In late 2017, I booked a trip to Fairbanks, Alaska for January – when the average highs are still in the negatives, thinking the only reason to go was to try and see the northern lights. We did get to see the lights and it was one of the most incredible life experiences. But also amazing was the dog sledding, snow-mobiling, and hot springs!
First, The Northern Lights
In doing research, I found there are many little details to keep in mind trying to catch the aurora borealis. Of course, time of year is important, but we also looked at the moon cycle (the smaller the moon, the less ambient light), and weather patterns (you can’t see the lights if it’s cloudy).
We decided to go to Fairbanks, Alaska, since it’s more frequently in the aurora’s path. There are tons of resources to check the forecast and these were a trip lifesaver.
Right off the bat, we were able to see dim lights on the plane ride into Fairbanks! Unfortunately, once one the ground, and for the next three nights, clouds made it impossible to see any more. Finally, on our last night in town we got an amazing show!
If catching the northern lights is on your bucket list, I highly recommend finding the time!
A Close Second – Dog Sledding
I didn’t realize how amazing dog sledding would be, but I’m so glad I got the opportunity to do this. There are tons of options for tours, but we chose a shorter ride since it was so cold – 30 minutes turned out to be plenty.
Pro tip: find a company that will let you play with the pups before and after the ride – this was a big part of the fun!
I learned a lot from my guide Heidi – she and her pack compete in long races including the Iditarod, and said that these local tours are “like vacation for the dogs.”
Snow-Mobiling and The Hot Springs
Snow-mobiling was such a rush and an awesome way to cover a lot of ground fast. Our tour guide took us to a frozen lake and let us run loose for a while before taking us through a “residential neighborhood” that looked more like a deserted forest.
He told us that where we were, most houses didn’t have running water, and many didn’t have internet or even electricity either.
We also took a day trip to Chena Hot Springs. Most of it was pretty cheesy – they have an ice museum and some other activities, but the hot springs itself was really a wonderful way to spend an hour or so.
I worried about doing the hot springs in the winter since it was so cold outside – and I can’t say I ever thought a swim suit with ear warmers would be a fashion statement. But aside from our hair freezing, it was actually really comfortable.
You Should Go to Alaska!
All this to say, Alaska is a great trip I wish I took years ago. Fairbanks isn’t the coolest city I’ve ever been to, but it was central to all of our plans and very reasonably priced. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or want to know more about our travel plans!