world, the United States can seem dauntingly large, and that’s just the lower 48 states. Alaska is by far the largest of the 50 US states, and we’ve compiled a list of facts on Alaska’s size that should help explain just how massive the Great Land really is:

  • Total land area: 663,268 square miles (1,717,854 sq. km.)
  • More land area than the 2nd, 3rd and 4th biggest states combined
  • More land area than the 22 smallest states combined
  • More miles of coastline than the other 49 states combined
  • If Alaska was a country, it would be the 19th largest in the world
  • Because of the Aleutian Island chain, Alaska is over 2,200 miles wide from end to end, more than the distance from Madrid to Cairo.
Alaska travel guide

How long are the days in Alaska?

2645590772_f85954c364This post is part of our ongoing Alaska FAQ series, answering commonly asked questions about the state.

Among the many nicknames for Alaska, the best-known is probably “Land of the Midnight Sun”. This refers to the fact that, in summer, there is sunlight well into the night-time hours. This is true of all high-latitude regions, but Alaska is one of the most famous places to experience the longest summer days.

But how long are the days really? Because of the huge range of latitudes that Alaska covers, from about 56 degrees North in Wrangell (Southeast Alaska) and 71 degrees North in Barrow, the daylight hours also vary across the state. In Barrow, there is no real darkness for three months, while in Anchorage there are about 19 hours in the longest day of the year.

Obviously, the actual amount of sunlight varies a bit day to day, and can also be affected by the weather. It will be lighter for more hours on a clear day than through heavy clouds.

Below is a table of the daylight hours for a few cities and towns in Alaska, in order from South to North. Note that in April and September, there is virtually the same amount of daylight throughout the state, and how the differences increase as you get closer to the Summer and Winter solstices.

City Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Juneau 6:30 8:15 10:35 13:15 15:45 17:50 18:10 16:30 14:00 11:30 8:55 6:55
  Anchorage     5:40     7:45     10:25     13:20     16:50     18:45     19:10     17:05     14:15     11:25     8:30     6:10  
Fairbanks 4:00 6:55 10:05 13:35 17:00 20:35 21:25 18:10 14:40 11:20 7:50 4:45
Barrow 0:00 4:05 9:20 14:15 19:45 24:00 24:00 24:00 14:45 11:05 5:50 0:00
Alaska travel guide

Best Business Hotels in Anchorage

Many travelers come to Anchorage to experience the wilderness, fishing, culture and other activities that have made Alaska so famous. But, as the largest city in Alaska and being located relatively close to Asia, Anchorage is also an important city for international business. Many major conventions and trade shows come to the Dena’aina Civic and Convention Center every year. When you find yourself in Anchorage on business, these are some of your best options for where to stay.

These are definitely not the cheapest hotels in Anchorage – that’s a different article. But when you are in the city to close a deal, or meet with a client, and convenience, reliability and class matters more than getting the absolute lowest price, these are great choices.

All of these hotels have free wifi internet, a must for today’s business traveler.


Homewood Suites by Hilton Anchorage

Starting around $280
Located conveniently close to both the airport and city center, Homewood was ranked #1 for business travel by TripAdvisor, and is one of the best-known hotels for business travel in the city. Always a good choice.


Embassy Suites Anchorage

Starting around $295
The Embassy Suites is a favorite of visiting oil company employees, a huge part of the Anchorage business travel sector. Most of the major oil company offices are located near the hotel, and the Anchorage Golf Course is also close by, for entertaining clients and guests.


Hilton Garden Inn Anchorage

Starting around $223
Hilton hotels are reliably similar no matter where you travel, and the Garden Inn is no different. The hotel includes a full business center.


Sheraton Anchorage Hotel

Starting around $250
One of the more interesting of the business hotels, the Sheraton is decorated with native Alaskan art and strives to combine the reliability of a chain hotel with some unique Alaskan flavor.

For more options, enter your dates into the form below and we will do the searching for you, finding you the best prices for hotels in Anchorage.