By Hayley Sanchez/The Denver Post
When my friend asked if I would visit her in Alaska during Spring Break, I thought, “Who goes to Alaska in March?” But despite the lack of activity I assumed there would be during the offseason, we were able to find plenty to do — hike a glacier, road trip from Fairbanks to Anchorage and back, go dog sledding and more. And it wasn’t even that cold; we had temperatures in the mid-30s throughout the week.
It was my last spring break as a college student, and instead of spending it like most college kids who traveled south to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico or the Florida Keys to party, I packed my bags and headed north.
My friend lives in Salcha, Alaska, just 36 miles southeast of Fairbanks. For our road trip, we left Salcha at 4 a.m. to fit everything into a weekend trip: We took Alaska 3 to Fairbanks, hit Denali State Park to Palmer, then got on Alaska 1 to go to Matanuska Glacier. After our hike, we continued driving to Anchorage, where we stayed the night and visited the conservation center in Portage the next morning.
Here are seven stops we made along the way:
North Pole (the town)
North Pole is a tiny town outside of Fairbanks. It’s one of those, blink-and-you-miss-it towns, except you don’t want to miss it because the whole town is entirely Santa Claus-themed. Red-and-white stripes are painted on every building. And what you really can’t miss is the 40-foot-tall, 900-pound Santa that towers outside of the Santa Claus House. Naturally, we had to stop to take a photo in the sleigh and to see the gift shop filled with year-round Christmas treasures. Admission is free. 101 St. Nicholas Drive, North Pole, santaclaushouse.com.
Denali State Park
Denali National Park is one of the most widely traveled to and talked about places in Alaska. It is where mountaineers travel to climb Denali, also known as Mount McKinley — at 20,310 feet, it’s the highest mountain in North America. But if you don’t fancy negative temperatures, hiking through vast amounts of snow or climbing dangerous mountains, a spring drive down Alaska 3 through Denali State Park (which is adjacent to the national park) is probably right for you, especially since the national park rarely has public access during the winter months.
The scenic drive through the state park was definitely worth waking up at the crack of dawn for — I did not know mountains could get so high, and that’s coming from a Colorado Native. Seeing my first moose and her calf was also a treat.
A visit to Denali State Park is significantly different in winter versus summer. The landscape is barren and white during winter, but summer is lush green. Winter months tend to bring fewer tourists and wildlife as well. Weather conditions could be extreme and roads could be closed, so calling ahead is strongly recommended. 907-745-3975, http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/denali1.htm.