No one ever suggests visiting Alaska in the spring. I searched and searched for information to no avail. Is summer the only time to go? Sure it’s dark and cold in winter, but what about spring!?!
My son went to Alaska last summer to work at a fishery as a seafood processor. He stayed for the winter and was planning to return to the lower 48 in the spring, so I felt compelled to visit before he left. But what do we do in the spring in Alaska? Is everything fun closed? I found out one of Alaska’s biggest secrets. March is a great time to visit Alaska!
1 – DRIVING
Big city driving tends to stress me out and that is something you do not need to worry about in Alaska. I arrived in Anchorage and found the streets to be well labeled and easy to follow using directions on my maps app. Turo is a newer car rental company similar to Airbnb. You rent someone’s car at a predetermined rate. Some insurance companies will not cover Turo in different states, but Geico does cover car insurance in Alaska so I tried it out. The Ford Explorer I rented from Jonathan was clean and in good condition. He left it for me in the airport parking lot and that is where I returned it. No shuttle busses or cries of “sorry we ran out of cars” for me. I appreciated the convenience.
The roads in Alaska were pleasantly wide and relatively empty during my visit.
Day 1 – Anchorage – Lakefront hotel (Convenient, good breakfast and just OK)
Day 2, 3- Girdwood -Alyeska ski resort (Awesome! ski rentals in hotel and walk to ski lift)
Day 4 – Soldotna – Airbnb (Awesome! – love the view)
Day 5, 6, 7 – Palmer – Airbnb (Awesome! – love the view too)
Day 8 -Anchorage – Hotel Sheraton 4 Points (cheap and sketchy – not recommended)
We took the thirty minute drive south on the Seward highway from Anchorage to Girdwood and Alyeska ski town. Although known as one of most dangerous highways in America, we had good weather and no rock slides the days we were there. It’s hard not to be distracted with all the amazing views. We spent three days in Alyeska, two skiing and one on a fun snowmobile tour.
Next we drove south to Soldotna for one night after skiing to visit a friend who hosts a fabulous Airbnb. The next day we drove to Seward to the Sea Life Center on the Kenai peninsula, then up past Anchorage to Palmer.
We took a day trip for dog sledding and lunch in Talkeetna for views of Denali. Another day drove up the Hatcher pass to ski at the new Skeetawk ski area. Meant to get to hike Matanuska Glacier, never made it. Did see the Northern Lights from the Airbnb in Palmer though!
Who doesn’t love traffic free roads? Just beware of falling rocks, avalanches and potholes.
2 – WHERE TO STAY
Spring is considered off- season so rates can be better this time of year. I stayed in three hotels and two Airbnbs during my visit and I would highly recommend the Airbnb experience in Alaska. Traveling with my son it was nice to have a place with a kitchen and two separate bedrooms. The people renting out space in their homes are genuinely kind and thoughtful. They are willing to help you plan an unforgettable trip with recommendations for dining out and places to visit. I tend to look for places that also have a view and my search did not disappoint on this trip.
The hotels in Anchorage were a bit on the run down side. I would recommend staying in the best hotel which may be the Cook hotel. Parts of Anchorage are indeed a bit sketchy and since the vacationers are limited in March, some areas are down right deserted except for homeless people who will approach and ask for money. The Lakefront Hotel near the airport was acceptable and had a good breakfast. Do not book the Four Points Sheraton in downtown Anchorage, enough said.
3 – NORTHERN LIGHTS
This is a great time to see them in Alaska. After spending a week in Iceland with my sister on a tour specifically designed to see the Aurora Borealis, we were disappointed that we never saw them. In the summer the sky in Alaska is too light, and earlier in the winter it is super cold! Tours are available if you want to pay to sit in a van out on a field for many hours waiting. We used the app on our iphone to help know the best time to look outside. Just fair warning: In real life they are not as crystal clear as some photos you may have seen. Still awesome to witness.
4 -WHERE TO EAT
Most restaurants are open year round and we did not have to wait to get service. We had good luck with Brewery type places. In Anchorage, we tried the pizza at Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria and it was very good.
At the Alyeska resort, there is a high-end restaurant called Seven Glaciers you can take the gondola up to but it is only open for dinner a few nights each week. It wasn’t open the night we stayed there but we did dine at Sakura Asian Bistro which was a great sushi place where everyone sits together at a huge table. Something different.
In summer people drive to the charming town of Homer for the shops, restaurants, art galleries and boat tours. In March, the boat tours for whale watching and glacier sight seeing as well as some shops are closed until the season amps up in May. We decided to skip Homer, and stayed in Soldotna on the Kenai Peninsula. This area is also great for river fishing. A fun place to visit is the Whistle Hill location with several restaurants and a gift shop in vintage train cars. A great place to have coffee and hand held waffles – yum!
Alaska still has snow in spring! Alyeska ski mountain has a reputation as being “steep and deep” with the world’s longest double black diamond run and 650 inches of annual snowfall. As an experienced skier, my son suggested we start at the top. The expansive view from the top encompassed nearby peaks and a glimpse of the sea in the nearby Turnagain Arm of the Gulf of Alaska. Looking down, the mountain is definitely a bit steep. The challenge I had was with the lack of trees on the top of the mountain, it was hard to see the snow and depth perception was tricky. I made it to the bottom and it sure felt like I had had a workout on that run!
Not too many other ski resorts are in Alaska, but we discovered one that opened just a year ago called Skeetawk in Hatcher Pass. With one chairlift and several runs, it was a quick trip to the bottom but enough variety for a few hours. We saw helicopters flying past to drop off brave skiers in the backcountry for adventures I have not tried. The yurt is used as a ski rental, ticket sales and chili selling establishment. The chili is brought in since the yurt doesn’t have a kitchen or even running water. Porta potties are available in the parking lot. We had a beautiful sunny day of skiing at the mountain and wish them luck in their plans for expansion.
6 -DOG SLEDDING
I have heard that people on cruises can get off and take a ride in a sled in the summer, without the snow. In spring, there is still plenty of snow and this was probably my favorite activity. We opted for this instead of a sight seeing helicopter trip to a glacier and we are so glad we did.
Meeting the dogs and the owners was wonderful as was hearing stories about the musher’s experiences on the Iditarod, the 938 mile race from Anchorage to Nome in March. The race takes 8-15 days and some of the dogs at Snowhook Adventure tours in Willow, Alaska are retired race dogs. For us, we enjoyed a 45 minute ride through wooded trails and fields and then spent another 30 minutes with the dogs and even 4 week old puppies. Such a great experience and highly recommended.
7 – SNOWMOBILING
The snowmobile tour we signed up for was supposed to take us up over the mountains to see a glacier, however it had been getting warmer the week we were there and the area near the glacier had turned to water, a bit difficult to get to on a snowmobile. We had a great day anyway. On one trail after lunch, we saw a moose walking along in front of us. We kept our distance and she eventually took off into the forest. Our guide took us through trails and at the end we had time to “play” by speeding around and going up and down a little ditch. Matt and I raced and laughed and the sun shine on the magnificent mountain range and pine trees was breathtaking.
8 – HIKING
In spring, you can hike in Alaska but many of the trails still have ice and snow on them. Snow shoes or wearing crampons for traction on your boots is recommended. I did not have either and I was a little fearful of the bears that could be waking from their winter hibernation, so I must admit that I did not do any hiking – but it is definitely something to do in Alaska in the spring.
9 – MUSEUMS
In Anchorage we visited the Native Heritage Center and it was free during the winter. You can walk outside and view the different types of houses the Alaskan Eskimo tribes lived in. We learned a bit of history and watched movies that play in a theater on a regular basis which are interesting as well.
It’s worth the trip over to Seward to visit the Sea Life Center and see the animals in the aquariums as well as the exotic ducks, the seals and the sea lion. The center is used to rehabilitate hurt animals and they have extensive facilities. The drive over the mountains is beautiful too.
A favorite place to visit is the Wildlife Conservation Center located in Girdwood. Animals living in a natural habitat include grizzly bears, caribou, buffalo, reindeer, black bears, wolves and more. In the spring, the center is not busy and you can drive around see, the animals from your car, or get out for a better view. They have plenty of land, and for an additional fee you can even feed the animals – probably not the grizzlies though.
I was surprised to hear that mosquitos are a serious nuisance in Alaska during the summer which makes all those fun outdoor activities like camping and hiking seem not so fun to me. In spring, no mosquitos.
I was surprised to see so many bald eagles hang out at the dump in Soldotna. That was weird.
I was surprised how light it was in the evenings. Each night we were there, the sun stayed out 4 extra minutes which adds up quickly and it stays dusk for a while. Sunset today in Anchorage is at 9:39pm.
I was surprised to actually see a Moose on the side of the road.
I was surprised to learn that when the Russians sold Alaska to the United States in 1867 for $7.2 million, both countries viewed Alaska as worthless icy land.
Shortly after the sale of Alaska, gold deposits were discovered and gold hunters from America flocked to the area. In fact in 1899, gold was discovered on the sandy beaches of Nome and could be gathered without any need for a claim.
In addition to gold and other minerals, the oil fields in Alaska produce more than 80 million tons of oil annually.
Alaska stayed a territory until it became a state in 1958.
We enjoyed listening to ALASKA by James Michener on the long car drives. Let me know all about your trip to Alaska – I will definitely be going back!