Alaska For a Minute
October 20, 2014 10:15 AM   Subscribe

What should I do with a few days in Alaska (based in Anchorage)?

I'll be in Anchorage for business for 4 days in early November and would like to tack on a few days at the end to see a bit of Alaska. Obviously I understood it would be cold, but wasn't prepared for so many of the activities and hotels to be closed this early in the year (Denali, trains to Seward, etc.).

What are good activities for early November? Before I book a plane ticket I'd like to decide if I should stay two days or three. I'm not looking to make this into a big vacation, just get a taste (besides, all outdoors activities seem to be impossible this time of year).

I would love to take a train trip but it seems to be very limited (only to Fairbanks once a week). Am I looking in the wrong place for train travel? Is there somewhere worth stopping closer than Fairbanks that will have hotels/services open? Would it be better to rent a car and drive to Seward and stay a night there? Is driving difficult or dangerous in early November?

Should I stay in Anchorage and take day trips or head out to stay in another town? Is there a short hike or bike ride near Anchorage with great views nearby (or is it too cold/unmanageable that time of year?)

I don't have a lot of time to plan, and everything I see online seems to link to tours, which I like to avoid. I'm a "do it myself" type of traveler but if there's something amazing you can only do by tour I'lm open to it. Is there a half day boat I should take or a magnificent old railroad hotel I should stay at? Essentially, I'd like to know if there's a point in trying to get out of Anchorage that time of year due to the weather, or if I should give up and just find some neat things to do in town on this short trip.
posted by Bunglegirl to Travel & Transportation around Alaska (4 answers total)
 
Anchorage got it's first snow today, and Fairbanks has had snow for a few weeks. Winter is in full swing in Alaska, which is why you're seeing most things are closed.

I would love to take a train trip but it seems to be very limited (only to Fairbanks once a week). Am I looking in the wrong place for train travel?

No. There's only one train service, the Alaska Railroad, and its winter runs are very limited. The train to Fairbanks is very beautiful, but takes approximately 12 hours. There's not much to see once in Fairbanks. The Museum of the North is pretty great, it's too early for the Ice Park, but if you rent a car you can drive the additional 60 miles to Chena Hot Springs which is amazing in the cold of winter (I prefer it around -20°F, but it's nice when the temps are above zero as well).

Is there somewhere worth stopping closer than Fairbanks that will have hotels/services open? Would it be better to rent a car and drive to Seward and stay a night there? Is driving difficult or dangerous in early November?

There's not much on the train system. Wasilla is the only other big-ish city between Anchorage and Fairbanks, and there isn't really much to do there. Visitor services really do all close in mid-September.

Definitely better to rent a car than rely on any other form of transportation. However, check on what's open in Seward - I can't think of many activities there in early November. Driving may or may not be difficult that time of the year - how comfortable are you driving on snow and ice? The highway south of Anchorage is very twisty and turny before it climbs into the mountain pass, all of which can get difficult once the roads are icy.

I can't think of any boats available this time of year, or any magnificent old hotels. Getting out of Anchorage in the winter is great because small towns are quiet and peaceful all covered in snow. Instead of Fairbanks or Seward or Homer, I'd recommend a day and night in Girdwood even though Alyeska Ski Resort won't be open until Thanksgiving - all of the small town feel without travelling a huge distance.

Should I stay in Anchorage and take day trips or head out to stay in another town? Is there a short hike or bike ride near Anchorage with great views nearby (or is it too cold/unmanageable that time of year?)

Are you currently in Chicago? You probably won't find it as bone-chilling cold as you do the windy Chicago winters; we usually don't get our below-zero temperatures until January or February. People who live in Anchorage enjoy outdoor activities all year long. There are great short hikes around Anchorage if you have some winter gear (or enjoy cross country skiing or snowshoeing if we have enough snow by then): Flattop, Arctic Valley, or Kincaid Park. I would expect all bike trails to be covered in snow, but if you're comfortable with fat tire snow bikes then the Coastal Trail is a great ride.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:37 AM on October 20, 2014


Seconding Girdwood - we took a trip there last October and spent two nights in a super cozy little cottage which was very easy to reserve because the ski resort wasn't open yet. We had delicious Thai food from a little truck parked in the center of town, and also had a great meal at Jack Sprat. It was super quiet but totally relaxing and there were several hiking trails nearby - obviously might not be as accessible if there is snow, but regardless you can enjoy the peacefulness of a resort town before the madness of winter begins.

We also enjoyed an afternoon in Anchorage, FWIW, but really preferred the smaller town charm of Girdwood. Beautiful drive there along the Seward Highway, too.

We did make it out to Seward but I don't know if I'd recommend that given that it may be snowing and likely everything will be closed - even in early October it was pretty bare bones.

Have a blast!
posted by DuckGirl at 1:10 PM on October 20, 2014


Yeah, Chena Hot Springs is fun, but I don't know if it's worth getting up to Fairbanks just to then try to get yourself out there. On the other hand, I think Alaska Airlines is having a fare sale, so there might be cheap trips to Fairbanks. (I'm sure we must have more to do of a touristy nature other than the Museum of the North...There's a bunch of local bazaars and stuff that weekend, but that's probably not what you had in mind.) By early November hopefully we'll have enough snow for some cross-country skiing, which is fun; we've got good ski trails around town (i.e., Fairbanks).

The Anchorage museum is great.

Tours have the advantage that you don't have to do the driving yourself. There might be interesting day tours, which wouldn't as be as frenetic as some of the crazier package tours (although again, a lot of stuff is likely to be closed). I went out to see Portage glacier once and that was neat, but I went the end of September and they were already rolling up the carpets.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:54 PM on October 20, 2014


Anchorage was much smaller than anticipated, but Alyeska Hotel was quite nice. If the weather had cooperated it would have been great to drive all the way to Seward (too much rain). I would love to go back during the spring or summer when other attractions, trains, etc. are open. Jack Sprat was nothing special the morning we ate there, but really enjoyed Snow City Cafe in Anchorage. Thanks for the answers.
posted by Bunglegirl at 10:16 AM on November 23, 2014


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