Winter. One of the most beautiful times of the year in interior Alaska. Dress warm and you will be mesmerized by the snow and ice, even if the air does sting your face some days. Though tourist season is mainly in the summer, there is still a steady flow of travelers that make their way to see Alaska during the cold and dark months. Are you surprised? You may not realize it, but there are a plethora of activities that you can only see or do in the winter that makes me an advocate of winter travel. I can’t think of a more exciting place than North Pole, Alaska for your next wintertime destination!
North Pole is located about 14 miles southeast of Fairbanks, which is about an 18 minute drive on the AK-2 E (locally known as the Richardson Highway or the “Rich”). The roads are icy during the winter, but the highways are usually kept clear. With a name such as “North Pole” you’d be right to think it’s Christmas year round (seriously, they have candy cane light posts). There isn’t anything more magical than exploring this area during the snowy months, so I’ve listed my top three favorite things to do here in the winter.
1. Christmas in Ice
If you’ve traveled to North Pole before you may be familiar with the famous Santa Claus House. If the city is new to you, it’s definitely a place worth stopping at on your next trip. While their store is open year round (as well as the reindeer viewing pen), the Christmas in Ice display only occurs during the wintertime as the temperature is cold enough to sustain the gigantic blocks of ice. You’ll be in awe at the many intricate sculptures, interactive mazes, and slides. I’m pretty sure I enjoy the slides more than the children.
(FYI: This year’s event ran from December 2, 2017 to January 9, 2018; The Santa Claus House will be closed for refurbishments starting January 2018 and will reopen May 1, 2018!)
If you’re in the area over Christmas you can enter the ice park on Christmas Day for free! On New Year’s Eve the ice park hosts a firework event and counts down the New Year with a unique “snowflake drop”. Who doesn’t love such an Alaskan way to bring in the New Year?
2. Aurora Viewing
Viewing the Aurora Borealis (a.k.a. the Northern Lights) for the first time is a phenomenal experience and one that will stay with you the rest of your life. The flowing lights appear as if they are dancing and witnessing such a sight never gets old. While Alaska boasts some of the best Northern Lights in the world, it is best to drive away from the city lights. If you’re not a local resident and don’t want to travel too far, Chena Lakes Recreation Area is a great place to start your hunt. Always remember to be courteous to other viewers and turn off any lights once you find a nice spot. Photographers frequent the area and need darkness to capture the Aurora perfectly on camera. Nothing is more frustrating than taking a picture of an Aurora and seeing a set of vehicle headlights in the picture afterwards. Yes, this has happened to me many times!
Another great way to enjoy and maybe take home a piece of the Aurora magic is to book an Aurora portrait session with a local photographer. While there are several in the Fairbanks area, I personally recommend Sean Kurdziolek Portraits & Gallery, which is conveniently located in North Pole!
My husband and I had an awesome experience with Sean and his wife Amanda this past fall, and we were able to take some amazing shots under the Northern Lights. You can only guess how awesome our Christmas cards were this year! Did I mention they offer Aurora photography workshops? Check out their website for some great information on how you can schedule your own Northern Lights photoshoot or workshop.
3. Local Eats!
Okay, so this could be a large post with in itself. Fairbanks doesn’t have many chain restaurants; it’s more geared towards local entrepreneurs. North Pole has some unique places to eat that would definitely be worth your time, especially if you’re a foodie.
Little Richard’s Family Diner located off the Richardson Highway is first and foremost the cutest little diner you have ever seen! The building is constructed from an old rail car and the inside is themed like a 50’s diner. The atmosphere is inviting inside this family owned restaurant and the staff are extremely friendly. If you’re in the mood for a great American cheeseburger and milkshake this may be the place for you. Did I mention they serve reindeer sausage for breakfast?
My next palate-friendly eatery is the Thai Cuisine Restaurant located on St. Nicholas Drive. Their building may not be as aesthetically pleasing as Little Richard’s, but their food will make anyone want to come back for more. My favorite dish is the yellow chicken curry with a green Thai tea on the side. Delish! If you’re a fan of Asian cuisine this may be for you. Ordering a spicy dish from here is sure to defrost even the most frozen traveler.
Have you ever traveled to North Pole in the winter? Or to Alaska? If so leave a comment and let me know YOUR favorite memories.