Navigating the Challenges of Winter in Alaska

If one of your goals in life is to celebrate the holidays in a winter wonderland, Alaska is a surefire way to reach that target. The beauty of this snow-encompassed area attracts people from all over the world, even in the treacherously cold, dark winter months.

Visiting Alaska during this season looks a lot different than your typical tourist attraction, though. Due to the tilt of the Earth, most of Alaska is dark for all but a few hours of the day from November to February. In fact, in Barrow, at the tip of the state, the sun will set in mid-November, and you won’t see it again until mid-January.

But this cold, dark time is peaceful and tranquil, too. If you’re moving to Alaska or spending a few months there over the winter, it can be a life-changing time as long as you’re prepared to navigate the challenges that come with the benefits. 

Here, we’ll share the important things you need to know to make your first Alaskan winter as enjoyable as possible.

1. The Location Determines Your Sunlight

Visiting Alaska and trying to stereotype what you’ll experience is like saying you’re going to take a trip to Egypt. It’s vague, and in that one area, you’ll find significant differences in geography, temperature, and sunlight.

The two most populated and visited cities in Alaska are Fairbanks and Anchorage. When you know where you’re headed, you can use those two cities to determine what you may expect while you’re there. 

Anchorage is located toward the southern end of Alaska, so it gets more sunlight. You’ll see a whopping 5.5 hours of daylight on the winter solstice, and by the end of winter, this changes to almost 18 hours of sunshine. In Fairbanks, the solstice gives you 3.75 daylight hours, and by the March 21 equinox, you get another 18 hours of sunlight.

Anchorage has an average high of 32°F in November, going down to 23°F in January. Fairbanks, on the other hand, has a high of 16°F in November, ranging down to 2°F in January. If you’ve never been in freezing temperatures, this may not sound like much, but it’s a massive difference when you step outside.

This vast difference in latitude and longitude matters if the purpose of your visit is to see the Northern Lights. Visitors to Fairbanks have the best chance of viewing the green light show from August 21 to April 21. Anchorage’s aurora season is from late September to early April. Most activity occurs near the September 20/21 and March 20/21 equinoxes. 

2. Transportation is Limited

It’s understandable that you’re concerned about getting around while you’re in Alaska. The snow and ice make any kind of road travel treacherous, especially if you’re not used to the warning signs of impending storms.

Still, public transit options are limited in the state. Renting a car is your safest bet if you want to ensure you have control over things like groceries, doctor’s appointments, and medication. When you need to pick up your prescription regularly, as with medical marijuana or other controlled substances, having a car is essential.

(Speaking of medical marijuana, this resource can help you get a medical card when they become available in Alaska).

You can find rideshares in some major cities. However, keep in mind that if you don’t want to be on the road because of hazardous conditions, the rideshare driver probably shouldn’t be out there, either.

Instead, look into transporting your car for the winter or loading up on your essentials before any storms hit. Keep your pantry well-stocked with water, non-perishables, and life-saving medication. Running low on anything important may mean an urgent trip to the store during less-than-safe weather conditions.

3. Harsh Storms Abound

Once you get used to Alaskan winters, you tend to look forward to them. The chilly, dark days come with benefits like no mosquitoes, connected lands over the frozen water, easy refrigeration of food, and gorgeous views of nature.

Yet, Alaska has become one of the earliest victims of global warming, and the higher temperatures are wreaking havoc on the environment. When you visit, you’ll likely notice freezing rain, high winds and blizzards, early snowmelt, less sea ice area, and extreme storms.

These factors bring flooding and erosion that impacts the animals in the region, some of whom are dangerous predators. Between the weather and the wildlife, it’s best to stick to well-lit paths that you know if there’s a chance that you’ll get lost or caught in a storm.


Alaska’s beauty is well-known and often incomparable to otherworldly splendors. But the dangers of this magnificent territory shouldn’t be ignored. 

When you visit the state, be sure to understand the challenges you’re getting into so that you can overcome those obstacles ahead. Once that’s taken care of, you’ll enjoy the advantages of spending the winter in The Last Frontier.

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