Alaska - am I nuts?

My wife and I want to have toured all 50 U.S. states and all 10 Canadian provinces by our 5th anniversary, which is coming up in March. We’re doing Maryland next week, and we tentatively have Florida and Hawaii scheduled. That leaves us one little step away from our goal, and that’s the Pacific Northwest: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska.

To meet our time frame, the only times we could possibly do that trip are January or February of 2000. A few questions I’m hoping someone here can answer:

  1. Are we totally insane to even consider going to Alaska in the winter? The tourist guides for both Anchorage and Fairbanks say the average January temp is only single digits below zero, which sounds bearable, but I don’t know if we can trust tourist guides, which aren’t likely to say anything to discourage tourism.

  2. Assuming that this isn’t totally insane, which of the two cities am I better off visiting, temperature-wise? Anchorage or Fairbanks?

  3. Am I as likely to see the Aurora Borealis in Anchorage as in Fairbanks? If I’m less likely (which is what I’ve been led to believe), how much less likely? If the temperature in Anchorage is significantly better than that in Fairbanks, is the less-likelihood of seeing the Aurora significant enough that I should consider Fairbanks anyway?

Thanks, guys and gals!

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

I don’t know anything about your question…but if i could make a suggestion.

take this for what its worth but the pacific northwest is at its absolute worst in Jan and Feb rain everyday. We love to have you come and enjoy it here so may i suggest April or may?
I understand that that would be after your anniversary but, the weather would be much nicer.

and on another point…have you thought of an alaska cruise? Would that count? I think they do have them that leave from seattle!


Well, if we decide to ditch the anniversary goal, then we probably will do it with a cruise.

Thanks for the advice about the rainy weatherm though. We’ll definitely take that under advisement.

Chaim Mattis Keller

Having spent a winter in Fairbanks I’d have to say you get a better flavor of what it’s really like by visiting that time of year.

Yes, it’s cold. It is not uncommon for long stretches of WAY below zero. Fairbanks is much colder than Anchorage, mainly because of being so far inland, more than the difference in latitude. But the northern lights are definitely more likely the farther north you go.

But Alaska is really lovely in the spring and summer. Beautiful wildflowers, beautiful scenery. Unless you really want to experience the Arctic, head up in May or June.

p.s. I live in (near) Seattle and there was no time at all this year when the weather was nice so it wouldn’t have mattered when you came. Generally August and September is the best weather. We’ve had about a week of summer so far. But please come and pay the tourist taxes that are supposed to pay for our new baseball and football stadiums!

p.p.s. It only rained twice last week – once for three days and once for four days.

p.p.p.s. Seattlites don’t tan, they rust.

p.p.p.p.s. Get it?

“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”

I have been to Alaska numerous times and trust me, if you are going to go, don’t go any earlier than June or no later that September.

Although Alaskan winters are gorgeous, you have little or no daylight and it is cold and sometimes windy and you won’t see a lot of wildlife.

Spring and summertime in Alaska is absolutely wonderful! You have the flowers, the animals, almost 24 hours of daylight depending on where you go, perfect weather temperature-wise although Anchorage tends to get evening showers due to being on the coast. Although Fairbanks is further North, it is usually warmer than Anchorage in the summer. The times I spent near Anchorage in the summer, temperatures averaged about 75 degrees. Perfect!

Let me know if you want some ideas of places to see. I think I have explored every inch of that state at least twice! It’s beautiful!


Coarse and violent nudity. Occasional language.

Bit-o-background: I grew up in the Yukon, which, for the purposes of tourism, is similar to Alaska.

There are a variety of reasons not to visit Alaska in the winter. First and foremost, there is very little tourist-oriented stuff around. Most attractions, tours, etc. and even some restaurants and hotels close down over the winter. Activities are geared solely to locals, and thus are comprised mostly of amateur sporting events and consuming large quantities of alcohol while spouting redneck rhetoric.

On the other hand, you won’t have to deal with a bunch of other annoying tourists.

Fairbanks, as noted by another poster, can get VERY cold. The novelty of this will wear off quickly as you find that there is only so much time you can spend appreciating the art on your hotel room wall. Anchorage, being a coastal community, is not so bad temperature-wise, but, again, being a coastal community, suffers rather more on the precipitation side of things. Expect clouds and snow or “wet snow”. For this reason, Fairbanks is the better bet for northern lights.

Also, due to the fact that very few airlines have the same frequency of flights (or even flights at all) in the winter as opposed to the summer, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get a decent (or even affordable) price on a ticket. Cruise ships are not an option. You can use the State Ferry system, which IS cheaper in the winter, but you are at the mercy of their schedule (horrific, but if you want it: ) and their cafeteria food (for heaven’s sake, stop at a grocery store beforehand).

You may luck out, run into some really cool locals, have decent weather and see amazing northern lights, and generally have a really fun time. There are some winter carnivals that are fun and if you’re into winter sports like x-country skiing you could enjoy that too. But I wouldn’t bet on it. However, I have to commend you for even considering it.

BUT I also have to say that by hitting ONLY the 10 provinces in Canada, you missed about HALF THE COUNTRY!!! There are 3 territories in Canada: Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, and ALL of them are definitely worth a visit. If you’re into Northern culture, Whitehorse or Yellowknife are interesting even in the winter, and if you hit one of the winter festivals (usually mid-end of Feb.) you’ll have a blast.

cmk: Two words - Fur Rondy!

I have lived in Eagle River for 15 of the 22 years that I have been in Alaska. All the stuff that the previous folks have said is more or less accurate.

However, we get moose in our yard all months of the year, and there are fox and coyotes around all the time, so there is no problem seeing wildlife.

I can stand on the front porch of my house most cold nights in the winter and see the Northern Lights. The farther you get away from light pollution in the communities, the more likely you are to see the Northern Lights.

My suggestion is to come to Anchorage for the Fur Rondy and then take a train ride to Fairbanks (neat scenic rail cars - some special trips actually throw a party on the ride to Fairbanks! Tell 'em you’re celebrating your anniversary and give 'em the details - you might have a nice time.) The scenery is outstanding and I guarantee you’ll see wild critters. Spend the night in Fairbanks and return the next day or take in the frozen delights in Fairbanks.

The Fur Rondy is a great big party set up in downtown Anchorage. I can’t begin to describe all there is to do, so you should check out their website.

Radar - what’s the site?

I have seen the Aurora from Hibbing Minnesota. So I think most of Alsaka is far enough north to see it

My brother lived in Gamble which is on an Island west of Nome. Why not go in the summer when the days are 18 hours?

Is that the way to paste a URL? Still learning the tricks of UBB Code!

Check out the guy in the middle of the photo! You’ll see lots of people wearing all kinds of furs - that’s why it’s called The Fur Rendezvous. Actually, the site I gave above is one for Alaska, but there is a link to the Official Fur Rondy website. I don’t know if I did the copy&paste thing correctly, but if not, you can just type that address in and it will take you to the right place. Maybe someone can tell me how do it the right way?

If you go to the website, you’ll see some of the craziness that goes on. I think you would really enjoy this particular brand of winter madness, cmk. Since you are trying to accomplish your goal before March, this might be worth considering. If you decide to travel to Alaska later in the year, I would strongly recommend late April / early May.

cmk: BTW, 5th anniversary or 50th? Just curious… 50 states, 50 years… if it is 5 years, man, do you folks get around!


There! Did that work?

oops, sorry, omni, you beat me to it!

No problem, Radar: I intruded, actually. BTW, I am curious as well: 50 States and 10 provinces in 5 years?!?! YOWZA! Sure hope they have a portable toilet :slight_smile:

Eagle River? I have relatives a few miles away in Chugiak.
Mr. Whitekey’s Whalefat Follies should be on your bill…or whatever he’s calling this quarter’s musical review…It helps to know the value of Spam (the meat product).
The morning temp should register in at around -20. Sunrise about 10a, sunset about 2p.
The glacier park should be pretty free of tourists.

50 states in 5 years is certainly do-able, if you aim to do it. In the last 5 years, I’ve been in nearly all the states I’d ever been in (except Hawaii, which I was in back in 91).

Anyway, my point is that I’ve been in 22 states just this year (1999):

Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan.

And I’m going to be in Connecticut in three weeks…

After I’d been in about 15 of those states in just January of this year (I took a road trip helping my brother move from Florida to L.A. right after the new year, and then drove myself back home to Maryland from Florida right after that), I thought about trying to get to all 50 states in 1999. It was nearly feasable on my budget (I usually take one nice extended trip a year – last year it was Europe), but I couldn’t figure out how to get to both Alaska and Hawaii in calendar 1999.

Still, it’s a fun goal… I’ll just collect the 50 states quarters instead. :slight_smile:

Doug Bowe: I used to bartend for Whitekeys at the old Fly-By-Night Club (close to the National Guard Armory). His Whalefat Follies are a must-see. A lot of the humor is topical and local, but there is still something to offend (oops, I mean entertain) everyone.

Montfort: If you can get to Alaska, making a side trip to Hawaii is easy. We have several airlines that make direct flights to Hawaii and sometimes the cost is ridiculously low. My wife and daughter went to Hawaii last summer (I was working in Colombia and couldn’t join them) for something like $350 RT (each from Anchorage.

To all you Alaskans:
Is it true that Anchorage has a public beach?
How warm does the water get?

Wow! My most responded-to post yet! Okay, taking them in order…

I do know that Alaska has almost 24 hours of night in the winter. We weren’t planning on spending a long time there; we figured that we’d fly up there, take a dog-sledding lesson or something, maybe take in a museum, see the A. B. and fly back.

Re: the Canadian territories. I’ll grant you that it makes up most of the country in land area, but (according to mt AAA tour books) it has almost no tourist attractions to see (although the stuff you mention about Northern Culture could be interesting). We’re not big outdoor-adventure type people. And on top of that, We’re not (yet) bothering with U. S. territories such as Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam or American Samoa, so the Canadian territories are similarly not on the priority list.

I just clicked on that Fur Rondy link, and it sounds fantastic. I like your suggestion, radar ralf.

And yes, it is 5th anniversary. We want to get it all in before our oldest kid is in real school (he starts pre-school a week from today. Eeks!). And yeah, we do get around, although I should mention that there are some states/provinces in which we’ve only done one tourist attraction, due to the whirlwind nature of our tours. I’m currenly constructing a web site that will tell all about them, but if you want me to post any sorts of details here, I’ll be more than happy to do so.

No portable toilet. We just take full advantage of every rest stop. (There’s only been one time that I’d had to resort to urinating on the ground, and that wasn’t in some remote, uninhabited area – it was in Saskatoon, SK!)

Maybe we’ll look into this “Whalefat Follies” thing too. Sounds like fun.

Chaim Mattis Keller