It was November 2018 and we were on Google Flights, trying our best to figure out where we wanted to go. We had always traveled during Thanksgiving but this year, we had forgotten about our trip and it was almost too late. We scoured the website for affordable flight tickets (everything was over $500/person) when I realized something.
“So, tickets to Alaska are almost half the price of others,” I said, already beginning to hate the chilly evening breeze in California. “Are you crazy? Alaska must be freezing. There’s no way we’re going there,” my partner said. Two weeks later, we flew to Anchorage on Thanksgiving Day.
How would I describe Alaska in winter? Magical, with an almost Wonderland-like quality to it. It’s like a silent painting and at each turn, you find yourself just unable to take your eyes off the beautiful landscape in front of you. But, there was also a terrible downside to it. We had lofty plans for our 7-day trip.
We would spend two days around Anchorage, move on to Fairbanks with a stop at Denali National Park and then drive all the way down to Seward before flying back. But the moment we got there and floundered our way to our bed and breakfast, the day was already over (in the afternoon) and we knew nothing was going to go according to plan.
The sun rose around 10 am and set at 3:30 pm while we were there and it was almost impossible to get anything done. We woke up around 9 am on the first day and drove in the dark towards Matanuska Glacier so that we would arrive on time for the sunrise.
The temperatures were dipping towards 0 degrees celsius and we layered up for our glacier hike. It was surreal to go walking around a sheet of ice, listening to the subtle cracks and noises it made as it turned, and forever being anxious about the ice cracking and plunging into the unknown.
The two-mile hike took a couple of hours to finish and we were able to crawl through ice tunnels and look into caves.
We extended our trip in Anchorage by another day and spent the next at Chugach State Park, doing shorter hikes and taking in the views. On the third day, we drove up to Denali National Park, and for most stretches of the journey, we were alone on the roads.
Apart from the elk and moose that wandered around the edges once in a while, we only had the towering snow-capped peaks for company. And it wasn’t too bad. The silence that followed us throughout our drive was comfortable and in some sense, almost unreal. As the landscape continued to unfold, we could only sit back and watch nature show us her best, in silence.
The snow rained down by the time we reached Denali National Park and we spent whatever little daytime we had on a short hike before the sky began to grow dark. The national park was mostly closed for winter anyway, and we couldn’t do much else.
That night, the temperatures near Denali dropped to - 13 degrees celsius, and we stayed holed up in our hotel room, watching the snow through the window. By morning, the car was covered in snow and we had to shovel our way out of the motel and onto the road again.
We spent the last two days in Fairbanks, visiting the hot springs and moseying around town. We also paid a visit to the North Pole and Santa Claus House, which was decorated for Christmas and looked as jolly as it should. After some hot chocolate and candy, we were ready to begin the holiday season.
We also went on a dog sleigh ride, which ended up being one of the most exciting parts of the trip. One of the main reasons we decided to visit Alaska in winter was the Aurora Borealis. But unfortunately, the weather had been overcast since the day we landed and the whole time we were in Fairbanks, the sky was moody and unrelenting.
On our way back, we stopped at a homestay between Denali and Anchorage, after a pit stop at Denali National Park’s Husky kennels to spend some time with the dogs. The accommodation was surrounded by beautiful forests all around and we hoped against hope that we would be able to finally see the northern lights on the final leg of our trip. But it wasn’t to be this time.
So with a promise to return in summer and on clearer days, we made our way back to Anchorage to catch our flight back home.
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