Attention, parents: March 8 is just around the corner. That’s the day schools across Alaska open their doors and release students for spring break.
Of course, the term “spring” in reference to a season still very much looking like winter is a misnomer in Alaska, especially when advertisements for swimsuits, sunscreen and beach chairs start appearing.
While many families do take this March break as an opportunity to jet south to warmer places in the final push toward true springtime, lots of us don’t. We stick around our home state to experience increased sunshine, warmer temperatures and abundant outdoor recreation.
Alaska’s spring-break benefits also come in the form of early-season deals and opportunities to get kids outside to explore before the rush of summer visitors begins.
The options are plentiful and range from day trips to overnight adventures meant to spark kids’ curiosity. Spending spring break at home? There’s a lot to see and do.
GET OUT ON THE WATER
March is an excellent time to explore Alaska’s waterways, especially when gray whales are making their way north from Mexico.
This spring, Major Marine Tours is offering gray whale tours early -- starting March 9 -- so Alaskans can take advantage of the opportunity. The four-hour cruise departs from Seward and explores Resurrection Bay, spotting other wildlife along the way, for $89/adults, $44.50/kids 2-11.
Have a larger family or visitors heading to Alaska over the break? It might be worth considering a smaller vessel for your own personal tour. Seward Ocean Excursions offers a 3.5-hour custom tour around Resurrection Bay for $164 per person for up to six people. Yes, it’s more expensive, but captain Bixler McClure can nose his smaller boats, Missing Lynx and Lost Lynx, into the coves of the bay, spotting otters, porpoise and orca in addition to the aforementioned gray whales.
In Whittier, Lazy Otter Charters is rolling out springtime sightseeing cruises into Blackstone Bay. I took this trip one March with visiting friends and it was breathtaking. Prince William Sound’s towering, snow-covered mountains and flat-calm water of the bay made for stunning scenery, and Lazy Otter crew members delivered our group to a rocky beach near Beloit and Blackstone glaciers, where we had the chance to explore a bit before heading back to town.
At $175 per person for 3.5 hours of cruising, it’s more expensive than other trips, but if you’re looking for something unusual for spring break, this definitely meets the criteria.
OR, HEAD NORTH
Longer days mean more time to explore the area between Talkeetna and Denali National Park, and the area’s visitor industry is responding with special dates and rates related to spring break.
Many families drive the 2.5 hours north to Talkeetna from Anchorage, but it’s worth noting the Alaska Railroad has added midweek departures from Anchorage and Fairbanks and points between, making it easier than ever to enjoy a family getaway.
A favorite trip of many families is to hop aboard the train in Anchorage and travel to Talkeetna, arriving just before lunch. Guests to this little town have a multitude of lodging options.
What can you do in Talkeetna? Ski or fat-tire bike the trails near town or at Talkeetna Lakes Park not far away, bake a pie at the Talkeetna Roadhouse in a special package with the Alaska Railroad, or stay up late and view the aurora borealis.
Don’t have skis or fat bikes? North Shore Cyclery rents bikes and skis to fit even small children, and they’ve also got a line of Altai brand skis -- short, fat skis with skins attached to the bottom and metal edges on the sides. They are perfect for breaking trail and playing in the fresh powder.
Want to venture farther up the Parks Highway? Denali National Park’s offerings are abundant during March, and with temperatures at a more reasonable level, it’s also a lot more fun for kids.
While the park’s main visitor center stays closed during the winter, the Murie Science and Learning Center is headquarters for information, activities and free snowshoes to borrow while you’re on the park property.
We like to take our cross-country skis or bikes and explore the trails near the entrance area, most of which are in excellent shape and perfect for youngsters. The trails around the sled dog kennels are also a great option, and it’s fun to watch rangers take their teams out for a skijor when they aren’t away patrolling the backcountry.
For lodging, visitors have a few options, staying near the park entrance at Tonglen Lake Lodge and cooking their own meals, or heading 11 miles north to the town of Healy. We’ve stayed at the Denali Dome Home and enjoyed the “bed and breakfast” service, and the Denali Lakeview Inn a few miles away, where meals are not provided but the skiing around Otto Lake is delightful. The Denali Chamber of Commerce has more information about lodging and dining during winter around Denali National Park as well.
This is my last regular column for the Anchorage Daily News. I've enjoyed sharing Alaska's outdoor spaces with readers and hearing stories about family adventures around the Last Frontier. While I won't be writing a regular column for ADN anymore, I will be expanding to other platforms and am excited to explore more places in different ways.
Erin Kirkland is author of the Alaska On the Go guidebook series and publishes the family travel website AKontheGO.com.