By Megan C., Travel RN
When I signed on to be a travel nurse, Alaska would have been the last state I thought I would travel to. In all honesty, I never imagined myself even experiencing Alaska in my lifetime. After the first eight weeks in Alaska, I fell in love with the state. When I get asked about my Alaskan experiences, one thing I always say is, if you haven’t been, you should go. Now, as a two time traveling nurse to Alaska in two different seasons, I can voice things to do and back that statement up with details.
I first visited Alaska in the winter season. Winter in Alaska is stunning. Yes, it is cold, and yes there is a ton of snow, but that’s part of what makes it so amazing. Isn’t it dark all the time you may ask? Well yes, in the winter you will have about roughly 21 hours of darkness, but you get used to it. I recommend getting out and doing something during the daylight hours as much as possible. This will keep you entertained and help to cope with the darkness in a positive way. Plus, Alaska has so much to offer, get out, and enjoy it. There are so many Alaskan winter activities to enjoy and I will note some of them below that I experienced myself.
One thing I highly recommend doing in Alaska in the winter is dedicating some time and effort into seeing the Northern Lights. There are multiple places to see the lights. Here in Wasilla/Palmer area is Hatcher Pass. This is a perfect place to see them, as it is on top of a mountain and provides perfect viewing opportunities. The lights are not as easy to visualize as most would think. The weather and outside conditions have to be perfect. The conditions the Northern Lights are best seen in are very cold, dark, and clear nights. The lights are best seen around midnight, so staying up late is a must. Asking the locals for tips and places to view them is very helpful too. Another thing I found helpful in determining perfect light viewing conditions and/or when the best time was going to be, was a Northern Lights forecast. These forecasts can be searched for online. There are also tours available to sign up for those guides that will take to you to do so. Fairbanks is a town that is known for the Northern Lights being seen very well in. There is a tour at the Chena Hot Springs Resort that most people have success with and all the locals recommend it. The resort also features a great restaurant for dinner, natural hot springs to soak in, and an ice museum. Fun right? The one tip I was given about this tour is, to stay in Fairbanks and use their shuttle provided instead of staying there. It was a lot of work to see them, and some residents who have been here for years have not seen them. But, I did end up seeing the lights and let me tell you, the swirling vibrant green lights in the night sky will be something you’ll never forget.
Another thing I highly recommend doing in Alaska during the winter months is mushing your own dog sled. I went through AK Sled Dog tours in Talkeetna, Alaska. This mushing tour was owned and operated by Dallas Seavy and his staff. Dallas is a multiple-time winner of the Iditarod sled dog race here in Alaska, which is part of Alaskan history. The dogs live for mushing and to experience this Alaskan way of life, was truly enlightening. Plus I got to play with puppies, and who doesn’t enjoy that? Mushing by far has been my favorite Alaskan experience yet! Talkeetna has much more to offer as well. Talkeetna is a town on the way to Denali, a seven summit. Talkeetna is also home to the Flying Squirrel restaurant, which has the best wood fire pizza on Saturdays after four. It is a cute little town with gift shops, a fantastic brewery, and other Alaskan tours such as floatplane/bush plane rides. Talkeetna is a must for Alaskan travelers.
During an Alaskan winter visit, I also recommend going snow machining. Yes, snow ‘machining”, Alaskans do not say snowmobiles, and they will ask you what you are talking about. I was gracious enough to have a coworker take me to Petersville with his machines and we snow machined next to the Denali. The views were breathtaking, the snow was chest deep, the thrill was incredible and it is something I will never forget. Even though I was lucky enough to have someone take me, there are rentals available here in Alaska to make it possible. There are even guided trips available that someone will lead you to the best places to the snow machine. Another thing I would like to note here is that while snow machining and on the way to the destination, I saw multiple moose sittings. These are incredibly large and mesmerizing animals. Just stay a safe distance away, they are not as cuddly and nice as they may seem.
You may ask, ok so maybe I’m not the outdoorsy kind, and these things seem out of reach for me. Well, just in case, another thing I recommend is visiting Anchorage. Anchorage has many indoor activities. This is a city with tons of shopping, movie theaters, tons of great restaurants, and more. I was here for Christmas time and even went to the town Christmas tree lighting before watching The Nutcracker ballet performance in the theater. It gave me all the Christmas feels and was a nice evening out. The theater is called, Anchorage Community Theater, and has a website for upcoming performing arts dates. A must visit in Anchorage is The 49th State Brewing Company. The food is incredibly fresh, the in-house brewed beer is top-notch, and the atmosphere is astounding. Anchorage is a town with tons of things to do and has many different activities to offer.
One last thing I’d like to recommend is driving to Seward. Take the Old Seward Highway and you will have views from your comfortable warm car that you’ll never lose sight of. Seward is a coastal town and has some notable things to do. A few things to do in Seward are visit the SeaLife Center, do some shopping, enjoy the good food in the locally-owned restaurants and visualize that beautiful ocean water next to those mountains. A recommended restaurant is Le Barn Appetit Inn & Creperie that has any kind of crepe you could think of. Another thing to do in Seward is the Exit Glacier hike and siting. The Seward coastline is absolutely beautiful, it is definitely a must-visit place in Alaska.
As I reflect and write about some of the incredible experiences I have had here in Alaska, I only hope that someone else gets to do the same. Alaska has so much to offer and these topics are just the beginning. I’m currently on my second travel stent here in Alaska and now I’m experiencing all the summer activities. Some activities I have planned are Seward Ocean Excursions, in which I will be on a boat in the middle of the sea watching whales, Salmon fishing, hiking the beautiful mountain trails and so much more. I hope to be able to share with you those adventures in the future. I would like to end my blog by saying what I always do when someone asks me about Alaska, you should go and experience it! You will remember it forever.