Discover a winter wonderland in Alaska By Marguerite Cleveland Aurora Season in Alaska is a magical time when tourism slows down and serenity reigns in the backcountry. There is no better way to experience this than on the Aurora Winter Train, which travels between Anchorage and Fairbanks. For the ultimate experience, fly into Anchorage and spend a day or two.
Board the Aurora Winter Train on a full day trip to Fairbanks. Along the way, enjoy the winter wonderland of Alaska’s backcountry. Guests will enjoy the comfort of a warm train car with comfy seats and picture windows to view the incredible scenery. Keep an eye out for wildlife, which are easier to spot against the pristine white snow. Riding the rails along the Susitna River is even more spectacular on a clear day when it is possible to see Mount Denali.
Arrive in Fairbanks and spend a few days to experience the Aurora Borealis. Alaska Airlines offers flights from Fairbanks and Anchorage to Seattle with easy connections to other cities.
Pro Tip: If you don’t want to invest in heavy winter gear for outdoor activities, many outfitters in both cities offer clothing and boot rentals.
Where to Stay The Marriott Anchorage Downtown is a perfect base hotel for your time visiting Alaska’s capital city. The location is so convenient, and guests can walk to the Alaska Railroad Depot or the bus station. It is also easy to walk to shops and restaurants. Enjoy city and mountain views from the hotel. The hotel underwent a complete renovation with vibrant colors that really brighten things up during winter’s extremely short daylight hours. This full-service hotel has a lovely indoor pool and fitness center.
If you want to see the Aurora Borealis, then the Chena Hot Springs Resort is the place to stay. It is a scenic 60-mile drive from downtown Fairbanks to the very end of the Chena Hot Springs Road. Lodging ranges from dry cabins (no running water and outdoor restrooms) to nice hotel rooms. On-site is a pool house with access to the outdoor hot springs and an Ice Museum constructed of ice.
Pro Tip: Book a shuttle through the Chena Hot Springs Resort, and it will pick you up from the train station.
Where to Eat Alaska food is hearty but also has an emphasis on fresh seafood. For local color, try Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse in downtown Anchorage. It is super fun—and the food is really good. Order Humpy’s Famous Halibut and Chips paired with a local brew and discover why they’re famous. Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant has been around for more than 50 years. Visit for a hearty breakfast and the interesting décor that is like walking into a time capsule.
Dining is limited at the Chena Hot Springs Resort to the snack bar and the Chena Hot Springs Restaurant. It is famed for its “Chena Fresh” salads that locals drive from Fairbanks to enjoy. Lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and herbs are grown fresh in the on-site greenhouse and state-of-the-art hydroponic garden. This super fresh salad is part of the resort’s commitment to a sustainable community and renewable energy. The dining room is cozy with a roaring fire in the stone fireplace. The menu is surprisingly extensive and offers everything from steaks and fresh seafood to curries.
What to Do Downtown Anchorage is very walkable, and you can access quite a few attractions right from the Marriott Anchorage Downtown. A must see is the Alaska Museum, an eclectic place with both art, culture and history. Allow plenty of time to tour this gem of a museum.
Alaskans get outside in the winter and visitors should too. Visit the Downtown Bicycle Rental and take out a fat tire bicycle on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Access the trail not far from the shop and bike 11 miles on Anchorage’s most popular trail. On a clear day you may even see Mount Denali. Interpretive signs along the trail highlight the natural and human history of the area.
There is so much to do at the Chena Hot Springs Resort during the winter. A must do is the Aurora Viewing Tour. It is a 30-minute drive from the resort to Charlie Dome. Hang out in a Mongolian yurt until the Northern Lights appear. Warm clothing is available if you don’t have your own. The Geothermal Energy and Greenhouse tour is fascinating. Guests can also enjoy quintessential Alaskan activities such as dog sledding or ice fishing. The Activities Center is the hub at the resort for booking tours and activities.
Specifics The Alaska Railroad - AlaskaRailroad.com
Where to Stay Marriott Anchorage Downtown - Marriott.com Chena Hot Springs Resort - ChenaHotSprings.com Where to Eat Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse - HumpysAlaska.com Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant - GwenniesRestaurant.com Chena Hot Springs Restaurant - ChenaHotSprings.com/chena-hot-springs-restaurant