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Ultimate Winter Wonderland: Iditarod & Northern Lights

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Marvel at the aurora borealis overhead and the extreme excitement surrounding the Iditarod as you immerse yourself in a true winter wonderland, Alaska.

8 days From $2,265 per person
Travel among a group of like-minded travelers led by a professional tour manager

2023 Tour code: AT-UWIS-23

About the tour

The heritage of Alaska is multi-faceted and deeply rooted; it is something that oozes from cities and bubbles to the surface in the furthest reaches of the state. Find yourself captivated by everything it offers as you explore the state from the interior to the coast on this immersive winter adventure. The excitement begins in Fairbanks, one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. Enjoy city sightseeing by day and aurora borealis chasing by night. From Fairbanks, enjoy a trip to Denali to meet with a Park Ranger before continuing to Healy. Because of Healy's remote location in Alaska's interior, it is another ideal northern lights-spotting locale due to its setting in the auroral oval. The next day, board the Alaska Railroad's Aurora Winter Train for stunning scenery and possible wildlife viewing en route to Anchorage.

This large city is a hotbed for Alaskan heritage and cultural events, including the Iditarod, which this vacation is designed to feature. Using Anchorage as your home base, enjoy a day of guided sightseeing throughout the city and a visit to Happy Trails Kennel, where you can learn about the significance of dog sledding. Enjoy events leading up to the official start of the Iditarod, a long-distance dog mushing race established nearly 50 years ago. Take part in the Mushers Banquet dinner, and watch the Ceremonial Start in Downtown Anchorage. To wrap up your tour, travel north to the town of Willow, where the mushers officially set out on their course one sled at a time. While the weather is cold, your heart will be warmed by the traditions of Alaska.

Highlights

What’s included

Itinerary

Day 1 - Arrive in Fairbanks

The Golden Heart of Alaska and one of the best places in the world to view the northern lights, and Fairbanks is the beginning point for this late-winter journey. As you arrive today, make your way to your downtown hotel on your own. The evening is yours to enjoy this unique destination that blends history with nature and modernism. There are public art installations to discover throughout the city, and your choices are abundant when it comes to eateries, pubs, and breweries. Overnight Fairbanks.

Day 2 - Fairbanks Sightseeing/Aurora Borealis Tour

After breakfast at your hotel, enjoy a formal introduction to the city on a guided sightseeing tour including the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor's Center. This museum offers a fascinating look into Alaska - its seasons, artwork, indigenous culture, music, wildlife, and more. The tour continues to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, where a guide teaches you about oil's importance to the Alaskan economy and the engineering that went into creating this massive pipeline. The route between these destinations and back to town is rife with points of interest and possible wildlife spotting, that speak to the local heritage.

After returning to downtown Fairbanks, continue sightseeing on your own or relax at your hotel in preparation for tonight's adventure: an aurora borealis viewing tour. Grab your warm winter gear, and venture into Fairbanks' surrounding wilderness to see the aurora in all its glory. Depending on the weather and solar activity, you may see any number of colors, including green, yellow, red, and purple, dancing across the sky. Snacks and hot drinks are provided to keep you fueled for this adventurous evening. Overnight Fairbanks.

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 3 - Denali National Park/Healy Aurora Viewing

Today's travels take us deep into Alaska's vast natural expanses to the edges of Denali National Park. While the visitor's center is closed at this time of the year, a stop at the Murie Science Learning Center offers a fantastic introduction to the wonders of Denali. Get all your questions answered by a park ranger, and enjoy a film presentation, "Heartbeats of Denali," that offers further insight into the park's bountiful flora and fauna. Next venture into the wilderness with an optional snowshoeing experience. Keep watch as we depart Denali, as you might get a peek at America's tallest mountain peak.

From Denali, our motorcoach heads to Healy, less than 20 miles from the park. Healy is our home for the evening, and as we arrive, settle in for a bit of relaxation. You will need your rest, as tonight, you head out again in pursuit of the aurora borealis. With the lack of light pollution in the area and so much surrounding wilderness, the Denali region is a terrific place to catch a glimpse of the lights. Overnight Healy.

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 4 – Alaska Railroad from Healy to Anchorage

Sit in awe of Alaska's unspoiled landscapes from the remote lines of the Alaska Railroad today as the journey continues from Healy to Anchorage on the Cook Inlet. This scenic trip showcases stretches of the state that cannot be seen on the road and passes through the rugged towns and sweeping expanses of nothingness - much of which is still covered by a thick blanket of snow. Look out over the vistas from the large picture windows of the Aurora Winter Train during this iconic journey. If you are lucky, you may see fleeting views of Mt. Denali. Transfer to your Anchorage hotel on arrival and enjoy the evening at leisure. Overnight Anchorage. 

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 5 - Guided Touring in Anchorage/Iditarod Festivities

Alaska's largest city is brimming with interesting sites to discover, and you are invited to do so on an escorted city tour this morning. Begin the excursion in Anchorage's historic downtown area. Many of the buildings were constructed around the turn of the 20th century yet have evolved with the years and house an array of boutiques, galleries, eateries, and businesses. Explore the heart of the city before heading to points of interest like the Lake Hood floatplane base and Earthquake Park, where views of the city, Knik Arm, and the Chugach Mountains abound. The tour wraps up with a scenic drive along Turnagain Arm to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Girdwood. This 200-acre park puts you face-to-face with the local wildlife, including black and brown bears, elk, moose, muskox, and bison, amongst others.

Return to Anchorage this evening in time for dinner, but not just any dinner, the Mushers Banquet for the Iditarod. This annual event is one of the final events before the "Last Great Race on Earth." Enjoy a three-course meal and live and silent auctions that raise funds for the mushers. Perhaps the most exciting spectacle of the evening comes as the racers take to the stage to draw their starting order. Meet and greets, photo opportunities, and more round out the evening. Overnight Anchorage.

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 6 - Happy Trails Kennel

Immerse yourself further into the dogsledding culture with a visit to Happy Trails Kennel today, owned by four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser. Listen to his stories that detail the scenery, hardship, and adventure of the Iditarod course. The dogsledding presentation showcases the actual abilities of the athletes - the dogs - as they pull an ATV around the grounds, and meeting the onsite puppies is a favorite of all visitors. Wrap up your day of adventure with a visit to the Iditarod Headquarters to learn more about the race and its history before the big event. Overnight Anchorage. 

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 7 - Iditarod Ceremonial Start/Anchorage Museum

Take an early breakfast at the hotel this morning, then make your way to 4th Avenue to claim your spot near the starting line for the Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod. Each year, the race kicks off with an 11-mile race from 4th Avenue to the Campbell Street Science Center. This preview gives onlookers a chance to see what the dogs are capable of and allows them to bask in the excitement that fills the air when the dogs are barking, ready to do what they love the most.

Once the short race has finished, head to the Anchorage Museum for an afternoon that brings Alaskan culture to life. The state's largest museum, this establishment presents exhibits related to art, history, science, and other elements that introduce visitors to the remarkable wonders of America's Last Frontier. A favorite area of the museum is the massive Discovery Center, which uses a variety of artistic and interactive exhibits to teach about the unique environment of the north. Following your time at the museum, you can continue your day however you choose. Though snowy in March, Town Square Park is a lovely and serene place to unwind. Overnight Anchorage.

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 8 - Official Iditarod Start/Tour Conclusion

An epic conclusion to a journey to remember, you have a full day of fun to look forward to before returning home. The day starts on the road, following along the Knik Arm and through charming small towns en route to Willow, located just over 70 miles north of Anchorage. The motorcoach stops at a local grocery store, so you can pick up any lunch, snacks, or drinks you may want for the day. On arrival, grab a spot near the start line, and get ready to watch the official start of the Iditarod. This 1,100-mile race takes between 10 and 20 days for racers to complete, and, as such, they need a fantastic send-off. Based on weather and comfort, our goal is to see as many start times as possible.

We return to Anchorage no later than 6:30 p.m. this evening, at which time you are transferred to the international airport. Your adventure through the north's winter wonderland concludes on arrival. Return home with Alaska's traditions thoroughly ingrained in your soul. 

*If you'd prefer to fly out the following day or want spend more time in Anchorage, opt to add a post night.

Includes
  • Breakfast

Additional information

Departure times

Departure times vary based on selected rail vacation. This information will be provided in your final documents. For more information please speak with your rail specialist.

Mobility information

Due to the nature of our tours they are generally unsuitable for those with restricted mobility. If you’d like to discuss any particular vacation with us in this respect, then please don’t hesitate to call us.

Train

Alaska Railroad's Aurora Winter Train
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