21 Best Things to Do in Boulder in Winter

sunset colors seen from hiking the flatirons in winter

There’s no better place in Colorado during the winter months to visit than Boulder!

A small town (though some may refer to it as a city) located right at the start of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is one place you won’t want to miss.

Boulder is a common day trip from Denver, but it is genuinely amazing to stay for an entire vacation.

It’s filled with breathtaking hikes, amazing restaurants, and of course, delicious breweries that will leave you wanting to extend your stay!

Without further ado, here are all of the best things to do in Boulder in winter, in no particular order.

a snowy landscape in front of the flatirons section of the rocky mountains of colorado in boulder in winter

Best Things to do in Boulder in Winter

Cross country ski at North Boulder Park.

One of the underrated places to visit in Boulder is a place called North Boulder Park.

This park is often visited by locals in the summer, especially those with families, because there’s a fantastic playground in the park that’s perfect for kids.

However, come winter, North Boulder Park becomes the perfect place for cross country skiing! This is a pretty popular activity for locals.

It’s a lot different than regular skiing, as it’s across flat surfaces of the ground, and you essentially are running with skis on (sort of — it’s hard to explain, but if you’ve tried, you know!).

Keep in mind that cross country skiing is said to be even more difficult than regular skiing, but if it’s something you’re interested in, there are places to rent or even learn in and around Boulder. Just make sure you do your research before paying for anything!

woman in a blue shirt and snow pants with cross country skis exploring in the snow

Walk the Boulder Creek Path.

For a great walk in the winter while visiting Boulder, take a walk along the Boulder Creek Path.

It’s perfect whether you are visiting during a snowy time of winter or a dryer time; just make sure you dress appropriately. The weather in Colorado can be pretty unpredictable sometimes!

The path is relatively long, about 9 miles or so from start to finish. You don’t have to walk the entire path if you don’t want to because even just walking a part of it is a great way to get some fresh air while visiting Boulder in the winter.

This is one of the easiest paths to walk in Boulder, making it perfect for visiting with families or even dogs, as it’s both dog-friendly and stroller-friendly. It’s partially paved and will lead you along a river near the mountains and even into the town of Boulder.

the landscapes around boulder creek in winter: a great place for a winter walk

Shop on Pearl Street.

If you’ve been to Denver before, then you’ve most likely gone shopping on the 16th Street Mall! This is one of the main shopping areas in the city. Pearl Street is the same thing, but with more local shops!

Along Pearl Street, you can find top-rated restaurants, breweries, stores, cafes, and more. Almost anything you can think of, you can probably find a shop that sells it on Pearl Street. A decent portion of it is also pedestrian-only, making it great for walking.

During the winter, you can generally find lots of fun random events happening at the different shops or even just on the street. It’s a great place to walk around and pop into stores to warm up while exploring Boulder.

Photo Credit: Paul Sableman via Flickr

Sled at Tantra Park.

Sledding is an absolute must in the winter, and thanks to Boulder’s proximity to the mountains, you can go sledding while visiting. Plus, if you need a sled, you can buy one at the local shops or the grocery store, King Sooper’s.

Tantra Park may just look like a regular old park during the rest of the year, but it becomes a true winter wonderland in winter. It also has a fun playground so kids can have fun in other ways, too, if it’s not snowing during your trip to Boulder.

There is a great little hill at Tantra Park where most of the sledding happens. If you’re feeling up to it, you can even use the snow to build a fun jump to go over when you’re sledding down the hill.

Photo Credit: Eric Anderson via Flickr

Ski at Eldora Mountain Resort.

No trip to Colorado is complete without skiing. The best ski resort right near Boulder is called Eldora Mountain Resort. Because Boulder doesn’t technically have its own ski resort, this is where all of the locals go.

This ski resort has mostly intermediate runs and a decent amount of beginner, advanced, and expert trails for skiers and snowboarders. No matter what level you are at, you’ll be able to have fun at Eldora Mountain Resort.

There are day passes so that you can easily go to the park for a day, but you can also buy a multi-day pass if you’ll be spending a few days in the area and really want to get the most out of your visit.

If you’ve never been skiing or snowboarding before but want to learn, you can also learn here because they offer lessons. The resort also offers rentals, so you don’t have to travel with your equipment.

a man with a snowboard taking the chairlift up to eldora mountain resort, near boulder colorado in winter

Attend Snow Much Fun.

Another fantastic event to attend in Boulder in winter is one called Snow Much Fun! This event is perfect for all ages and is the best way to see a whole bunch of holiday lights, similar to the ones that you would see in Denver.

Snow Much Fun in 2020 was a bit different than usual, but the event typically includes certain parts of the town being decorated and wholly decorated with lights. It’s mainly in the downtown area as well as the Civic Area.

Boulder’s tourism board will usually have a list of the must-visit places to see the lights, too, so you’ll know exactly where to look. For example, some of the best spots for Snow Much Fun lights last year was Creekside Play Area, Public Art Sculpture, and a whole bunch of spots along Pearl Street Mall.

Watch The Nutcracker with the Boulder Philharmonic.

A fun winter tradition is to see The Nutcracker, and the same is true when visiting Boulder. You can attend the show with the Boulder Philarmonic, put on by the Boulder Ballet.

It usually only occurs on set dates during the winter, so you’ll want to plan for this event and book your tickets in advance.

Sometimes the dates are in November, and sometimes they are in December. It truly varies on the year! Often, they are only for just a few short days, too, usually five performances or less total.

This can be a great performance to attend with families or even if you’re looking for something to do as a couple during your trip to Boulder. It’s an outstanding performance to get yourself and others into the holiday spirit.

Photo Credit: Roger Meike via Flickr

Attend Colorado Chautauqua WinterFest.

Going to festivals around the holidays (especially ones that are all about the holidays) serves as the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit. So, why not go to Colorado Chautauqua WinterFest?

When you think of the word WinterFest, you probably initially think that it’s a bunch of winter-related activities, and you’d be right. WinterFest is an event that usually lasts for a month or so in Boulder and includes tons of different events.

Common events of the past for WinterFest have included Art in the Park, a Cyber Scavenger Hunt, and even free coffee and cookies for guests to warm up. The events tend to change depending on the year, but a visit to Boulder to attend WinterFest is always a good visit.

Drive up (or hike) the Flatirons.

The Flatirons are the mountain range that makes Boulder so popular. They’re part of the Rocky Mountains and are genuinely one of the most iconic parts of the mountain range, too, which is why so many people like to visit Boulder.

While you may think that the mountains must only be accessible in the summer or warmer months, they’re open to visitors year-round.

If it’s super cold, you can drive on the Flatirons Vista Scenic Drive, which will bring you right up the mountain. This way, you don’t even have to get out of the car, but you can still enjoy truly breathtaking views.

Another option is to straight-up hike on the Flatirons in the winter. My first time hiking the Flatirons was actually on New Year’s Day, so this is doable. Plus, this is the time that you’ll also usually run into lots of locals! Just choose your trail wisely because some of them are difficult.

sunset colors seen from hiking the flatirons in winter

Enjoy a hearty breakfast from Snooze, an A.M. Eatery.

Arguably the best spot for breakfast (besides Foolish Craig’s Cafe) is Snooze, an A.M. Eatery. This is a small chain restaurant known for its breakfast, and they have quite a few locations across Colorado.

At Snooze, you can get almost any breakfast that you can imagine. From waffles to eggs benedict to huge breakfast burritos, Snooze has it all.

Keep in mind that Snooze is one of Boulder’s most popular breakfast restaurants, mainly because it’s on Pearl Street. You’ll want to book a reservation ahead of time, which most people will just do on the Yelp app. However, you can only book reservations on the same day!

If it’s super cold during your trip to Boulder, don’t worry. Snooze has lots of indoor seating, but even their outdoor seating gets surrounded by outdoor heaters during the winter, so you can sit outside without freezing.

Photo Credit: Victor Chapa via Flickr

Snowshoe on one of Boulder’s many trails.

Many people overlook snowshoeing as a fun thing to do in the winter because it’s just walking with funky waffle shoes on your feet while you tread snow easily. But it’s super fun and is a great thing to do in Boulder in the winter!

Also, if you’re traveling to Boulder without snowshoes (because why would you be traveling with snowshoes?), then don’t worry; you can rent them at different places throughout the town. The best places to check out for rentals include those that also offer ski and snowboard rentals.

Some of the best spots for snowshoeing in Boulder include Eldora Mountain Resort, Hessie Trailhead, Heil Valley Ranch, and Betasso Preserve. Note that some of these are in Boulder County and not necessarily the town of Boulder.

You could also go snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park in winter!

person snowshoeing in rocky mountain national park

Warm up with a pint from a brewery.

Boulder is known for its amazing breweries, so the best way to warm up while visiting in winter is to head to one and grab a pint. Because there are so many that you can choose from, you have your pick. However, you should check out some of the more popular ones.

Arguably the best place to grab a bint in Boulder is at Avery Brewing Company. This brewery has its own restaurant, so you can eat here while also trying one of their many different drinks on tap. Consider ordering a flight to have a few different flavors.

Another great one that many people don’t even really know about is the Twisted Pine Brewing Co. This place has its drinks but also has tons of events (especially in winter), like trivia and live music. Plus, they have a fantastic pizza menu.

tasting flight of different beers

Go to Switch on the Holidays.

For a great holiday event, go to Switch on the Holidays! It happens right downtown on Pearl Street. If you happen to be staying at Hotel Boulderado, which is the most popular place to stay in Boulder, then you will be right near where this event happens.

This is an annual event that happens only once a year, so if you want to attend, make sure you plan your trip wisely. During the event, there’s a fun sing-along put on by the Boulder Children’s Chorale!

At the end of the event and when they are done singing, Pearl Street gets completely lit up at the Boulder County Courthouse! It’s one of the most magical experiences.

You’ll also be able to see Santa at the end, which is perfect if you’re traveling with children. It’s free to take a photo with him!

Eat a sweet from Spruce Confections.

There’s just something about sweet treats and cold winter weather and the holidays that just all go together, right? So check out Spruce Confections, one of the best spots for an amazing sweet treat in Boulder. They have a right location downtown on Pearl Street, but they have another location uptown too.

The menu has tons of sweet treats, including brownies, cookies, croissants, muffins, and other fun goodies that they make. Plus, they have a long list of hot and cold drinks to go along with your treat.

If you’re not a huge fan of sweets or you want something a bit more savory to eat before having your sweet, then don’t worry; they also have salads, sandwiches, and burritos on the menu. Honestly, you could get almost anything here, but the sweets are the most popular thing to get there.

Ice skate at Winterskate.

Ice skating is an absolute must-do activity when visiting anywhere in the winter, no matter where you are. However, Boulder has one ice skating rink, and it’s at the University of Colorado Boulder. Unfortunately, it’s mainly only open to students and friends of students!

That’s why the best spot to go ice skating near Boulder is Winterskate. It’s technically located a short drive out of Boulder in Louisville, but this is where all the locals go to ice skate near Boulder because it’s the closest place.

During Winterskate, there are also horse-drawn carriage rides, delicious hot cocoa and coffee, heaters, food stands, and fun holiday music to help get you in the holiday mood. The ice skating rink is also relatively large, at around 6500 square feet! There are rental spots right at Winterskate park so that you can rent some skates to have fun.

Red gloved hands tying an ice skate, white jacket and white skates

Take a photo with Santa at Saint Nick on the Bricks.

St. Nick on the Bricks is a fun event in Boulder annually for families and kids in the area. It’s completely free and is the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit in winter. The event takes place at the Boulder Visitor Center in the downtown part of the town.

The main attraction at this event is, of course, Santa! Sometimes Mrs. Clause is also there, so you can get a photo with both of them. If you have the kids bring their Christmas list, you can even have them read it and take it to the North Pole.

This event usually takes place for a full day right before Christmas, so if this is something you know that you want to visit during your trip, be sure to plan wisely. Historically, it occurs the weekend before Christmas!

Have tea at Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse.

One place that can’t be missed is the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. It’s one of the best things to do in Boulder in general, but it is even more enjoyable in winter because one of the best ways to warm up is to have a tasty hot tea!

This is one of the most unique places in Boulder. The entire building was actually built initially fully in Tajikistan. Then, it was taken apart and shipped all the way to Boulder, Colorado, of all places! Therefore, the teahouse has a unique and authentic feeling to it, unlike many other places in the United States.

There are many spots to sit down and relax here, so you can truly enjoy your drink. Be sure to look closely at the ceiling and the walls because the architecture is truly breathtaking. There are so many little details!

detail at the tajik style tea house at boulder dushanbe tea house

Go to Freezie Fest.

Yes, there is an actual event called Freezie Fest in Boulder! It takes place annually on a single day in December, usually on a Saturday. The event is mainly focused just on snowmen, which is super fun!

During the event, there are train rides, fun outdoor games, Christmas carolers, and even an opportunity to take photos with Santa. This is truly an excellent event for families or anyone who loves the holidays.

So, back to the point: snowmen. Around 25 different stuffed animals of Freezie, the snowman are hidden around the town inside different shops. The goal is to try to find one, and you can end up getting a gift card or another prize after finding one. It’s a fun way to get involved in a town-wide event while also exploring!

Buy a new book at Boulder Book Store.

One of the best things to do in Boulder in the winter is to support local shops like the Boulder Book Store. This historic shop was actually recently ranked number one out of all the independent bookstores in the United States, so it’s already made its mark on the map!

The shop is located right on Pearl Street and is a beautiful place to explore because it’s inside an old building. It covers three floors, and there’s said to be more than 100,000 books inside. There are so many little spots to explore inside the bookshop.

Boulder Book Store also hosts many events throughout the year, so be sure to check out their website to see if there are any events happening during the time you’re visiting. Sometimes they host readings or even author signings for the public.

Photo Credit: Kent Kanouse via Flickr

Grab a bite to eat at the Buff Restaurant.

Last but not least is another great restaurant that’s even better in the winter, the Buff Restaurant. They mainly serve brunch and are best known for their delicious bacon pancakes and fun drinks that they serve in mason jars.

At the Buff Restaurant, they also serve tons of food using local vendors. This includes places like Ozo Coffee, Sherpa Chai, Boulder Granola, and Polidori Sausage. If you want to try some local dishes, this is the perfect place to go and try it out.

The owners also take recycling and being sustainable very seriously, so it’s one of the restaurant’s values. Rest assured, you’re eating at a restaurant that does what it can to pay it forward! They take around 95% of their waste and compost it or make it recyclable.

7 Tips for Visiting the Dillon Ice Castles in Colorado

The Dillon Ice Castles are a magical place to visit! Located in the heart of small-town Dillon, the Ice Castles are a must-see. 

They are a great place for a romantic date night out, a night of family fun, or a great place to visit with friends.

The Ice Castles are the main attraction in Dillon in the winter months, and it’s a popular winter Denver day trip!

Dillon is just one of the four locations in the US that hosts the construction of these gorgeous man-made ice castles.

How Are the Dillon Ice Castles Made?

Magical ice castle made entirely of water and ice and snow in the sun on a winter day in Colorado

The Ice Castles are hand-built by ice architects! These masters grow then place icicles one by one in the design they want. After, these icicles are sprayed with water. 

They repeat that process many times over the span of two months until the castles grow to the size of their liking. Typically, this requires about 25,000 tons of ice!

Where Are the Dillon Ice Castles?

Area around the Ice Castles in Dillon with trees and mountains behind the castle formation

The Ice Castles are located off of Highway 6, on Lake Dillon Drive in the Dillon Town Park. 

The outside of this attraction can be seen from the streets throughout town, but the inside will blow you away!

From a distance (in the daylight) the castles will look blue because of their density, but as you get closer the intricacies will have you taking a second look. 

Once you walk inside, you enter into another world!

In this article, I am going to give you some tips to make visiting the Ice Castles a smooth trip!

7 Tips for Visiting the Dillon Ice Castles

Get your tickets online in advance.   

The beautiful ice formations in a brilliant turquoise pale blue color against a cloudy winter sky

Getting your tickets online in advance will guarantee you entry into the Ice Castles on the day you want. It is $17.99 to get in during the weekdays and $22.99 Friday through Sunday. You can buy tickets online on their website here.

There are lower prices for children’s tickets as well and children under 3 are free. If you buy tickets the day of, the prices are typically more expensive, and there is no guarantee they won’t be sold out.

When you purchase tickets, you are not only purchasing a ticket for the date you want, but for the time you want to go as well.  No matter what arrival time you purchase tickets for, you can stay as long as you want.

Opening and closing days do vary each year at the Ice Castles due to weather conditions.  Getting tickets online will also ensure that the Ice Castles will be open.

Typically in Dillon, the castles open in late December or early January and close at the end of February or in the first few weeks of March.

Arrive early.

Close up detail of icicles at the Dillon Ice Castles

When you purchase a ticket for the Ice Castles, you are buying an arrival window.  For example, if you purchase an arrival window from 5 PM – 5:30 PM, you can enter the castles anytime between those times and stay as long as you want.

If you arrive before your time slot, you will just have to wait to enter. If you arrive after your time slot, you may lose your ticket and not be able to enter at all. 

You may have to wait in line to enter into the Ice Castles during the more popular times from 4:30 PM – 7:00 PM, so arriving early will ensure you have enough time to wait in line and still enter during your arrival window.

It is also important to arrive early because parking can be scarce. There is a pretty large parking lot right on Buffalo Street in front of the Ice Castles. This is prime parking and it fills up very quickly!

If that lot is full, there is some overflow parking in the Town Hall parking lot. If both of those lots are full, you can find some parking along Lake Dillon Drive, which will leave you a short walk to the castles. Make sure to obey all parking signs in town and only park in designated areas.

If you are looking to avoid the parking situation, look into taking the free Summit Stage Bus from anywhere in the county. The Summit Stage bus drops you off and picks you up right on Buffalo Street.

You can get off at stop number 193 on the schedule if you’re taking the bus from Silverthorne or Keystone. Typically the bus comes every 30 minutes and runs on time.

If you are taking the bus from Frisco or Breckenridge, be sure to check out the Summit Stage schedule online.

Dress appropriately.

Person wearing a jacket and gloves while visiting the Dillon Ice Castles

The winter months in Colorado can be frigid! When visiting the Ice Castles, be sure to wear the correct clothing to ensure your comfort.

I recommend that everyone in your party wears snow pants, base layers (like this merino wool top and bottoms) and mid-layers (like this North Face fleece, one of my winter staples), a winter jacket (I also suggest a North Face parka), and a hat and gloves.

The Ice Castles hardly shut down due to adverse weather so be prepared for anything!

You will be standing on cold snow and ice mixture the whole time, so wearing warm winter socks and boots will help you stay warm. The only kind of boots that will keep your feet sufficiently warm is snow boots (I love these Sorel boots), which will be perfect for the 30-60 minutes you may be in the castles.

Packing some hand warmers in your pockets will allow you to enjoy your stay longer if you do start to get cold! I suggest these Karecel rechargeable hand warmers as they are less wasteful than the disposable ones, and they’re very affordable!

Bring a nice camera.

I know that many of us have really nice cameras on our smartphones that we bring everywhere!

If you really want to capture the intricate details though, I recommend bringing a nice camera and visiting the castles in the daylight to capture each individual icicle in a photo that will last forever.

If you plan to arrive around 4:00 PM, you will be able to see the castles in the daylight, catch the sunset over Lake Dillon, and enjoy the ambiance that darkness creates!

Ice Castles lit up at night with blue light and icicles

Take care of your bodily needs before you enter!

As a ski instructor, we always say “NO PEE, NO SKI” before we take the kids outside to ski. Well, the same goes for the ice castles!

Even though you aren’t going skiing, it’s almost the same in my eyes because there are no bathrooms inside. 

There is also no reentry allowed if you have to leave to use the bathroom. I am just trying to say that you should plan ahead!

No food is allowed inside.

Unfortunately, food is not permitted inside the Ice Castles. Plan to have eaten before you go inside, or plan a meal for afterward. 

Your journey inside can last a long time, especially if you’re into photography and capturing every last detail, so be prepared for anything! 

If you are planning to eat in Dillon afterward, both Pug Ryan’s and Arapahoe Cafe are within walking distance of the castles and have great offerings.

Take your time inside.

One room of the Dillon ice castle with blue, orange, and purple lighting creating a unique ambiance

As soon as you walk into the castles, you will be greeted with so much to look at: beautiful walls, archways, rainbow-colored lighting, and carved ice sculptures!

There are many different rooms to explore all with something different to offer. The castle is lit up with all different colors inside creating a different ambiance in each room.

Insider Tip: If you are looking for a nice romantic or private getaway, be sure to book a VIP experience in a private alcove!

If not, you can explore multiple different rooms, ice slot canyons, and walk under the many arches. Be sure to look up when you’re under the arches, to see what looks like a beautiful ice chandelier!

Looking up at the icicles under one of the arches in Dillon Ice Castles

Don’t forget the ice slides.

If you’re looking for more action, make sure to visit the ice slides inside.  There are ice slides of different sizes throughout the castle.  Believe it or not, many slides are both adult and kid-friendly!

The lines can get long at the slides so make sure to keep your eyes on it. Visiting during the middle of the week and at unpopular times can help you avoid these lines.

If you’re not seeking the adrenaline rush the slide has to offer, you can slide your way through ice tunnels of all different sizes!

They are adult and kid-friendly as well.  As the darkness sets in, the tunnels will light up with all different colors.

Colorful ice castle lit up at night with bright colors of purple and pink

If traveling with kids

If you have young kids, I recommend bringing a sled to tow them around!

Strollers are not permitted in the castles and would be extremely hard to push through the snow. Bringing a sled will allow you to stay longer even if the young ones start to get tired.

***

No matter how you choose to enjoy the ice castles, it will be a great time! 

The Ice Castles are so easy to look at, that you may spend hours wandering around looking at every little detail. 

The architects do an amazing job every year creating these castles bringing something new and different each year to the design. 

I highly recommend planning some time for the Dillon Ice Castles when you are planning your trip to Denver in winter.  This is an experience like no other!

21 Delightful Things to Do in Denver in Winter

If you’re traveling to Denver during the winter months, you’re in luck!

This destination is often seen as an adventure lover’s paradise during the warmer seasons for its hiking, but it’s still just that during the winter, if not even more so!

No matter how long you spend in Denver during the winter, you’ll surely have a blast!

Since it’s at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, there’s true beauty everywhere you look, and there’s no better view than the mountains covered in snow.

This article covers all of the top things to do in Denver in winter, whether you enjoy being outside or inside.

This Denver winter guide is perfect for travelers of all ages and interests, so I’m sure you’ll find the right activities for your trip.

So, what are you waiting for? Read on to find out some of Denver’s best winter attractions!

The Best Things to Do in Denver in Winter

See the Dillon Ice Castles.

Blue-tinted ice castle in Dillon Colorado an hour from denver in winter

While it’s not technically in Denver, you have to take the hour drive to Dillon, Colorado, to check out the Dillon Ice Castles.

This is arguably one of the best winter attractions in all of Colorado, so it’s not one that you’re going to want to miss!

This event takes place exclusively in winter for a few months and is filled with tons of mind-boggling sculptures.

You’ll find tunnels, castles, towers, and more. Plus, everything is lit up with lots of fun colors, bringing the place even more alive!

Unfortunately, there is no way to get to the castles using public transportation. If you’re traveling from out of state and don’t have a car with you, it’s worth renting a car to witness these! It’s also an excellent attraction for children.

Adventure through Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with adventures all year round. In winter, the park comes to life in a whole different way. You’ll be right up next to the Rocky Mountains when they’re covered in snow, which is seriously magical!

Throughout the park, there are lots of great winter activities. You can check out the frozen lakes and waterfalls, catch the sunrise or sunset, take a cold but beautiful hike, or even go snowshoeing.

Another popular winter activity here is looking for wildlife. While many animals hibernate during this time of the year, you can usually still find some extraordinary wildlife from a distance. Just make sure you let the animals do their thing; don’t get too close.

Go ice skating.

Red gloved hands tying an ice skate, white jacket and white skates

No winter is complete without ice skating, and luckily there are quite a few places to go ice skating in Denver!

Don’t worry if you didn’t travel with your ice skates; you can rent them at every place listed below.

The most popular place to go ice skating here is at Skyline Park. The ice skating is outdoors, and the entire rink is usually covered in bright lights, so even when the sun goes down, the ice skating can continue. This is a great family-friendly ice skating attraction.

Another place that there is sometimes ice skating is at the Denver Airport! They’ve done this a few times at the airport, and it was completely free to go ice skating there. This means if you’re traveling through the airport in winter, you may get to enjoy this!

Tour Denver’s Capitol Building.

Denver’s Capitol Building is one of the top spots to see in the city no matter the time of year, so why not visit it in winter?

This 19th-century building truly commands your attention no matter where you are in the city because it has a huge golden dome — but the lights in winter make it even prettier!

The building stands at 272 feet tall, and visitors can tour the building for free. This is a great way to witness the architecture in Denver and also to get one of the best views in the city!

During the tour, guests are brought to the top of the dome, which offers impressive views. You can even see all the way out to the Rocky Mountains.

This view is even better during the winter months because of the snow! Keep in mind tours are only held on weekdays.

Attend the Christkindl Market.

Image Credit: Amy Aletheia Cahill via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

One of the best things to do in Denver in winter is attending Denver Christkindlmarket. People come from all over to come to this German Christmas market because it’s so fun and the festivities are so lively.

The most popular thing to do at the market is eat at all of the excellent food vendor stands. There are usually vendors selling spaetzle, chocolate, mulled wine, schnitzel, and more. The food is so good that you almost forget you’re not in Germany!

If this is an event that you want to attend, try to visit right when they open. This is one of the most popular Denver winter activities, so you want to get there as early as possible to avoid all of the lines that come later in the day.

Take a day trip to Golden.

A short drive away from Denver is a beautiful town called Golden!

This historic town is one of the most popular day trips from Denver that you genuinely won’t want to miss. Plus, it’s a small town, so it has a very different vibe from Denver.

Golden is a mountain town, so it’s right next to the Rockies. It’s an incredible place to visit when it’s snowing because it feels like a storybook town! There are also tons of great things to do in Golden, from going on a hike to just shopping in downtown.

For an indoor adventure, head to Coors Brewery, which is right in Golden. There’s a free shuttle from downtown Golden that you can get that will bring you there for the tour. Throughout the tour, you’ll learn all about Coor’s brewing process!

Discover the Dairy Block.

Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Dairy Block in Denver is one of the city’s newer additions. It’s located in Lower Downtown (LoDo) and comes alive in winter!

The Dairy Block features an alleyway with tons of outdoor seating and heaters for winter and gets completely decked out in fun lights.

You might be thinking, what the heck is The Dairy Block? It’s essentially a whole bunch of things! There are food vendors, sit-down restaurants, a hotel, a bar, and a coworking space. Most people come here to grab some food because the food is delicious, especially the pizza.

Keep an eye on their winter schedule because they usually host tons of fun events once the season rolls around. In the past, they’ve had live music, markets featuring other local vendors and shops, and more.

Visit Union Station.

front of union station in Denver at christmas, colorful rainbow lights and christmas tree

Union Station is Denver’s central transportation hub. Every winter in Denver, it gets all dressed up in tons of fun festive lights that will truly take your breath away!

While you can visit while it’s light out, it’s best to wait until the sun goes down so that you can see it all done up.

At night, Union Station can be spotted from a mile away because it’s so bright. The lights are truly breathtaking, so make sure you bring your camera. Even young kids will love visiting Union Station once the sun goes down.

During the day, Union Station serves as a meeting point for the Amtrak, airport train, and Denver regional trains. The inside of the Union Station building is a hotel but is also filled with lots of restaurants, sitting areas, and shops.

Indulge at The Brown Palace Hotel.

afternoon tea with a tiered tea cake stand and tea cups

One of the top-rated hotels in Denver is The Brown Palace Hotel. It’s a 4-star hotel with relatively comparable rates considering how nice of a hotel it is. It’s also rather historic, having been built in the 1890s.

While you could easily stay here in the winter or any time of year, you’ll want to visit The Brown Palace Hotel to attend their Afternoon Tea. It’s such a fun event to attend, and it’s even more fun in the winter because it’ll warm you up.

This classic tea service happens in the afternoon between 12 and 4 pm, so make sure you plan your trip to The Brown Palace Hotel wisely.

If you don’t have time to sit down and enjoy tea with fun treats, then consider ordering from their to-go station!

Walk around the Denver Botanic Garden at night.

Colorful lights in trees and bushes in the Denver Botanical Garden, with snow on the ground, celebrating Christmas in Denver

Every winter, the Denver Botanic Garden hosts its own fun event! All of the plants get entirely covered in fun lights, which you can only witness at night once the sun goes down.

Tickets usually have to be purchased for this event ahead of time because the garden is one of the city’s top attractions no matter the time of year. It gets even more popular in the winter months because of this event!

As an insider’s tip, don’t try to visit the garden during the day in the winter. It’s not that fun because you can see all of the lights wrapped around the plants, but they’re turned off, so it kind of ruins the experience.

Go skiing or snowboarding.

ski trails in loveland pass colorado

So many people come to Colorado for outdoor sports, and the same is true in the winter. If you’re traveling with a car or have access to one, then you’ll be able to enjoy this famous Colorado pastime.

There are quite a few ski and snowboard resorts within the Denver area. You could consider going to Echo Mountain Resort near Idaho Springs, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, or Loveland Ski Area.

Some of these are smaller ski resorts, but there are still quite a few slopes that you can hit up.

If you don’t have any equipment with you, don’t worry. You can rent them here. If you’re staying in Denver for a longer period of time, consider hitting up Breckenridge or Aspen for a really fun time.

Have dinner in an igloo.

christmas lights in larimer square denver

Denver is known for its fantastic dining scene. The weather is always near perfect in the city, so there are tons of spots for outdoor seating. This still holds true in the winter, but instead of eating directly outside, you can be seated in a fun warm igloo!

There are quite a few places around the city that you can indulge and dine this way. The most popular spot is Larimer Square, which is one of the most historic parts of the city. A lot of this street is pedestrian-only, and the restaurants are top-notch.

Another great spot in the city to try out igloo dining is at Union Station. A few of the restaurants here have igloo spots, including the bar. I do recommend that you make a reservation ahead of time to make sure one of them will be open, so you don’t get seated inside instead.

Learn at one of Denver’s many museums.

The famous sculpture The Yearling outside of the Denver Library

The city of Denver is filled with so many museums. Seriously, no matter what your hobbies or personal interests, there’s probably a museum related to it somewhere throughout the city. So, instead of being freezing outside, consider going to one of Denver’s museums.

The most famous museum in Denver is the Denver Art Museum, which is right next to the Denver Capitol Building.

Other great museums here include the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Children’s Museum of Denver, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

Before you plan your trip to Denver, make sure to check online to see when free days are at the museums. The museums in Denver work hard to be accessible to everyone, so they host multiple free days each month.

Go to Winter Brew Fest.

Image Credit: Jason Cipriani via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Honestly, no Denver trip — winter or summer — is complete without taking part in the local drinking culture.

The city is filled with great local breweries, selling and making everything from ciders to seltzers to great beers.

While most people come to Denver to attend Summer Brew Fest, there’s also one in the winter: Winter Brew Fest. It’s been happening in Denver for about 15 years now!

It’s the perfect way to learn more about Denver’s drinking culture and also to try out some delicious beverages.

The event usually only takes place on one day in Denver in January, so if you know that this is an event you must attend, then be sure to find out when the date is.

Historically, there have been more than 100 different drinks to try at this event!

Shop at 16th Street Mall.

The 16th street mall lit up in colorful lights at dusk

Essentially, 16th Street Mall is a huge pedestrian-only street that’s a little over a mile long. It’s lined with tons of great shops and restaurants.

Some of them are local sellers like Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, but others are more commercial.

The mall gets all lit up in the winter and is completely lined with tons of excellent lights. Sometimes, the mall also hosts its own events. You might find that you’re lucky and attend one during your trip!

Be sure to walk along the mall and see what’s going on. It’s right next to Skyline Park, where the ice skating takes place and is also a short walk from the Christkindl Market, so there’s seriously so much to do in this area.

Snap a photo at Denver’s Mile High Tree.

colorful rainbow mile high tree lit up at night, with snow on the ground

While most cities across the United States get huge real trees that they decorate and light up in one of the city’s most popular areas, Denver at Christmas does something completely different. It gets its own Mile High Tree, which is entirely electronic!

The tree is so unique and fun. When you look at it, it’s almost like you’re watching a light show but without the music. It’s set up right along the 16th Street Mall in the open green space about halfway down the street.

Usually, you can even stand in line to go right inside of the Mile High Tree and snap some photos. This is such a fun experience! You can stand inside of it and look up to be surrounded by flashing lights.

Hike in Boulder.

Winter in the Flatirons of Boulder, Colorado, a popular winter active day trip from Denver

Believe it or not, but hiking is still a fun thing to do in winter in Colorado. The best place to go hiking near Denver is Boulder.

It’s less than an hour away by car and is accessible by public transportation if you book tickets for the Flatiron Flyer.

Boulder has tons of great hikes, but arguably the most popular is hiking near the Flatirons. Because some of the more difficult hikes can get icy and snowy in the winter, try to pick one of the trails that are a bit flatter.

The weather in Denver during the winter is genuinely not that bad. Sure, it snows, but temperature-wise it’s usually not that cold compared to other parts of the United States.

So, hiking is doable in winter! Of course, be sure to still check the weather and dress appropriately for your hike.

Attend the Parade of Lights.

Colorful Christmas lit up floats at a parade
Image Credit: Brian Papantonio via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Parade of Lights is an annual event in Denver in winter held by the local 9News station.

It’s a huge parade filled with all of the Christmas and holiday festivities. It’s the perfect event if you’re traveling to Denver at Christmas with children too!

The parade takes place at night because its main focus is the lights, so that’s something to keep in mind. Young children may need to take a nap to attend!

Throughout the parade, you’ll see tons of giant floats all lit up. People get all dressed up in red and green, and the event truly gets you in the holiday spirit, no matter your age.

Be sure to get there early to save yourself a good spot with a view!

See a Denver Nuggets game.

Basketball players at the arena playing a game
Image Credit: David Herrera via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

If you’re a sports fan, you’ll absolutely love this!

Basketball is a winter sport, so what better time of year to support the local Denver teams like the Denver Nuggets?

The Nuggets play at Ball Arena, which is right next to the Children’s Museum and Elitch Gardens. In other words… it’s right near downtown!

Tickets range in price, usually depending on who the Nuggets are playing. So, make sure you do your research and find out if the game you want to attend will be expensive or not. Sometimes, if you can hold off purchasing until an hour or two before the game, the tickets can be crazy cheap, like $20.

Because of the way the arena is set up, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. Plus, there are huge jumbotrons in the middle of the court, so it’s impossible to miss any power plays throughout the game.

The arena also has tons of great places to eat, so you can easily buy yourself something right there if you get hungry during the game. However, it might be a little pricy!

Catch the fireworks.

Fireworks over the city of Denver at New Years

Every year, Denver has its own fireworks to help bring in the New Year. You can usually see them all around the city, so you can try to catch them no matter where you are if you’re in the city’s vicinity.

However, here’s an insider tip: head to either Confluence Park or 16th Street Mall to get an unparalleled view of the fireworks. Sure, these spots can get kind of busy with locals watching them, but the view is so unmatched that it’s worth it.

There’s no better way to bring in the New Year in the Denver area than by catching these fireworks!

Visit the Denver Zoo.

Photo Credit: Greg Goebel via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Head to the Denver Zoo to catch the Denver Holiday Lights! This is one of the most fun things to do in Denver in winter, especially if you’re traveling with children.

The entire zoo gets completely lit up with tons of lights throughout the park. Plus, the animals are still out, so you can visit with the animals and see the lights at the same time.

This is another one of the events during the holidays that you’ll want to purchase tickets for ahead of time if you can because it’s such a popular event.

Be sure to also dress really warmly for this event. The zoo is reasonably sizeable, so you’ll be doing lots of walking, and you never know when it will suddenly start snowing in this city!

How to Plan a Winter Tromso Itinerary for 1 to 5 Days

If you’re planning your Arctic Norway itinerary, congratulations: you’re in for a bucket list worthy experience of a lifetime!

A trip to Tromso, nicknamed “The Paris of the North” for its important role in Northern Europe’s culture, is a must on any visit to Northern Norway. 

This beautiful city serves as the gateway to all sorts of arctic adventures, whether you base yourself in Tromso the entire time or you fly in there and explore more of Northern Norway in a rental car or by bus.

Getting to Tromso

People arriving at the airport in Tromso

There are several ways to get to Tromso, and a number of airlines that serve this Northern city, including SAS (which I flew) and Norwegian Airlines, amongst others.

 No matter where you are coming from, I recommend flying into Tromso, as it’s incredibly far from the rest of Norway, particularly Southern cities like Oslo, as it’s one of the northernmost cities in Norway.

From Tromso, you can easily catch a bus into the city center to where you have your accommodation booked. The Flybussen costs 110 NOK one way (160 NOK return), around $13 USD one way ($19 USD return).

It’s also possible to schedule a transfer for a group if you want to have a guaranteed easy trip to your hotel. It’s a little more expensive but it will give you peace of mind. It may be worth it if you have a long journey before you arrive in Tromso!

Book your Tromso airport transfer here!

Weather in Tromso in Winter

Allison posing with a friendly husky after a dog sledding tour in Tromso

The weather in Tromso is characterized by extremes, with several weeks each of polar night and midnight sun in winter and summer respectively.

In the winter, the weather in Tromso is obviously on the cold side of the spectrum, but perhaps less cold than you might think!

December temperatures often have a high of 32° F (0° C) and a low of 25° F (-4° C). Temperatures in January and February are similar, just a few degrees cooler. 

That’s not too shabby for the Arctic, and it’s definitely warmer than many North American and European destinations at a far lower latitude!

The reason for this is that the jetstream across the Atlantic Ocean pushes warmer air towards Tromso, so Norwegian Lapland isn’t quite as cold as other Arctic destinations, like Swedish and Finnish Lapland. 

As a result, you do need to pack warm clothes for Tromso, but not necessarily clothes for extreme cold. 

The weather in Northern Norway does get colder the further out from Tromso you get, but all the activities you partake in will also rent thermal suits so you don’t have to worry about dressing for that beyond your average warm layers.

Below, I’ll explain (briefly) what to pack for Tromso in winter, but if you want a more detailed guide, I have my full winter in Norway packing list here.

Quick Tromso Packing List

My snowboots came in handy everywhere on my trip!

Crampons

One of the most important things to pack for Norway in winter is a sturdy pair of crampons. Crampons are basically small spikes or grips that you attach to your winter boot with a stretchy silicone attachment

I used these simple Yaktrax which were really easy to take on and off — this is essential, as indoor places everywhere in Tromso ask you to take off your crampons before entering, so you don’t want difficult ones to put on and take off.

They were also perfectly grippy for icy city streets and I didn’t have any slips while wearing them, walking around in the snow and ice for miles (trust me– the day I went out without them on accident, I definitely noticed the difference!).

Moisturizer and lip balm

Winter in Tromso will really dry out your skin, so you’ll definitely want to pack a pretty heavy-duty moisturizer as well as lip protector.

I remembered the former but forgot the latter and by day 2 I had sore, chapped lips and running to the nearest pharmacy to drop way too much money on a simple stick of chapstick… so be smarter than I am and bring it from home where you’ll spend less on something better.

I love this moisturizer from La Roche-Posay and highly recommend Aquaphor Lip Repair for keeping your lips moisturized!

Camera & travel tripod

sweden in winter
Captured with my Sony A6000!

It’s highly likely that one of the reasons why you are going to Norway in the winter is to see the magical Northern lights.

In that case, you’ll want to ensure you have a camera that is capable of manual settings – a smartphone won’t do if you want proper photos. Most importantly, you need to be able to set the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. I use a Sony A6000 and it works great.

But a camera isn’t all you need. To properly photograph the Northern lights, a travel tripod is absolutely essential.

You need the camera to be still for at least 3-5 seconds to get a decent photograph, and there’s no way you can eliminate camera shake for that long without a tripod. In the past, I’ve used a simple, cheap 50″ Amazon tripod and it worked just fine.

Be sure to also bring spare batteries as the cold will knock out your batteries so much quicker than you expect!

Base layers

You can get away with wearing most of your normal winter clothing in Norway as long as you have proper base layers that help insulate you and keep you warm.

You need clothing that’s moisture-wicking and antimicrobial, which will keep things from getting stinky or uncomfortable when you sweat (which you will if you’re walking around or being active, yes, even in the cold!).

For thermal leggings, I recommend these for women and these for men, both by Columbia, a trusted outdoors brand. For a top thermal layer, I recommend this top for women and this top for men.

Many people swear by wool, but in general I can’t wear wool or I get insanely, tear-off-all-my-skin itchy (though wool socks are fine for me as the skin on my feet is thicker). If you can tolerate wool then something like these merino wool leggings, paired with a cashmere sweater layer, will serve you very well.

A warm winter jacket or parka

A trusty hooded, waterproof parka: the most essential thing to pack for Norway in winter!

For walking around in Norway in winter, you’ll want a nice and warm winter jacket (preferably a parka which goes to about mid-thigh) that is water-resistant and hooded, to keep you warm against the snow.

While winter in many parts of coastal Norway like Tromso actually isn’t that cold, with average temperatures around -4° C to 0° C (24° F to 32° F), there is a lot of wind and precipitation, making it feel colder. You want a waterproofed jacket that will protect against snow and even worse, freezing rain.

For my most trip to Norway, I wore a jacket that I bought from Decathlon which I can’t find online but is virtually identical to this one but in a navy blue. I loved having a faux fur lined hood to keep snow and rain out of my face and the weatherproof material was much-needed. Down feathers add a nice layer of warmth that really helps insulate you (though if you want a vegan option, this jacket is similar).

On my past trip to the Arctic, in neighboring Sweden where it’s actually a fair bit colder, I did really well with my North Face parka which I’ve owned for 10 years and absolutely love, I just didn’t have it with me as I’ve recently moved country and haven’t got all my clothes with me!

Snow boots & wool socks

I wore a pair of snow boots by Quechua which I bought from Decathlon, which I can’t find online, but here is a similar boot by Sorel, a trusted winter brand that’s beloved in Norway and beyond (here’s a women’s version and a men’s version). I recommend sizing about half a size up to account for thick winter socks.

But no matter how insulated your shoe is, it won’t do much good if you are wearing thin, crappy cotton socks. I invested in these Smartwool socks after some hemming and hawing about the price and I’m so glad I did.

How This Tromso Itinerary Works

Sami woman handling a reindeer in the arctic

I structured this itinerary for Tromso to be additive.

What does that mean? 

Basically, the first day contains the “core” activities in Tromso city center and the following days contain the best activities and day trips from Tromso in (in my personal opinion) descending order in terms of importance and uniqueness.

Feel free to swap around the days a bit to fit your preference or so that you don’t have two similar activities back-to-back. 

However, this itinerary for Tromso is planned so that you can just pluck as many days as you want from this itinerary to fill out the time you have — whether it’s one day or five days in Tromso.

If you have more than five days in Tromso, you can just spread out the activities a bit and spend more time enjoying the city center, checking out the many Tromso museums and restaurants, and just enjoying Northern Nordic culture in this unique place!

Rather than give you a set X day itinerary, you can mix and match to suit your travel style, budget, and time allocated for your visit to Norway.

Tromso Itinerary FAQ

Colorful houses in Tromso Norway with snow all over the place
  • How many days do you need in Tromso?

This is an incredibly hard question to answer! The true and honest answer is that it depends. Tromso is a small and compact but culturally rich city. Its highlights can be seen in a day, and you can get a good feel for the city in that time. 

However, most people visit Tromso not for the city itself but for all the incredible activities you can do in Tromso. Chasing the Northern lights, going dog-sledding, meeting Sami reindeer herders, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing: the list of activities in Tromso goes on and on.

The good news is that many activities run both during the day and at night, so you can typically do two half-day activities per day in Tromso. 

Dedicate one full day to simply engaging in sightseeing in Tromso, and then for every two activities you want to do, account for at least one day if you like to travel at a quick pace. Add one extra day for downtime if you prefer to travel slower.

For example, if you’re visiting Tromso and you want to do whale watching, dog sledding, a Sami reindeer camp, and a Northern lights chase, you should spend at least 3 days in Tromso, but 4 would be even more relaxed.

  • How much spending money do I need for Tromso?

Travel costs in Tromso are on the high side, mostly because of accommodations, food, and activities.

Expect to spend roughly $200-300 USD per night on a hotel, $20-30 USD per meal (one course, no alcohol), and $150-250 per activity.

There are ways you can reduce costs — staying in an Airbnb instead of a hotel, cooking meals instead of eating every meal at a restaurant, doing fewer activities — but overall, a trip to Tromso will be an expensive one. And with good reason: it’s a bucket list trip if there ever was one!

For a typical day that involves two activities, one meal (assuming the other is provided during an activity, as is often the case), and one night in a hotel, plan around $300-400 USD per person per day, assuming two people or a family are sharing a hotel room. 

Note that this does not include travel costs, which will range wildly depending on where you are flying into Tromso from!

northern lights over a lake
  • Is Tromso a good place to see the Northern lights?

Surprisingly, for its popularity, Tromso is not the best place in the Nordics to see the Northern lights. 

If you truly want to see the Northern lights, Abisko in Sweden is widely considered to be the best place to see the Northern lights. Finland also has better odds for Northern lights in destinations like Rovaniemi. 

Why is that? Simply, Tromso is coastal, and with coastal weather comes lots of cloud cover and snow, blocking the Northern lights.

I spent one week in Tromso and I saw the Northern lights three times… and one time, we had to drive all the way across the Finnish border two hours away!

  • Will I need a car in Tromso?

Definitely not! I typically love renting a car when I travel, but Tromso has a great, easy-to-navigate bus system and is very walkable if you are staying in the center. 

Parking is expensive in Tromso and most activities include pickup and drop off, so there’s no real reason to rent a car while in Tromso, especially if you’re not a confident winter driver.

Where to Stay in Tromso in Winter

An intersection in the town of Tromso with stop lights and colorful houses and a church spire

First things first: when it comes time to pick where to stay in Tromso in winter, book early. The best deals go fast, as accommodation is limited and Tromso is soaring in popularity as arctic travel gets really big.

Accommodation will be one of the pricier parts of your trip to Tromso, so be sure to budget accordingly. Expect to spend, even on the budget end of things, approximately $100 USD per night per person at a minimum, and around $300 per night for upper-tier accommodations.

Budget: The best budget option in Tromso is hands-down Smarthotel Tromso. It’s right in the heart of central Tromso, so it’s easy to get to all your activities, it has all the things you need in a hotel — 24 hour reception, comfortable beds, a work desk, some food available in the lobby. Note that breakfast is not included in the price but can be added for a fee.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, see photos, and book your room here.

Mid-Range: If you want to stay in a chic boutique hotel that’s not overly fancy, Thon Hotel Polar is a fabulous choice. The decor is irreverent yet modern with a polar theme. Breakfast is included and there is also a restaurant on-site should you want to dine in. The location couldn’t be better, so it’s a fantastic choice for mid-range travelers to Tromso in winter.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room here

Luxury: There are three Clarion Collection hotels in Tromso, but the nicest of the three seems to be Clarion Collection Hotel Aurora. Why? It’s harborfront and has an incredible rooftop jacuzzi where you can try to spot the Northern lights! Rooms are luxurious and modern with updated bathrooms, and the facilities include a gym, free afternoon coffee with waffles, and a light evening meal as part of your stay.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room today!

Arctic Glamping: For a stay that’s truly memorable, look no further than the epic Camp North Tour for a glamping experience, Arctic-style! Stay in heated yurt-style glamping tents, complete with cozy carpeting, comfortable beds heated with reindeer pelts, and panels that open up into the aurora above you so you can watch the Northern lights dance overhead from your bed! It’s not located in Tromso proper, but transfers or free parking are provided. Buffet breakfast & traditional dinner are both included.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room here!

Your Tromso Itinerary, Day by Day

Day 1: Getting to Know Tromso

Wander around the City Center.

Brownish-tan wooden cathedral in a square in Tromso Norway in winter with snow on the ground and buildings lit up in evening

The Tromso city center is remarkably cute and compact, making it easy to hit up all the must-sees on a quick self-guided walking tour when you visit Tromso.

The main square in the city is located around the Tromsø Cathedral, the world’s northernmost Lutheran church! Its construction dates back to 1861, and it is unusual in that it is a cathedral made nearly entirely of wood, when most cathedrals are typically made of stone.

After checking out the cathedral, take a stroll down Storgata, the main pedestrian street in Tromso. This is a great place for window-shopping and people-watching, and you may spot some souvenirs you want to buy later in your trip.

The Tromso Library (Tromsø bibliotek og byarkiv) is another interesting spot to see in the city center due to its unique architecture.

Check out the Cathedral of Our Lady in Tromso, another historic wooden church that dates back to 1861. Its architecture is really beautiful and it has a quieter and more peaceful atmosphere.

Finally, wander down to the Tromso Harbor, for all sorts of colorful building facades right on the fjord’s edge. It’s really scenic — it’s gorgeous to see all the colors against the striking white snow and glassy water of the fjord!

Visit the Polar Museum.

Red polar museum building with snow falling in front of it

Not far from the Tromso Harbor is the Polar Museum (Polarmuseet) which is a really interesting place to visit in Tromso.

It’s a fascinating place that excels at storytelling the tales of Arctic adventurers — both men and women — who explored the Polar region and went out to sea in order to hunt and trap in the Arctic.

Tromso served as the gateway for many of these polar expeditions and you can learn a ton about all the adventurers who departed from Tromso in search of places that were never yet explored by man before.

A good portion of the Polar Museum is dedicated to the explorations of Roald Amundsen, who was the first verified person to travel to the North Pole (though that is contested) as well as the South Pole (which is uncontested), as well as Fridtjof Nansen who skied across Greenland and later lobbied for refugee rights after WWI (and received the Nobel Peace Prize for it!).

The museum also takes a look at other Arctic adventurers who are often overlooked. I appreciated that the museum took a good deal of time to also look at female explorers who made amazing accomplishments to lesser fanfare, such as Monica Kristensen Solås (a famed Arctic and Antarctic explorer) and Liv Arnesen (the first woman to reach the South Pole independently). 

The stories are told compellingly with lots of English-language signage so it’s a great way to learn a bit more of the history of Arctic and Antarctic expeditions and Norway’s outsized role in exploring these previously little-known polar regions.

Check out the Arctic Cathedral.

Large white church with a big cross and snow and views of mountains in distance on a sunny winter day. Arctic Cathedral is a must on a Tromso itinerary

After checking out the Polar Museum, take a stroll across the beautiful Tromsø Bridge to the other side of the fjord, Tromsdalen.

The bridge is actually quite wide — over a kilometer long! — so allow around 15-20 minutes to reach the other side of the bridge. It’s a beautiful stroll though, and the views can’t be beat!

Once you reach the other side of the bridge, you will find the stunning Arctic Cathedral. This is an absolute wonder of architecture and it’s one of the most iconic landmarks of Tromso.

Entrance to the Arctic Cathedral costs 55 NOK ($7 USD) and it’s well worth it to see this beauty, dedicated to and inspired by the arctic landscapes that surround it, from inside.

Take the Fjellheisen Cable Car.

Views from over the cable car up to Fjellheisen looking over the fjord of Tromso and the city just after sunset

Want the best view in Tromso? It’s from the top of Storsteinen (420 meters / 1,377 feet) above sea level.

After checking out the Arctic Cathedral, make your way over the Fjellheisen cable car station, about a 15-minute walk from the Arctic Cathedral. Bring your crampons because this way can be really icy!

Easily accessible via a 4-minute cable car, taking the Fjellheisen cable car is a must when in Tromso. Where else can you can look over the entire city of Tromso as well as the fjord?

Taking the Fjellheisen cable car is reasonably priced. A roundtrip ticket cost 230 NOK ($27 USD) which is not bad for Norway. And trust me – these views are worth the price!

From the viewing platform, you’ll have a beautiful view of Tromso and the fjords and islands that make up this beautiful city and its environs. It’s one of the top things to do in Tromso in winter and you shouldn’t miss it.

You can also walk around (again, you’ll want your crampons for this — it can get really icy) to explore other areas of Storsteinen and the views they offer.

But really, the viewing platform offers the best panorama — great during the day as well as at night for spotting the Northern lights! 

Have a nice meal & hope to spot the Northern lights.

Northern lights over the city of Tromso as seen from the viewing platform at Fjellheisen cable car

While at the mountain station, be sure to visit Fjellstua Café, which has a nice selection of Scandinavian food at a reasonable price (for Norway, that is).

Depending on the time of year you visit, it’s well worth it to time your trip up the Fjellheisen cable car for golden hour, watch the sun set over the beautiful landscape and spend some time with a cup of coffee or late lunch / early dinner.

Note that because sunrise and sunset times vary so much depending on the month, this is hard for me to explain when you should go. 

When I went in early February, the sun set at 3 PM, so I timed my trip up the cable car around 2 PM, walked around for an hour and watched the sunset, then spent some time with a coffee and waited for it to get dark.

I didn’t have the patience to stay all night hoping for a glimpse of the aurora, and I knew I had lots of opportunities to chase the Northern lights throughout the rest of my trip, so I headed back down without a glimpse of the lights.

However, you could also time your visit to the cable car for later in the evening for a better chance of the lights… or you may visit Tromso during the polar night when it’s basically almost always evening anyway! 

Having seen the views from both day and night, I can tell you both are beautiful. However, I think it’s best to see the view from daylight if possible and think of nighttime as a bonus if you have the patience!

If this is your only day in Tromso, I’d suggest heading back down the cable car, returning to your hotel to freshen up, and then going on an aurora chasing tour for the night.

If you’re spending another day in Tromso or more, I’ve scheduled the aurora chasing tour for the following night, so you can spend the evening at your leisure.

Day 2: Dog Sledding & Aurora Chasing in Northern Norway

Start the day with a dog sledding experience.

View from the dog sled over the beautiful landscapes of norway in winter

Wake up bright and early and be sure to eat a hearty hotel breakfast — you’re in for a workout today! 

Find the pick up point for your dog sled adventure and get carted away to the beautiful island of Kvaloya, where your dog sledding tour will take place.

I highly suggest doing a self-drive dog sled tour.

Not sure what self-drive means? I overview the differences between the two kinds of tours in my post on dog-sledding in Tromso.

This is the exact tour that I did and I loved the experience. And what’s not to love, controlling your own dog sled as you zip through the snow with views of fjords and the Lyngen Alps surrounding you everywhere you look? 

While you self-drive the dog sled, taking turns with a partner, you are traveling as part of a small group with several mushers and local guides available to help you keep your dogs safe and not get lost while you embark on a winter adventure!

However, if you are traveling with young kids or you want a less active experience for whatever reason, a guided dog tour sled is also a great option.

A guided dog sled tour means that a musher conducts the sled and you sit and enjoy it. It is definitely less hands-on, but it’s also a great experience.

Personally, I have done two self-drive husky safaris and one musher-led tour. I much preferred the self-drive experience, but I can absolutely see the benefits of a musher-led dog sled tour, especially for families with kids or for those with mobility limitations.

Book your self-drive husky adventure or your musher-led tour!

Visit one of Tromso’s museums or aquariums.

The perspective museum a beautiful photography museum in tromso

After your dog sled adventure, you’ll have some free time between your morning and evening activities. Use this time to see a few of the other sights in Tromso that you didn’t get to see earlier.

This is a great time to check out some of Tromso’s excellent museums! 

I visited a number of museums during my week in Tromso and I can definitely identify a few highlights. 

One favorite museum was Perspective Museum (Perspektivet Museum) which focuses on, well, different perspectives in Norway through the lens of photography. 

The diversity of Tromso is the primary focus of the museum, and when I was there, there was a special exhibit on the different religions of Tromso and how those were practiced by its residents.

Best of all? The museum is free! Allow yourself about 30-60 minutes for the museum.

Another great museum is the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum (Northern Norwegian Art Museum) which focuses on the fine art of Northern Norway.

I appreciated that they were dedicated to showing a diverse array of art including art from female artists and Sami artists. 

Admission is 80 NOK (about $10 USD) and you could easily spend about an hour here.

One other museum option is Polaria, which is the world’s northernmost aquarium! It is rather small, but it focuses on Arctic sea life, especially seals, who have training and feeding sessions there daily. 

It also focuses on the issues addressing the Arctic, such as global warming and rising sea levels, while still being entertaining for children and families.

Have an early dinner.

A tasty reindeer open face sandwich at a restaurant

You’re in for a late night tonight when you chase the Northern lights, so be sure to eat a light early dinner to hold you over. 

Most Northern lights tours — at least the one I did! — include a dinner around the fire, but this often won’t be until 10 PM or later, once you set up your aurora camp, so it’s better to be well-fed walking into your aurora tour!

I suggest eating at Bardus Bistro — the reindeer and lingonberry open-face sandwich was one of my favorite meals in Norway!

Go on a minibus tour to see the Northern lights.

Allison posing with the Northern lights on a tour in Norway

If there’s one essential tour during your first time in Tromso, it’s a Northern lights minibus tour

This is the best way to see the Northern lights because it is an activity specifically dedicated to chasing the lights wherever that may take you — even into neighboring Finland!

Meanwhile, other “Northern lights tours” or tours “with a chance of Northern lights” are stationary and so your chances are far lower of seeing the lights. 

When you take a minibus tour specifically dedicated to seeing the lights, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll see the beautiful aurora borealis!

I wrote a guide to all the different ways you can experience the Northern lights, but this is the #1 way I would choose if I could only pick one.

Book your minibus Northern lights tour here!

If I could pick more than one, I would make sure it was a minibus tour and also one other tour focused on another activity with the aurora as a bonus rather than the main agenda. 

Seeing the aurora is incredible but personally, unless you’re a photographer specifically hoping to photograph the aurora borealis as much as possible, I think one night chasing it in earnest is enough!

Day 3: Hit the Fjords & Meet Reindeer

Pick a whale-watching cruise or a fjord wildlife cruise

Orcas coming out of the water for a breath of air in Norway in Skjervoy a popular whale watching destination near Tromso

The fjords of Northern Norway are an incredible delight and cruising through the fjords on a boat is one of the top things to do in Tromso in winter! 

If you visit in time for whale watching season, from November through late January, then you really out to make time for a whale watching cruise. 

It is pretty much a full day endeavor and you will be quite tired afterward, but it’s well worth it. Where else can you predictably see orcas and humpback whales in such large numbers? There’s nowhere else I can think of, and I grew up in California, home to some pretty amazing whale watching!

Note that the whales used to visit the fjord of Tromso itself, but due to changing migration habits and food locations due to climate, the whales now are mostly found off the island of Skjervøy. 

This is a good deal removed from Tromso by boat, so it will take quite a while to get out there. Make sure to bring some seasickness tablets or bands to combat the rough waters if you are prone to seasickness!

Book your whale watching tour here!

Unfortunately, on my winter trip to Tromso, I was unable to see the whales as my tour was canceled, since the whales left Tromso earlier than expected. 

In place of that, I booked a fjord cruise with a focus on wildlife in the fjord of Tromso itself, and it was amazing. 

Allison smiling in a selfie on a wildlife cruise of Tromso

It’s a great substitution for a whale watching cruise, though of course, you won’t be able to see whales in the fjord of Tromso anymore. 

However, we got to see sea eagles, pods of dolphins, and all sorts of other incredible arctic wildlife. It was really beautiful and memorable and I was so happy to do it that it (almost!) took away the pain of not being able to go whale watching).

While I’m prone to seasickness in general, every time I went out on the water near Tromso (twice), I found the water to be pretty calm and easy on my stomach. 

However, I’ve heard the water is rougher by Skjervøy, so that’s something else to keep in mind when choosing between the two activities.

Book your wildlife fjord cruise here!

Have lunch or spend time relaxing at the hotel.

The lunch special of fish gratin at Mathallen served with potato and carrot salad

Depending on what kind of tour you did, and whether food was included or not, it might be just about lunchtime! 

In which case I suggest grabbing the lunch special at Mathallen, which is a delicious place to eat that has relatively affordable prices.

Not feeling Norwegian food? Grab the lunch special at Burgr for a delicious burger and fries.

Do a Sami reindeer camp and Northern lights tour.

Watching a Sami guide tell stories in a lavvu

When in the Arctic, it’s a must to visit a Sami reindeer farm for a variety of reasons.

For one, reindeer are adorable. But more importantly, the Sami people contribute greatly to the culture and history of Northern Norway: these are their ancestral lands, after all.

I go into more detail on who the Sami people are and why reindeer are important to them in my article on reindeer sledding in Tromso.

For the sake of brevity in this already mega-detailed Tromso itinerary, I’ll just say that learning about Sami culture and history is an integral part of being a responsible tourist in Norway.

Supporting the preservation of the rich Sami culture through tourism is an easy and enlightening way to ensure that Norway’s tourism riches extend to their Indigenous population.

You could do this activity during the day, as I did, but I had one full week in Tromso so it was pretty easy for me to spread out my activities.

If you have a limited amount of time to dedicate to a Tromso itinerary, this is a great activity to do at night because the scenery is pretty limited and you can interact with reindeer just as well by night as you can by day! 

Book your Sami camp + Northern lights excursion here!

If you go reindeer sledding, the sledding portion of the itinerary lasts no more than 20 minutes, so the lack of light isn’t a big deal.

Additionally, the majority of the tour experience takes place in the lavvu, the traditional Sami tent, where you eat a meal (bidos or traditional Sami reindeer stew) and then listen to Sami storytelling and joiking (the traditional Sami song). 

Since so much of the activity is inside, it’s a great option for nighttime on day 3 of this Tromso travel guide. And you’ll be far out from the light pollution of Tromso which gives you a good shot of seeing the Northern lights if they are out and about that night!

Day 4: Do a Day Trip to the Ice Domes

Wake up bright and early for breakfast.

Drinking a cup of coffee in Norway

Time for another early day in Tromso! 

Eat some breakfast at your hotelbecause your tour starts soon, and you’ll be off to the races most of the day.

Head to the Tromso Ice Domes.

Sitting in the fancy chair at Tromso ice domes

This was one of my favorite day tours in Tromso because the ice hotel is simply magical. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere I’ve been before!

Every year the Tromso Ice Domes are rebuilt from scratch during the dark months that lead up to the polar night, the period of six weeks where the sun does not rise above the horizon in the winter in the Arctic Circle. 

The people constructing the Ice Domes work around the clock to get the ice hotel up and running before the tourist season begins, taking huge chunks of frozen ice from rivers nearby and crafting an ice hotel that will melt away with the coming of summer!

A day tour is extremely easy to manage: it includes a shuttle transfer (1.5 hours each way from Tromso to the Ice Domes) and guided tour of the property. I have a full guide to visiting the Ice Domes on a day trip here.

The tour will explain how the Ice Domes are built from scratch, and they will show you the ice bar and restaurant, as well as the rooms where guests can stay the night.

The tour also includes some free time to take photos, feed the reindeer on-site, or grab a cup of soup at the restaurant (which is delicious, by the way!)

Book your Tromso Ice Domes day tour here!

This itinerary will assume that you are heading back to Tromso after your tour, but do know that if you have the budget for it, you can spend the night at the Tromso Ice Domes! It’s expensive, but it’s an incredible bucket list item that you’ll never forget.

If you do an overnight tour with an ice hotel stay, you’ll also get to do a snowshoeing tour, an aurora camp to spot the Northern lights, dinner and breakfast the following morning, and a husky-sledding tour the next day, before being transferred back to Tromso.

If doing the overnight tour, skip to tomorow’s section of the Tromso itinerary. If just doing a day trip, continue reading!

Check out the Tromso Ice Domes overnight stay package here!

Enjoy a nice lunch in Tromso.

Eating a meal at Burgr to have a burger and fries

While you could eat a meal at the Ice Domes, I don’t really recommend doing it unless you’re super hungry because it really takes up some of your limited time touring the Ice Hotel. 

I did because I was starving, but I ended up feeling a bit rushed on my tour, so I wish I waited until back in Tromso to have lunch!

On this day, you could eat at one of the other remaining great restaurants in Tromso. If you haven’t been to Burgr, Mathallen, or Bardus Bistro yet, I would pick one of those three. 

If you’ve exhausted those three, my next choice would be Nyt, which has a tasty reindeer burger, or Emma’s Dream Kitchen, where I had a surprisingly tasty dish of fried cod tongues (there are much more ‘normal’ items on the menu, but this was super tasty!)

Spend the late afternoon your way.

The red walls of a room in the Northern Norwegian art museum

Here you have some free time to explore whatever you’ve missed in Tromso.

Whether you want to do some shopping along Storgata, spend some time checking out a coffee shop, or visit one of the other museums you haven’t gotten a chance to see yet, there’s plenty to do in Tromso to fill up a few hours.

Have a drink at Ølhallen.

Having a drink at the old ale hall in Tromso

Ølhallen is the oldest pub in the city of Tromso, run by the Mack brewery, which used to be the northernmost brewery in the world (the honor now belongs to Svalbard Bryggeri, even further north in Svalbard).

It’s a cute and typical Norwegian pub, and it’s a fun experience to end your night here. Beer is expensive in Norway, but it’s definitely worth getting a pint or two here as it’s a true Tromso institution.

You could also grab food here for dinner if you’re hungry, but it’s nothing to write home about. I’d suggest having a meal at one of the other Tromso restaurants I’ve mentioned.

See a show at the Arctic Cathedral.

lit up cathedral in norway

The Northern Lights concert in the Arctic Cathedral is a can’t-miss addition to your Northern Norway trip.

The concert lasts about an hour and 15 minutes and includes a variety of Norwegian folk songs as well as classical music, set in the Arctic Cathedral which has amazing acoustics and a cozy ambiance enlivened by candlelight.

Note that as of now, due to the pandemic, it is not yet certain if the 2022 season will have Northern Lights concerts.

Typically, these concerts are held are every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from the end of January through to the end of March. Check the website here for more details and times.

Day 5: An Active Adventure to End Your Trip

Do a snowmobile and aurora camping tour.

snowmobile in norway

For the last day of this epic Tromso itinerary, spend it actively: on a snowmobile, exploring the Lyngen Alps by day, and then under a glass roof lavvu at night with (hopefully) glimpses of the aurora overhead!

This overnight aurora, camping, & snowmobile tour includes a transfer to the Lyngen Alps by minivan, followed by a 2-hour snowmobile safari in the Lyngen fjord and Alps. 

Afterwards, you’ll get to enjoy a delicious lunch with your small group. Then, the choice is yours!

After your lunch, you can grab a pair of snowshoes or some cross-country skis and go exploring on your own terms, or you can spend time in your crystal lavvu (a glass-roof ‘camping tent’ that is warm and cozy!). 

In the evening, you’ll get a quick photography workshop and dinner, then you can go outside of the aurora camp to try to spot the Northern lights and snap some photos of them.

View from a window of an aurora camp in Tromso

Continue as you like, or head back to your lavvu to warm up and try to spot them through the glass ceiling!

The day ends with a group breakfast before your transfer, which gets you back to Tromso by 11 AM — just in time to make an afternoon flight!

Book your overnight aurora camp and snowmobile experience here!

Continuing on from Tromso

red fishing buildings on rocky islands in norway

If you want to extend your Arctic adventure past Tromso, there’s so much more Northern Norway to explore! 

Some common places that people add to their Northern Norway itinerary include the Lofoten Islands and its cute fishing villages like Svolvaer, the Vesterålen islands, Senja, and Alta. You can visit by road trip or via the Norwegian cruise line, the Hurtigruten.

You could also explore some of southern Norway and fjord Norway, like Bergen, Oslo, and Trondheim. 

Other people continue onwards to other points in Scandinavia and Lapland (Sápmi) and the Arctic Circle, such as Finland (Rovaniemi, Levi, Helsinki, etc.) and Sweden (Abisko, Kiruna, etc.). Iceland, Svalbard, and other Nordic destinations are also possible.

Dog Sledding in Tromso: Tours, Tips, + Literally Everything You Ever Needed to Know

Allison posing with a friendly husky after a dog sledding tour in Tromso

Dog sledding is a Tromso bucket list must — it’s an experience you’ll never forget.

There’s no more incredible feeling than bounding over powdery snow, powered only by a team of enthusiastic huskies and your steering.

Dog sledding in Tromso is a wonderful experience and there are all sorts of dog sledding tours that are available, from self-driving tours to musher-driven tours, from daytime tours to nighttime tours with hopes of glimpsing the Northern lights above you!

In this post, I’m going to tell you exactly what it’s like to go dog sledding in Tromso. I’ve gone dog sledding three times: once in Abisko, Sweden and twice in Tromso, Norway. 

The Abisko dog sled tour was self-driven; one of my Tromso ones was a daytime self-driving tour, and the other Tromso tour was a nighttime Northern lights tour where the musher drove the dog sled.

What to Expect on a Dog Sledding Adventure in Arctic Norway

It depends what kind of tour you book, to be honest! All the dog sledding tours in Norway are quite different. 

Here are a few different kinds of tours and my comments on each.

Self-Drive Husky Safari Tours

Allison smiling at the helm of a sledge for driving sled dogs

 This is usually a daytime tour as it’s a bit tough to drive a dog-sled at night! However, during the polar night in Tromso, you won’t have much light as you do a self-driving tour, so do keep this in mind. 

On a self-drive dog sled tour, you and a fellow tour participant — either someone in your group or a fellow solo traveler in my case — are in charge of leading your dogs on a beautiful circuit, passing gorgeous Northern Norwegian landscapes like fjords and mountains. 

You take turns, one of you steering and the other sitting, and it’s actually a lot more hard work than it looks to steer the dog sled with your very own team of Alaskan huskies! 

This is no passive activity, but rather, you work as a team with the dogs. This means that you help the dogs run up hills, and you use your body weight to steer and also to brake as needed. 

You also have to keep your eye on the order of the dog sleds and not get out of order or race ahead of the line. These huskies aren’t pets but rather working dogs. There is a specific order to the line-up of sleds that the mushers organize based on their temperaments and relationships between the dogs.

I’ve done two self-drive dog sled tours and they are absolutely incredible. Personally, they are my favorite way to do a dog sledding tour in Tromso, because it’s active and you develop a really cool bond with dogs as you work together. 

However, the con of doing a self-drive dog sled tour is that it is physically demanding, and it’s not suitable for people recovering from injuries, people with mobility concerns, or families with small children.

Musher-Driven Tours

All cozy in my dog sled on my nighttime guided dog sledding tour!

I’ve done one musher-driven tour and it was also a super fun experience! I did a combination Northern lights tour with a dog-sledding tour and it was an Arctic adventure I’ll never forget.

On a musher-driven tour, you’ll be guided by expert mushers who know exactly how to handle the dogs and make sure everything goes smoothly. 

You don’t have to worry about making sure the dogs don’t run ahead of their assigned order, because the mushers ensure this won’t happen and have more of a relationship with the dogs so the dogs stay in line more.

Musher-driven tours are ideal for families, people with mobility concerns, and people who are a little anxious about doing their own self-driving husky sledding adventure. 

I loved the experience, but personally, I think a self-drive is more fun if it’s the right option for you!

Dog Sledding FAQ

  • Is dog sledding cruel to dogs?
The huskies love to run and greet visitors!

We definitely don’t think so! While of course, there may be some bad apples in the dog sledding world, most dog sledding tour operators (and certainly every tour operator I’ve encountered in Tromso) treat the dogs as members of the family and care for them well, providing for their every need. 

Remember, Alaskan huskies are… well, to borrow the words of Bruce Springsteen, born to run! 

We answer this question in more detail below on the section on “Is Dog Sledding Ethical”, so be sure to read that section. 

  • When can you dog sled in Norway?

This truly depends on the year! As climate change means weather patterns are more and more unpredictable, there is a less definitive start and end date of dog sled season in Norway. 

Generally, dog sledding tours open up November 1st and run through the end of April. However, snow conditions are critically important, and if there is not enough snow or if the snow has melted and turned to ice, dog sledding tours cannot safely run.

  • Where can I go dog sledding in Norway?
Allison on a sled with a team of six dogs ahead, views of the fjords in the distance.
Dog sledding outside of Tromso in February

There are several places you can go dog sledding in Northern Norway, but Tromso is by and far the most popular. 

Keep in mind that places in Southern Norway like Oslo and Bergen do not have enough snow to support dog sledding, so you want to be North — like, North of the Arctic Circle North! Other places you can go dog sledding in Northern Norway include the Lofoten Islands and Alta

  • How much does it cost to go dog sledding?

Most half-day dog sledding tours in Tromso cost around NOK 1,850 to NOK 2,350 (~$225-$285 USD) with a two-day excursion topping out at NOK 6,990 (~$850 USD)!

If budget is a concern, there are cheaper ways to visit the husky farms by doing a tour that does not include sledding, which can be as little as NOK 1,000 (~$132 USD).

  • Why is dog sledding so expensive?
All these dogs aren’t going to feed themselves!

These are hard-working dogs who need a lot of food and care… I remember one tour operator telling me that these 45-60 pound dogs eat 10,000 calories worth of food a day! That’s a lot of food… especially since most husky tour companies have 100-300 huskies they care for!

The money spent on a dog sledding tour also ensures that the dogs have access to regular vet care. Other expenses for operators include maintaining their licensure to operate, paying the staff to feed and clean and take care of the dogs, as well as paying the staff a living wage. 

Remember that the cost of living in Norway is high and salaries are high as well. While a dog sledding tour may seem expensive, remember that you are paying for an ethical experience in multiple ways — well-fed, well-kept dogs and also well-paid people and families!

  • Is dog sledding difficult?

If you’re self-driving… definitely, in the sense that it’s a real workout! However, it is not hard to learn how to operate the sledge, so you can absolutely get acquainted with the basics of dog sledding and do it safely, even in a short 90-minute tour.

That said, there are also musher-driven dog sled tours which are a lot less difficult on the body… just sit and enjoy! These are the perfect dog sledding tours for kids, older adults, people with injuries or disabilities, or people who just want a more relaxing experience.

Is Tromso Dog Sledding Ethical?

Allison taking a selfie with a very happy looking black dog with a white muzzle and open mouth
Tell me this isn’t a happy face!

The ethics of dog sledding is understandably a concern, and it was a subject I researched in depth before first deciding to do a dog sledding tour in Abisko in 2016. 

Before I did another two dog sledding tours on my 2020 trip to Tromso, I dove deep into the research again to ensure that I was still operating with good information and that my initial assessment that dog sledding can be ethical with the right company still stands.

My opinion is this: dog sledding can be ethical or unethical depending entirely on the treatment of the animals. I’d compare it to horseback riding, but I think the dogs enjoy running and sledding more than horses enjoy people riding on them! 

At the two Tromso tour companies I visited as well as the one in Abisko, I felt the dog sledding companies truly had their dogs’ health and happiness at the heart of everything they did. My conclusion was that these are ethically run husky sledding tours and that I felt comfortable with everything I saw.

The reality of these tours is that these dogs are, quite simply, born to run. The dogs are Alaskan huskies who have generations upon generations of running and pulling sleds in their bloodlines. 

It is, quite simply, what they were born and bred to do, and they would go insane as pets kept in an apartment. They need to run for several hours a day to let off all their energy, and you can see just how much they love to run when they start howling as a team as they get suited up and ready to pull the sleds.

A cute blue-eyed Alaskan husky licking herself
Some dogs live in duos with their own ‘suite’, others have their own cage with a crate.

One thing I will say, though, is that the dogs are kept chained up when not running. This is due to Norwegian laws. This can be a little off-putting at first, so I asked about this. I learned that the chaining is done to prevent fights from breaking out between the dogs, which can happen as dogs are pack animals and form different little “cliques.” 

This also helps ensure no unwanted puppies happen and that the husky farms only breed exactly as many puppies as they can care for and take care of.

I should note that the husky babies are bred in small numbers, usually just one or two litters at a time so as not to be overwhelmed by puppies, and that the husky mom gets to live in a giant suite with all her puppies, kept away from the other dogs. 

All the dogs have their own little homes and live next to a dog they are friendly with so they can socialize. (Sometimes, if the dog has trouble living and sharing a close space with other dogs, the dog will have its own cage, with a box to keep warm and snuggle in, as well).

Their boxes are filled with straw, cleaned multiple times daily, and provide plenty of space for the dog (I saw two particularly friendly pups spooning and sharing a box instead of enjoying their own rooms!).

two huskies cuddled up in the same bed, with the names sniff and snork
BFFs

About the temperatures: huskies are happy out in the cold and can withstand temperatures as low as -60 F / -50 C. It rarely gets below -20 F / -6 C in Tromso, and if it does, they have their dog houses with plenty of warm insulating straw for them to keep warm in.

The dogs get exercise daily with one day of rest per week; with so many different husky tours running at all hours of the day, every dog gets a chance to run daily, and they never run more than 50 miles in a week, and never if they are sick or injured. Compare this to the Iditarod, where dogs sometimes run 100 miles in a single day.

The dogs are checked frequently by vets and the kennels are inspected by Norwegian government inspectors to ensure the dogs are enjoying high-quality care.

But my favorite thing was seeing that the retired dogs get to live a good life, too.

a retired sled dog standing on a bench in a lavvu tipi style structure
Visiting with a retired sled dog!

On my self-drive husky tour with Arctic Adventures, they brought out a retired sled dog at the end to meet and greet all of us while we enjoyed our dessert.

They explained how every dog is part of the family, and that often those who work at the husky farm end up adopting the retirees!

Some sometimes, the retirees end up enjoying a comfortable retirement as a pet, getting loved on by visitors to the farm!

What to Wear When Dog Sledding in Tromso

Allison posing with a friendly husky after a dog sledding tour in Tromso
All smiles after finishing our dog sledding tour!

On your dog-sledding tour, they will provide you with a warm suit and boots to ensure that you don’t get too cold on your tour. 

I strongly suggest you wear what they offer you, as you’ll be so nice and toasty! This is expedition-strength gear and will likely be warmer but more breathable than whatever you brought.

Remember, you’re above the Arctic Circle, and it gets cold! Make sure that you come equipped with thermal base layers, waterproof gloves, and a hat that tightly covers your ears.

I have a full packing list for Northern Norway in winter, but here is my quick list of must-haves for dog sledding in Tromso.

Parka: For my trip to Norway, I wore a jacket that I bought from Decathlon which I can’t find online, but it is virtually identical to this one but in a navy blue. On my past trip to the Arctic, in neighboring Sweden where it’s actually a bit colder, I did really well with my North Face parka which I’ve owned for 10 years and absolutely love (I just didn’t have it moved over to Europe, where I was living at the time).

Snow boots: I wore a pair of snow boots by Quechua which I bought from Decathlon, which I can’t find online, but here is a similar boot by Sorel, a trusted winter brand that’s beloved in Norway and beyond (here’s a women’s version and a men’s version). I recommend sizing about half a size up to account for thick winter socks.

Yaktrax: Walking around Tromso is icy! While you might not need Yaktrax on your dog-sledding trip, you’ll want them for walking around the city when it ices over. Mine were crucial when I visited the Ice Domes! I like these simple Yaktrax because they’re easy to take on and off, as you’re not allowed to wear them in indoors stores, etc. in Tromso.

Cold weather accessories: A winter hat, two pairs of winter gloves (one thin and able to be used with touchscreen devices, one thick and waterproof), and a scarf or two.

Base layers: For thermal leggings, I recommend these for women and these for men, both by Columbia, a trusted outdoors brand. For a top thermal layer, I recommend this top for women and this top for men.

Wool socks: For making those warm snow boots even warmer, I love SmartWool — even though I normally hate wool, I don’t find these itchy at all.

Your normal winter clothing: Once you’ve got a parka, base layers, accessories, and snow boots, you can wear whatever normal winter clothing you’d wear — jeans, sweaters, etc.

Where to Stay in Tromso

view from the top of tromso's cable car
The view of Tromso from the cable car

Here are our 3 top picks in Tromso city center, as well as one amazing Arctic glamping spot just a bit outside of the city (free transfers are provided).

Budget: The best budget option in Tromso is  Smarthotel Tromso. It’s right in the heart of central Tromso, so it’s easy to get to all your activities, it has all the things you need in a hotel — 24-hour reception, comfortable beds, a work desk, and some food available in the lobby. Note that breakfast is not included in the price but can be added for a fee.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, see photos, and book your room here.

Mid-Range: If you want to stay in a chic boutique hotel that’s not overly fancy, Thon Hotel Polar is a fabulous choice. The beautiful Nordic decor is irreverent yet modern with a polar theme, many with vibrant pops of color that make the hotel have a lot more personality than many other Scandinavian hotels which tend to be a bit more muted in terms of decor. Breakfast is included and there is also a restaurant on-site should you want to dine in. The location couldn’t be better, so it’s a fantastic choice for mid-range travelers to Tromso in winter.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room here

Luxury: There are three Clarion Collection hotels in Tromso, but the nicest of the three seems to be Clarion Collection Hotel Aurora. Why? It’s harborfront and has an incredible rooftop jacuzzi where you can try to spot the Northern lights! Rooms are luxurious and modern with updated bathrooms, and the facilities include a gym, free afternoon coffee with waffles, and a light evening meal as part of your stay.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room today!

Arctic Glamping: For a stay that’s truly memorable, look no further than the epic Camp North Tour for a glamping experience, Arctic-style! Stay in heated yurt-style glamping tents, complete with cozy carpeting, comfortable beds heated with reindeer pelts, and panels that open up into the aurora above you so you can watch the Northern lights dance overhead from your bed! It’s not located in Tromso proper, but transfers or free parking are provided. Buffet breakfast & traditional dinner are both included.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room here!

The Best Winter Dog Sledding Tours in Tromso

Tip: Pick a tour that will end around sunset for beautiful colors!

There are a number of great dog sledding tours in the winter in Tromso. 

Note that the conditions have to be right for dog sledding tours, and they can be canceled due to poor weather and bad snow conditions.

Dogs cannot safely run when the snow is very icy, such as when the daytime gets too warm, melts the snow, and then it forms back into ice at night. In this case, they would cancel the tour and issue a refund, as it’s not safe for either the dogs or the humans on the tour.

The later you get into the season, the more likely this is to occur. I went in the first week of February on my most recent trip to the Arctic and it was the perfect time for dog sledding with lots of fresh powdery snow for them to pull sleds through comfortably. 

However, someone I know who went to Tromso a few weeks later than me at the end of February experienced issues with ice and her dog sled tour was canceled as a result. 

Similarly, booking a dog sledding tour too early in the winter means there may not be enough snow on the ground. 

I had friends who were in Tromso in December 2020 (they are Norwegian residents, and it was when domestic travel was permitted), and there was no snow on the ground at all in December — even by Christmas!

Keep in mind that climate change means that weather is more and more unpredictable. January is likely the safest month to plan for, and it has the added bonus of being a prime time for whale watching (as the whale watching season ends near the end of January). 

Here are the best dog sledding tours in winter in Tromso!

Self-Drive Husky Dog Sledding Adventure

You take turns being a rider and a driver on this 90 minute self-drive tour! Here I am with a fellow solo traveler.

Note: This tour does not permit children under age 7 for this tour or age 6 for the Ice Domes Tour below. If this applies to you, scroll down for the Guided Husky Sledding with Lunch tour, which is suitable for kids of all ages.

This is the exact tour I did and it was my favorite while I was in Tromso!

You start by getting oriented to the husky farm and acquainted with what you’ll be doing on  your half-day adventure. 

You’ll pick out your warm gear, put everything away that you won’t be taking with you in a locker, and then it’s time to meet the pups!

They give you a chance to cuddle the huskies who aren’t doing the run and get to take a billion husky selfies while they get all the husky sleds geared up and make sure all the safety checks are passed.

Once they’re satisfied that the huskies are ready to run, they give you a quick demo of how the dog sledge works — how to steer, how to brake, how to help your team of huskies up the hill, that sort of thing. 

Then it’s off to the races!… Though not quite, as the head mushers and other mushers interspersed throughout the line of husky teams set a pace, and you follow in a line to ensure everyone, including the dogs, are safe.

You’ll speed around the Arctic wilderness on the beautiful island of Kvaløya for a time, about 90 minutes, stopping every so often to ensure all the sleds are still in the correct order and that everyone is safe, as well as to stop and snap some photos of you enjoying your husky sled ride! 

dogs at a husky farm with tipi-style structures in the distance at sunset

At the end, you’ll eat a tasty meal of a warm codfish stew in the lavvu (a typical Sami tent), followed up by some chocolate cake and hot drinks of your choice — coffee, hot tea, or hot chocolate.

This also included a meet-and-greet with one of the retired sled dogs, who greatly enjoyed all the love and attention.

This tour includes pick up and drop off in the city center, making it one of the easier day trips to arrange in Tromso.

Book your self-driving husky safari here!

Husky Sledding and Guided Ice Domes Visit

Allison wearing a warm jacket and sitting in a throne made of sculpted ice at a Norwegian ice hotel
Sitting in the ice throne at the Ice Domes

I didn’t do this exact tour, but I did enjoy a fantastic guided visit to the Tromso Ice Domes and can highly recommend it to every traveler!

I did these tours on different days as I had one whole week in Tromso, but if you were short for time, this is the tour I would suggest as you can combine two Tromso bucket list items in one epic day trip on the husky sled + Ice Domes tour.

This tour picks you up in the city center of Tromso and drives you far into the Tamok Valley, about an hour and a half away from downtown Tromso. 

But the ride into the Tamok Valley is in and of itself an absolutely gorgeous experience, as you pass all sorts of mountains and fjords along the way, including the beautiful Lyngen Alps. 

Once you’re at the gorgeous Ice Domes, the fun really begins! You’ll be greeted by a guide and either begin with a dogsledding tour or a guided tour of the Ice Domes; the order of activities will depend on a number of factors, including how many people are on the tour, weather, and availability.

The tour of the Ice Domes is incredible — a true winter wonderland — and it’s something I’ve done firsthand and loved. We watched a brief video in the ice cinema which explained exactly how the ice hotel is built (from scratch!) each and every year, using ice from the nearby rivers. It takes about 6 weeks to build, all done as the Polar Night approaches.

the entrance to the ice hotel
The entrance to the ice hotel


Then you’ll get to tour the hotel in a small group, starting at the ice restaurant and all its incredible sculptures and themes, have a shot of lingonberry juice at the ice bar, and then get to tour the different rooms, where you can see what it would be like to spend the night in an ice hotel (without having to splash out $1,000+ to do so!).

For a full recap of my visit to the Ice Domes, read here, although keep in mind I did not do a husky tour on my trip (I did get to meet the reindeer and feed them some lichen, though!).

This tour includes the guided tour of the Ice Domes, a non-alcoholic drink, a light meal, a dog-sledding tour, warm clothing rental, and transfers to and from the ice domes.

This is another self-drive dog sled experience like how I described above, and the guides will explain how to man the sledge and handle your team of dogs and give you all the tips you need to ensure you have a safe and fun sledding experience. And of course, there will be plenty of time for lots of husky cuddles!

All in all, it seems like the perfect way to spend a day in Northern Norway, am I right?

Book your husky sledding and Ice Domes combination tour!

Guided Husky Sledding with Lunch

huskies running ahead of the tour

Both of the above tours fall under the self-drive category, which are the perfect adrenaline-pumping tours for travelers who like a more active adventure.

But what about if you want to relax and let the mushers do what they do best? Or what if you’re traveling with small kids who aren’t strong enough to man a sledge? Then a guided husky sled tour is the perfect solution.

On a guided husky sled, each team of dogs is paired with a professional musher, and you get to sit in the sledge, nice and toasty in your warm suit!

After about a 45-60 minute dog sledding tour, complete with views of Balsfjord and the Malangen Peninsula, it’s time to thank your team of huskies and have lunch.

You’ll head into the lavvo to enjoy bidos (a Sami reindeer stew) and a cup of coffee around the fire, before heading back to Tromso city center on the provided transfer.

Book this guided, musher-driven husky tour!

Full Day Arctic Dog Sledding Expedition

lines of people in the snow with their dogs on a dog sled tour

Want even more time with your four-legged pals? A full-day expedition tour is the perfect way to amp up your dog sledding experience and make it even more memorable.

This full-day tour lasts about 6 hours, much of it active, so be prepared for a lot of hard work! You don’t need to be experienced with dog sledding, but you should be in good shape and prepared to pay attention to your team of huskies at all times! 

Along the way, you may see different Arctic wildlife like foxes, snowshoe hares, Arctic hares, eagles, moose, and even reindeer!

This full-day mushing expedition will really get you in the mindset of how Arctic mushers experience daily life as you explore the beautiful landscapes of Kvaløya with your own team of sled dogs during this full-day mushing expedition tour! 

You’re in charge of your team of dogs and for ensuring they stay on task and stay safe. But don’t worry, you won’t be doing it all alone — you’ll have experienced guides with you every step of the way.

I didn’t do this tour, but I did do a different tour with this same company and I can stand behind the organization and team 100%! They truly care about their animal’s welfare and make sure you have a phenomenal experience on the tour. 

This tour includes the 6-hour tour, transfers, and a delicious meal of reindeer stew (or a veggie option) served in the lavvu, with tea or coffee and a dessert of chocolate cake to reward you after a long day’s work!

Book this full-day expedition here!

Northern Lights Tromso Dog Sledding Tours

Arctic Evening Dog Sledding Excursion

Allison taking a selfie with a white Alaskan husky sled dog while on a Northern lights and husky tour
Believe it or not, this is the least blurry photo I took that evening. Sorry, not sorry, I was busy doting on these dogs!

This is the exact tour I personally did while visiting Tromso in winter! 

I wanted a chance of seeing the Northern lights while I dog-sledded, and while unfortunately, the lights didn’t make an appearance, it was still a lot of fun and a great way to spend an evening in Tromso.

With limited daylight hours in Tromso in winter, it’s nice to be able to have activities that are just as enjoyable in the dark night hours as the softly-lit day hours. So if you are trying to pack quite a few activities into your time in Tromso, this is a great way to maximize your Tromso vacation.

One quick note though: I wouldn’t make this the only Northern lights excursion you do if you have your heart set on it. 

There are so many different ways to see the Northern lights in Tromso, but a tour where you move over a large area and have a guide and driver specifically chasing the lights and the perfect weather conditions is the best way to ensure you see the lights. 

It’s still not 100%, but you have a very good chance on a minibus tour, as they’ll drive far — in my case, literally all the way to Finland! — to get the best chance of seeing the Northern lights.

However, if you have another Northern lights expedition booked, and you’re looking for another chance to see the lights and also enjoy a fun activity, I strongly recommend this tour — I absolutely adored my experience, lights or not!

This is a musher-driven guided tour, so you don’t have to worry about driving yourself in the dark. You are provided with a headlamp and the guides lead you all away around the ‘track’ that the huskies run, so you can see what you’re doing while also having a chance to maybe spot the Northern lights as you get away from the light pollution of the husky camp.

The tour is done with a ratio of 2 guests to every guide, so you can ensure you have a lot of personal attention. Although I was a solo traveler, I didn’t have to share my sled with anyone, so I got the experience all to myself (I can’t ensure this will happen to you, if you travel solo you may get paired up with another solo traveler, but since there was an odd number in my group, I g to lucky!).

This tour also includes a meal in the lavvo — a delicious plate of stockfish stew (similar to bacalao/bacalhau, dried codfish) for dinner, which I can attest firsthand was so, so tasty!

Transfers are included to and from the Radisson Blu hotel and the tour lasts about 4 hours including travel time.

Book this Northern lights and evening dog sledding tour.

Overnight Dog Sledding Experiences

Ice Domes Overnight Stay and Dogsledding Tour

Allison Green sitting in bed at a ice hotel
Sitting on one of the beds at the Tromso Ice Domes!

If you’re visiting Tromso for a special occasion like a honeymoon, anniversary, or you just like to vacation like a baller, then you’ve got to spend a night hunting for Northern lights at the ice hotel!

Combine your dog sledding adventure with an overnight adventure at the Tromsø Ice Domes. This gorgeous ice hotel (yes, made of real ice) is located in the Tamok Valley, about an hour and a half away from Tromsø City Centre. 

You can do a day tour of just the hotel or a day tour that includes a dog sledding tour (described above), but the full-on experience is the overnight experience! This includes a night staying the ice hotel, which also includes a dog-sledding tour the following morning, a Northern lights campout, a snowshoe tour, and all your meals (dinner and breakfast).

On this experience, you can enjoy the entire property of the Tromso Ice Domes — which includes a bar made of ice, an ice cinema, an ice restaurant, and even ice bedrooms! The whole property is decorated with themed ice sculptures as well, carved by local artists each year.

The evening part of this overnight tour includes a snowshoe walk in the Tamok Valley. As you explore deep into the Arctic wilderness, you’ll be accompanied by a local guide who can help you identify wildlife tracks and nature in the area, set up the nature camp and fire, grill a dinner over the open fire, and spot and photograph the beautiful Northern lights if they make an appearance!

The overnight part of the tour consists of staying in a literal ice bedroom. Don’t worry, though, you won’t be sleeping on an actual block of ice (though the bed frame is made of ice!). You’ll have an expedition-rated sleeping bag to keep you warm and cozy, and your mattress is covered in reindeer skins to keep you toasty warm. 

The morning is when the real fun begins — as you wake up to a winter wonderland landscape and enjoy a delicious Nordic breakfast, you’ll then suit up for a self-drive dog-sledding excursion for a few hours, before you head back to Tromso city center and end the tour.

Book your Ice Hotel overnight and dog sledding tour here!

2-Day Dog Sled Expedition

dogs running forward on a sled

If you’ve ever dreamed of knowing exactly what it’s like to be a dog musher, this two-day, one-night dog sled expedition is the perfect choice for dog sled tours in Tromso!

This tour, run by Villmarkssenter, will bring you deep into the Arctic Circle wilderness: just you, a small group, your tour guides, of course — your team of hardworking and happy Alaskan huskies.

Be sure to come prepared in good physical condition, as this tour is hard work — you’ll help your team of dogs go across the snowy landscapes for 5-8 hours, weather conditions depending. 

At night, set up camp — all gear provided by the tour guides, of course — and spend hours around the campfire, hoping for a glimpse of the Northern lights dancing above you as you sleep amongst snow and stars.

The next morning, you’ll have a hearty fire-cooked breakfast before you continue further into the wilderness of Kvaløya, up mountains and through valleys keeping an eye out for all manner of native fauna, including Arctic foxes, hares, moose, reindeer, and eagles. 

Finally, you’ll arrive back at camp — exhausted and exhilarated — to eat reindeer stew in a Sami-style tent, the lavvu.

Book this epic two-day dog sledding expedition on GetYourGuide or Manawa (same tour at a discounted price)

6-Day 5-Night Arctic Dog Sledding Adventure

aurora out in the snow

For the most memorable experience, spend nearly a full week out in the Northern Norwegian wilderness exploring places few people ever go with this 6-day dog sledding tour.

You’ll be led by two expert guides, Tove and Torkil, who own Tromso Wilderness Center. They are both professional dog sled racers — Tove is the female world record holder and the fifth best musher worldwide, and she completed the Iditarod race in 2006!

Tove and her son are two inspirational people who live and breathe the art and culture of dog sledding. This expedition will take you through some of the most remote landscapes in Tromso. 

This is not a tour for the faint of heart nor is it a luxury tour, but a true experience of living life as a real Arctic musher. 

This means sleeping in tents on snow-covered landscape, hard days with many hours spent manning your four-dog team and your own sled, riding across ice-covered lakes and trying your hand at ice fishing.

The tour takes you through Sweden and Finland over the course of several days, passing high mountains as you traverse Swedish Lapland, passing by many herds of reindeer tended to by Sami reindeer herders, the Indigenous people of the lands that encompass Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.

You’ll experience mountains, woodlands, frozen lakes, steep areas, and all sorts of landscapes as you traverse the border area of Norway, Finland, and Sweden, before arriving back at your pick-up point where you’ll be brought back to civilization, having finished a life-changing tour.

Book this 6-day 5-night dog sledding expedition here on Manawa

Other Ways to Meet Huskies in Tromso in Winter (Without Dog Sledding)

Meeting baby huskies is part of any husky experience – no dog sledding necessary!

Like I mentioned above, I do believe husky tours are absolutely an ethical way to interact with these gorgeous, hard-working Alaskan huskies.

However, if you’re not into the concept of husky sledding for ethical or personal reasons, there are other ways you can interact with huskies that have nothing to do with sledding!

You can do a snowshoe tour with Tromso Villmarkssenter where you get to meet their 300 husky strong team and embark on a beautiful snowshoe adventure in the Norwegian Arctic wilderness. Check details of the tour here.

Another option, also at Villmarkssenter (where I did my Northern lights and guided husky sled tour, and can highly recommend!), is the Northern lights and husky experience. 

This is similar to the tour I described above, but instead of doing a sled ride, you just get to meet and interact with the huskies. It’s also a nice way to have a Northern lights tour and husky experience on a budget, as it’s a fraction of the price of the dog-sledding tours. Check details of the tour here.

Husky Tours in Tromso in Summer & Fall

Can’t dog sled in winter? Do a husky puppy training tour instead!

Yes, you can play with huskies in the summer in Tromso, too! These pups need attention and exercise at all times of the year, so don’t fret if your trip to Tromso falls under the midnight sun or beautiful autumn season.

There are a few different ways you can interact with huskies in the summer. One great option is husky hiking, also offered at Tromso Villmarkssenter.

Visit their husky farm while taking these energetic pups out for a walk in the beautiful summer Norwegian countryside, with views of fjords, mountains, and all sorts of beautiful views in the gorgeous summer light. 

This tour includes a lunch, coffee, and tasty chocolate cake as a dessert — you’ll need to replenish your energy after walking these rambunctious pups! Check tour details here.

More interested in some puppy love? Do the puppy training tour, where you can interact with and train puppies aged between four weeks to six months! 

You’ll do an hour to hour and a half hike our with the puppies, including some training exercising depending on the ages of the dogs. This is a great tour for kids in summer – they won’t be disappointed! Check tour details here.

If you really have your heart set on dog sledding, you can do dog “sledding” on wheels! This replicates the sensation of dog sledding without the need for snowy conditions.

It’s a little bumpier than just gliding over the snow, but it’s the only dog-sledding experience you can have in summer. Bonus – it’s also great for kids (over the age of 4).

It’s available September through November, so if you came slightly out of the dog sledding season, don’t worry — there’s still a chance to see what a musher’s life is like! Check it out here.

11 Unique Ways to See the Tromso Northern Lights: Tours + Aurora Chasing Tips

northern lights over a lake

Tromsø, Norway is one of the premier Norwegian destinations for spotting the Northern lights.

 But it’s so much more than that: it’s a vibrant, buzzy student city of more than 70,000 people, the “Paris of the North,” practically a metropolis around these sparsely-populated parts of the Arctic. 

The next-largest Arctic city in Norway, Bodø, numbers just over 50,000 people, and then population numbers drop off steeply outside of these urban areas.

Tromsø is a place of incredible beauty and culture, especially in winter. You can walk around the picture-perfect city center and shop on Nerstranda by day, and you can catch a concert at the Arctic Cathedral and stare up at the night sky with hot drinks in hand by night, hoping for a glimpse of the ephemeral aurora.

But there are so many more ways to see the Northern lights in Tromsø than just hoping for a glimpse over the city sky! We’ll go into all the unique ways you can combine sightseeing with a Northern lights chase below, but first, let’s tackle where and when is the best time to see the Northern lights in Norway.

Where to See the Northern Lights in Northern Norway

Allison wearing a red hat and blue jacket and snow boots and smiling in an ice hotel
Touring the Tromso Ice Domes, an awesome ice hotel in the Tamok Valley

The best place to see Northern lights in Tromsø is north of the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle’s latitude is located at 66°33″ N, and everything above that is considered part of the Arctic Circle — whether you’re in Scandinavia, Iceland, Russia, Alaska, or Canada.

The Arctic Circle is basically the lowest latitude where both the polar night and midnight sun phenomena occur; north of it, the length of polar night and midnight sun extends for longer and longer. 

Polar night is when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon, whereas midnight sun is the inverse, where the sun doesn’t sink below the horizon.

In Tromsø, located at 69°64″ N, the polar night lasts for six weeks, and midnight sun lasts for a bit over two months. In other parts of Norway, this can be even longer! Nordkapp gets polar night for more than two months, and Svalbard experiences it for two and a half months! 

There are three main touristic destinations in Norway in winter: Tromsø, Alta, and the Lofoten Islands. This post focuses on Northern Lights in Tromsø as it’s what I experienced!

Best Time to Do a Northern Lights Trip in Tromso

Allison in a large red parka with a swirl of the northern lights appearing in green colors in the night sky
Looking like an absolute marshmallow on my Northern lights tour in Tromso!

There is a wide span of when the Northern lights are visible above the city of Tromsø and in neighboring locations. 

The earlier you might be able to spot the Northern lights in Tromsø would be in early September, and the latest would be in early April. You just need a certain amount of darkness and enough solar activity. 

There isn’t a specific time of the year that is consistently more active than others; you just need enough darkness. The solar storms which cause the aurora happen all year long, you just need the sky to be dark to see it!

However, most people tend to opt for a winter trip to Tromsø so they can do other wintry activities like dog sledding, reindeer feeding or sledding, and whale watching activities.

I personally visited Tromsø in the first week of February and thought it was almost perfect. There was enough sunlight to get a little hit of Vitamin D every day (from about 10 AM to 2:30 PM daily). 

However, it was still in the heart of winter and there was snow everywhere. I was able to do snow-dependent day trips and excursions like dog sledding, whereas travelers who visited a few weeks later than I did had many activities stop due to lack of sufficient snowfall.

The one thing I regret, though, is that I came slightly too late for whale watching season, which ends around the end of January. If seeing orcas and other whales is part of your Tromsø bucket list, then make sure you visit around mid-January. There will be less sunlight, but you’ll be more certain to be able to do your whale safari tour!

Getting to Tromsø

Passengers disembarking a SAS flight in Tromso

For a place so remote, getting to Tromsø is relatively easy! When I went, I flew Sofia to Frankfurt to Tromsø on Lufthansa and it was pretty painless. My roundtrip ticket was around $550 USD.

There are also flights to Tromsø from London and Oslo. Many people will fly into Oslo on a low cost airline like Norwegian Airlines and then hop on another flight up to Tromsø.

I don’t recommend driving up to Tromso from Oslo. It’s a 22-hour drive and between renting a car and paying for gas it’d be far more expensive than flying. 

One other option would be the Hurtigruten cruise, which departs from Bergen and will bring you to different destinations along the Norwegian coast, including the Arctic!

What to Know Before Doing a Northern Lights Tour in Tromsø

Allison's hand holding her camera with ice all over it in the snow
The cold can wear out your camera batteries… and frost over your camera! Bring a lens cloth to defog it as well.

Be prepared for anything. 

While the Northern lights in the Arctic are actively dancing for much of the winter nights, it’s also easy to overstate the probability of seeing the lights. For one, cloud cover is a major concern: you need clear skies to see the aurora properly. 

With how often it snows in Tromsø, that can be problematic. In fact, when I did my Northern lights minibus tour, we actually drove all the way to the Finnish border and parked where we could see the lights dancing over Finland!

Another factor is solar activity. The aurora phenomenon is caused by charged solar particles entering Earth’s geomagnetic fields near the poles, causing beautiful reactions in the form of light energy emitting at different wavelengths, which causes the colors you see. Green is the most typical, but I’ve also seen white and purple colors and even a dash of red.

Finally, the Northern lights are a natural phenomenon. Guides are talented at predicting the intensity and location of the lights, but they are not miracle workers. Sometimes the Green Lady doesn’t appear, and that’s part of what makes the times you do see it so magical.

Bring all the camera batteries and a lens cloth.

The extreme conditions while chasing the Northern lights in Norway will do a number on your camera battery — just look at the above picture, taken after my camera was out in the cold weather for a few hours in -15° C / 5° F temperatures!

Be sure to also bring a microfiber lens cloth that can gentle remove the ice and condensation from your camera, as well as plenty of freshly charged spare batteries (keep those warm in your pockets!).

Bring your passport/ID if doing a minibus tour. 

Like I said, on a minibus tour where you are chasing the Northern lights activity, you may actually end up crossing a border to escape the cloudy weather on the coast of Norway. 

My tour guide on the minibus tour in early 2020 told me that about half of the nights, they had been driving into Finland to even spot the lights! So be sure to bring an ID to be safe. 

There are no official border crossings as it’s all Schengen zone, but you do technically need identification when crossing a border.

Be realistic and don’t get disappointed. 

A blurry photo of the Northern lights appearing over the fjord on a sailing cruise near Tromso
This photo, taken with a smartphone on the Northern lights sailing tour I did, is a pretty accurate picture of the extent to which you can see with the naked eye

First of all, I want to preface this by saying that the Northern lights are absolutely magical. However, they’re also different than I imagined. 

When you see jaw-dropping Northern lights photography, keep in mind these were taken by professional photographers using high-quality camera gear that’s far more sophisticated than the naked eye (or your smartphone, for that matter). 

Photographs of the Northern lights use slow shutter speeds so that the camera’s “eye” is open for multiple seconds, taking in light. Meanwhile, your eye processes things at, well, the speed of light! 

As a result, the lights you see in photographs of the aurora are far more spectacular than you can see with your eye. THis isn’t photoshop — the colors out of the camera are often barely touched or altered at all — but the magic of a long exposure.

Don’t plan an entire trip around seeing the Northern lights. 

If that is the singular purpose of your trip, you may wind up disappointed if the lights are less active than you expect or worse, you have poor weather blocking the view of the Northern lights! 

My suggestion would be there: book one minibus tour, as these tour guides are driven — literally! — to make sure you see at least something on your Northern lights tour. 

The rest of the trip, book other excursions at night that focus on outdoor activities and cultural experiences that have a chance at seeing the Northern lights, but aren’t singularly focused on it.

For example, I was in Tromso for one week. I scheduled one Northern lights tour, one sailing aurora tour, and one dog-sledding tour. I saw a tiny glimpse of the lights on my aurora sailing excursion, no lights at all on the dog-sledding night, and so much aurora activity on my dedicated aurora chasing minibus tour.

If you only have the budget for one tour though, make it a minibus tour. They are dedicated to making sure you see the Northern lights and will drive literally across borders to make it happen!

What to Wear in the Arctic

Allison posing at the top of Fjellheisen in Tromso with fjords and the city in the distance, near sunset
My typical Norway winter outfit!

I have a full packing list for what to bring to Norway in winter here, which you should definitely check out before your trip.

Note that being out spotting the Northern lights can be extremely cold! While virtually every company I know of offers free thermal suits for rent (which you absolutely should take advantage of), you’ll want to wear comfortable thermal layers underneath.

Warm socks, snow boots (though many places offer boot rental as well), warm gloves, a scarf, a hat, and thermal layers are must-haves when dressing for the Arctic. You’ll also want a parka and snow boots for walking around town.

Here are my quick recommendations:

Parka: For my trip to Norway, I wore a jacket that I bought from Decathlon which I can’t find online, but it is virtually identical to this one but in a navy blue. On my past trip to the Arctic, in neighboring Sweden where it’s actually a bit colder, I did really well with my North Face parka which I’ve owned for 10 years and absolutely love (I just didn’t have it moved over to Europe, where I was living at the time).

Snow boots: I wore a pair of snow boots by Quechua which I bought from Decathlon, which I can’t find online, but here is a similar boot by Sorel, a trusted winter brand that’s beloved in Norway and beyond (here’s a women’s version and a men’s version). I recommend sizing about half a size up to account for thick winter socks.

Yaktrax: Walking around Tromso is icy! While you might not need Yaktrax on your Northern lights tours, you’ll want them for walking around the city when it ices over. I like these simple Yaktrax because they’re easy to take on and off, as you’re not allowed to wear them in indoors stores, etc. in Tromso.

Cold weather accessories: A winter hat, two pairs of winter gloves (one thin and able to be used with touchscreen devices, one thick and waterproof), and a scarf or two.

Base layers: For thermal leggings, I recommend these for women and these for men, both by Columbia, a trusted outdoors brand. For a top thermal layer, I recommend this top for women and this top for men.

Wool socks: For making those warm snow boots even warmer, I love SmartWool — even though I normally hate wool, I don’t find these itchy at all.

Your normal winter clothing: Once you’ve got a parka, base layers, accessories, and snow boots, you can wear whatever normal winter clothing you’d wear — jeans, sweaters, etc.

Photography Gear for Shooting the Northern Lights

a man photographing the northern lights with a camera and a tripod with the aurora visible behind him

I have a full guide to photographing the Northern lights on the way, but here are the basics of what you need, and I also cover this topic quite a bit in my post on seeing the Northern lights in Sweden.

Tripod: You’ll want a stable tripod that won’t be knocked around if there are winds. A tripod is non-negotiable because you need to stabilize the camera when photographing the Northern Lights for seconds at a time, which your hand is incapable of doing. Some Northern lights tours will offer tripod rentals; others do not, so ask first or bring your own.

This COMAN tripod is reasonably priced (trust me, real-deal tripods can easily exceed $600, so this is a good deal) but far sturdier than the cheapest bare-bones tripods you’ll find on Amazon.

Camera with manual settings: You don’t need an incredibly expensive to see the Northern lights, not at all! However, you need something with a little more power than just a smartphone. I used a Sony A6000 when I snapped all my Northern lights photos and it worked just perfectly.

You’ll need to get acquainted with the best camera settings for capturing the Northern lights, but any camera that has manual capabilities will have plenty of power for capturing the lights. I recommend my Sony A6000 all the time, as it’s served me very well!

Lots and lots of spare batteries: A camera battery in the Arctic lasts way shorter than you’d expect. I run through a battery in about 30 minutes of use in the Arctic… sometimes even faster!

Carry at least 4 extra batteries with you, preferably in a pocket to keep them as warm as possible until you’re prepared to use them. Sony’s proprietary battery packs are expensive, so I use these ones by Wasabi Power.

Note that the charger included is only compatible with the Wasabi batteries, though, and not the one that came with your Sony. That you can charge via a USB.

Microfiber lens cloth: These lens cleaning cloths will help you remove ice and condensation that occurs on the lens in these extreme cold climate conditions!

Where to Stay in Tromsø

The arctic cathedral near Tromso

Central Tromso is nice and small, and there are tons of great accommodation choices right in the heart of town. 

Here are our 3 top picks in Tromso city center, as well as one amazing Arctic glamping spot just a bit outside of the city (free transfers are provided).

Budget: The best budget option in Tromso is  Smarthotel Tromso. It’s right in the heart of central Tromso, so it’s easy to get to all your activities, it has all the things you need in a hotel — 24-hour reception, comfortable beds, a work desk, and some food available in the lobby. Note that breakfast is not included in the price but can be added for a fee.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, see photos, and book your room here.

Mid-Range: If you want to stay in a chic boutique hotel that’s not overly fancy, Thon Hotel Polar is a fabulous choice. The decor is irreverent yet modern with an Arctic and polar theme, many with vibrant pops of color that make the hotel have a lot more personality than many other Scandinavian hotels which tend to be a bit more muted in terms of decor. Breakfast is included and there is also a restaurant on-site should you want to dine in. The location couldn’t be better, so it’s a fantastic choice for mid-range travelers to Tromso in winter.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room here

Luxury: There are three Clarion Collection hotels in Tromso, but the nicest of the three seems to be Clarion Collection Hotel Aurora. Why? It’s harborfront and has an incredible rooftop jacuzzi where you can try to spot the Northern lights! Rooms are luxurious and modern with updated bathrooms, and the facilities include a gym, free afternoon coffee with waffles, and a light evening meal as part of your stay.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room today!

Arctic Glamping: For a stay that’s truly memorable, look no further than the epic Camp North Tour for a glamping experience, Arctic-style! Stay in heated yurt-style glamping tents, complete with cozy carpeting, comfortable beds heated with reindeer pelts, and panels that open up into the aurora above you so you can watch the Northern lights dance overhead from your bed! It’s not located in Tromso proper, but transfers or free parking are provided. Buffet breakfast & traditional dinner are both included.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room here!

My Tromsø Northern Lights Experience

I’ve listed 11 unique Northern lights tours below, and I’ve done 3 of the tours: the fjords sailing tour, the small group Northern lights chase minibus tour, and the husky sledding and Northern lights tour.

I’ve also visited the Ice Hotel during the day (read about my experience here) and visited a Sami reindeer farm with lavvus during the day as well, so I can speak to a portion of those experiences. 

So I have some firsthand insight from 6 out of the 11 Northern lights tours here, and the rest are driven by research and chatting with other friends who visited Tromsø in winter. I hope this helps you narrow down your search and find the perfect Northern lights tour (or tours, as I did!) for you!

11 Unique Northern Lights Tours in Tromsø

Fjords Sailing and Northern Lights

Allison sitting on a snow-covered catamaran sailing in the Norwegian fjords
On my Northern lights fjords sailing tour!

This was the first Northern Lights tour I did on my trip to Tromsø and it was a great introduction to the beautiful fjords around Tromsø. 

We met at the Pukka Adventures office where we enjoyed coffee and snacks before our tour. We had a quick safety and tour briefing and got into our warm suits and boots! Then we walked a short walk to the marina where the sailboat was docked.

Once we disembarked, we set sail through the fjord, watching the city lights of Tromsø twinkle magically as we got further and further away from the city. We all clustered outside hoping to find a glimpse of the Northern lights, and we did… albeit briefly. 

Luckily, it was so vivid and powerful that I was even able to capture a tiny glimpse with my smartphone! However, I didn’t have my tripod set up yet, so I wasn’t able to capture a better shot, and then the lights faded for the night and hid behind the clouds for the rest of the excursion.

The disappointment of not seeing the lights in their full glory was quickly assuaged by a delicious meal of seafood chowder served with Norwegian bread and butter and some coffee and chocolate for dessert.

All in all, I absolutely loved the sailing experience and while I wouldn’t say it’s the most reliable way of seeing the Northern lights, I loved getting to do a sailing cruise around Tromsø at night and the seafood chowder with a view of the city sparkling around us was magical.

Book your Northern lights sailing tour online here.

Tromso Northern Lights Small Group Minibus Tour 

People sitting around the fire
Warming up around the fire between aurora sightings.

This was another tour I booked for myself during my trip to Tromso, and it was the Northern lights tour that delivered the most when it came to actually seeing the lights themselves!

My guides were absolute legends, driving all the way to the Finnish border and beyond to ensure we all got to see the lights. 

They were true experts — consulting different solar activity apps and talking about all sorts of scientific factors as to what that meant for the Northern lights, calling other guides to see if they had any scouting tips in terms of weather, always willing to make adjustments to the itinerary or plan to ensure we saw the lights as best we could

Once we arrived at our spot, a few miles over the Finnish border, they set up a little aurora camp: reindeer pelts atop snow “benches” (which were surprisingly warm to sit on) as well as a fire we could all get toasty around.

We roasted all-you-can-eat sausages — reindeer, pork, and vegan options — with tunnbröd or “polar bread”, a flat, tortilla-like bread. We had copious cups of coffee and hot chocolate around the fire, while our guide shouted for us every time the aurora made its appearance. 

He’d snap professional-grade photos for us, one by one, so we’d all have at least one aurora selfie to take home with us. He also helped with photographing the aurora independently, assisting with the tripod set up, and identifying the correct manual camera settings to best capture the lights.

All in all, I absolutely adored this tour. It was a lot of driving, and we got home very late — well past 2 AM, maybe closer to 3 AM — but it was well worth it for the amount of lights we were able to see, especially compared to other travelers I spoke to in Tromsø who went with less dedicated guides and didn’t get the full aurora experience.

Book your own Northern Lights minibus tour online here.

Snowmobile and Aurora Tour

Snowmobile with aurora in the background in Norway

I’ve never ridden a snowmobile, but this is another common aurora chasing tour option in Tromsø that combines a little bit of adrenaline, a lot of sightseeing, and hopefully, a shot at spotting the Northern lights!

Snowmobiling is a great way to cover a lot of ground in a way that gets your adrenaline pumping, and it’s perfect because you can move around a bit in order to find a clear patch of sky that hopefully will allow for perfect aurora spotting!

This tour takes you to the Tromso Ice Domes 1.5 hours outside the city, so you can visit the grounds of the magical ice hotel before going out for an epic snowmobile ride you’ll never forget in the Finn Valley. Hopefully, the Northern lights will make an appearance!

Book your Northern lights snowmobile tour online here.

Dog Sledding and Aurora Borealis Tour

Believe it or not, this is the LEAST blurry selfie I took with a pup on my dog sledding night tour.

This another one of the Northern lights tours I did on my last trip to Tromsø, and while I didn’t get lucky enough to see the lights, it was still one of my favorite tours… because hello, it’s dog sledding under the stars, how much more magical does it get?

There are two kinds of dog sledding tours you can do: self-driving and musher-driven. This falls into the latter category, where you get to sit in a seat on the sled as a musher drives you with a team of huskies, speeding through the snow while you cuddle up with some reindeer pelts to keep warm!

This is more passive than self-driving dog sledding, and as a result, it’s a lot less physically demanding, making it a great option for families of young kids who may be a little too small to handle self-driving.

The other bonus of it being musher-driven is that you have all the time in the world to look up at the sky and hope to see the Northern lights! In my case, it was hopelessly cloudy and there was no shot, but you may be luckier than I was!

After the husky sledding experience, which lasted around 30 minutes, we ended up at the lavvu (Sami-style dwelling, similar to a Native American tipi) to warm up around the fire and enjoy a delicious seafood stew dinner to warm up with! Vegetarian options are also available.

Book your dog sledding evening tour with a chance of Northern lights here!

Whale Watching and Overnight Aurora Camp

Looking through the glass window ceiling of a lavvu

Want to combine two Tromso bucket list musts into one perfect excursion? Well, pinch yourself, because that actually totally exists!

One thing to know about whale watching in Tromso is that the whales used to visit the fjords in Tromso proper, but now, they’re found quite a bit away from Tromso, in Skjervoy. Going by boat to Skjervoy can be a miserable, 3+ hour one-way experience with lots of seasickness.

This tour actually drives you to Skjervoy before embarking in a RIB boat (which allows you to view the whales in a more ethical fashion than big-boat tours, which can sometimes scare the whales). 

Your whale watching experience is wrapped up with a meal before heading to the beautiful Green Gold Villa, located in the Lyngen Alps, where you’ll enjoy a photography workshop to prep you on how to photograph the Northern lights, as well as a group dinner.

You’ll then get to watch the aurora from the villa, and you’l get to stay in one of the six Crystal Lavvos which offer an incredible glamping experience! 

The Crystal Lavvos are made of wood frames with a glass-paneled roof so you can watch the Northern lights dance overhead through the ceiling, like those glass igloos you may have seen in Finland!

The overnight Northern lights tour culminates with breakfast and a transfer back to Tromso city center.

Book your whale safari and aurora lavvu camping experience online here!

Reindeer Sledding with Sami Guide and Northern Lights Tour

Allison feeding the reindeer out of a bucket at a Sami reindeer camp near Tromso Norway
Here I am feeding reindeer at a daytime trip to Tromso Arctic Reindeer – a great local company that uses only Sami guides

This is a tour I did during the daytime, but the same company I went with also offers night tours which follow basically the same itinerary, but with a shot at getting to spot the brilliant lights!

The tour consists of visiting a reindeer farm, where you can either feed and interact with the reindeer (they are very tame!) or go reindeer sledding around the camp for 15-30 minutes, followed by a meal and a storytelling and singing session in a Sami lavvu.

Reindeer farms are a big part of Northern Norway’s tourism scene, and the history of it is really interesting. Historically, reindeer herding is how the Indigenous people of Northern Norway, the Sami (also written Sámi or Saami) have survived. 

So, who are the Sami? The Sami are indigenous to the region called Sápmi which covers parts of Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and parts of Russia (specifically, Murmansk Oblast). 

Sápmi is mostly synonymous with the region known as Lapland, but the term Lapland is not preferred by most Sami, who consider the word “Lapp” to refer to a Sami person in a pejorative fashion. 

One of the things I liked most about my tour to the Sami reindeer camp was the chance to learn from my young Sami guide, who was an incredible storyteller. 

He spoke with passion and emotion about the history of the treatment of the Sami people, and he was not shy about criticizing the way the Norwegian government has traditionally treated the Sami people, which was not dissimilar to the treatment of First Nations and Native American people in Canada and the United States, respectively. 

Practices such as the banning of the Sami language and the forcing of Sami children into Norwegian boarding schools were aimed at destroying Sami identity. Unfortunately, as a result of these laws, many Sami have since lost touch with their roots and integrated with Norwegian or other Scandinavian societies, losing their language and culture in the assimilation process.

Today, Nordic governments are setting up truth commissions and working on reconciliation projects that will, hopefully, make up in some small way for the historic injustices the Sami have faced.

It all may seem a bit heavy for a Northern lights tour — and of course, the subject matter is heavy, but it is important. I was so, so glad I went and had the chance to learn from a young Sami storyteller, someone who is so deeply passionate about preserving his people’s identity but also with sharing that identity with tourists.

If you’re looking for chance to spot the Northern lights that also touches on culture, history, and cute animals — this is a great way to spend a night in Tromsø. 

This Sami reindeer camp and Northern lights tour is with the same company I did my daytime trip with, and I can’t imagine why the nighttime tour would be any less magical!

Book your reindeer camp and Northern lights excursion here

Snowshoe and Aurora Tour

snowshoe tracks left in the snow with a view of the aurora in the distance
Snowshoe Hare Tracks And The Aurora Borealis

Some people prefer a more active approach to spotting the Northern lights, one that combines some physical exercise with a chance of spotting the Northern lights. 

If you’re of the mindset that ‘the best views come after the hardest climb’, snowshoeing in the Arctic with the hope of spotting the Northern lights sounds like the perfect adventure for you!

I’ve gone snowshoeing in Abisko (part of Sápmi/Swedish Lapland) while spotting the Northern lights, and I had so much fun! 

I didn’t have time to do this tour in Norway, but it seems like a fantastic way to combine some exercise with an opportunity to see lights dancing above you without any interference from light pollution.

Book your nighttime snowshoe experience online here.

Ice Hotel and Aurora Camping

Allison Green sitting in bed at a ice hotel
Sitting on one of the beds at the Tromso Ice Domes, a great Northern lights spotting destination!

For the most epic way to see the Northern lights in Norway, try spending the night in an Ice Hotel!

I did a daytime visit to the Tromso Ice Domes, the premiere ice hotel in Norway, and was it ever stunning! I couldn’t afford the whole overnight package, unfortunately, but I enjoyed even my brief daytime visit (you can read about it here.)

If you’re visiting Tromso for a special occasion like a honeymoon, anniversary, or you just like to vacation like a baller, then you’ve got to spend a night hunting for Northern lights at the ice hotel!

Tromsø Ice Domes are located in the Tamok Valley, about an hour and a half away from Tromsø City Centre. You can do a day tour, but the best experience is the overnight in the ice hotel which also includes a dog sledding tour, Northern lights safari, snowshoe tour, and all your meals.

Enjoy the entire Ice Hotel — including an ice bar, ice cinema, ice restaurant, and ice bedrooms! — as well as the ice sculptures all around the property. 

The evening includes a snowshoe walk in the Tamok Valley, including a guide who will help you spot and photograph the Northern lights, as well as identifying animal tracks and learning about the nature in the area. You’ll camp out at the nature camp, and you can grill a delicious dinner on an open fire!

You’ll stay in the ice bedroom overnight and be given a cozy expedition-rated sleeping bag on a proper mattress (don’t worry, you won’t be sleeping on an actual block of ice, though you do have an ice bed frame!) covered in reindeer skin. 

In the morning, wake up to a beautiful icy landscape, enjoy a traditional Nordic breakfast, and go on a dog-sledding excursion before heading back to Tromso city center.

Book your Ice Hotel overnight and Northern lights tour here!

Jacuzzi and Sauna Northern Lights Cruise

northern lights rippling over the fjords in norway
Northern Lights

If you can’t afford a night at the Tromso Ice Domes, this is a romantic and luxurious way to spot the Northern lights on a far more affordable budget!

Imagine cruising the fjords of Tromsø while staring out at the beautiful city lights as you exit the port of Tromsø and give way to the beautiful waters surrounding the fjords…. while in a delightful jacuzzi or warming up in a sauna, Nordic-style!

This Northern lights cruise combines a relaxing spa experience with all the pleasure of chasing the aurora borealis… and keeps you warm and relaxed while doing so on this beautiful 4-hour Northern lights tour from Tromso.

Book this jacuzzi and sauna Northern lights cruise online here.

Arctic Cuisine & Northern Lights Cruise

Arctic cuisine - fish and mashed potatoes
I love Arctic cuisine!

For a special spin on a Northern lights cruise, do one that is cuisine-themed with a focus on delicious Arctic food!

You may wonder what Arctic cuisine entails. Well, it’s not particularly vegetarian or vegan-friendly due to the difficulty of growing vegetables in the Arctic! 

Arctic cuisine leans heavily on humanely-raised meat such as reindeer (which is typically herded and farmed by the Sami, who are the only ones allowed to herd and farm reindeer in many parts of Norway) as well as fish like cod, Arctic char, and more. 

Enjoy a 3-course Arctic-inspired meal aboard an electric catamaran with chances of seeing the Northern lights dancing overhead.

Book your catamaran & Arctic cuisine dinner cruise here.

Northern Lights Photography Tour in a 4×4

reddish green and purple colors of the aurora borealis

Each of these Northern lights tours listed has a slightly different focus. Some are more geared towards animal experiences, such as in the dog sledding and Sami reindeer camp tours. 

Others are geared towards exercise and active adventure, like snowmobiling and snowshoeing. Others still are focused on luxury and romance, like the Ice Domes or the Jacuzzi and Sauna Cruise. But what about a tour that focuses specifically on photography?

While many of the tours, including the minibus tour, will help you out with photos, you may want a more photography-focused excursion — in a 4×4, no less, so you can really get off the beaten path (literally) and out into the most beautiful nature Northern Norway has to offer.

This highly-rated 4×4 small group photography tour is the perfect choice for photography enthusiasts who have their heart set on taking home a beautiful photograph of the aurora that they snapped themself.

This tour includes two local guides who are willing to drive anywhere and everywhere (including into Finland) in order to spot the best Northern lights. Once a great location is found, the guides set up camp and help you set up tripods (provided by the tour guides) and give you all sorts of tips on best composition and ideal camera settings. 

The guides will also take photos of you, and photos of the aurora, in case you’re not confident in your photography skills. 

The group is always kept small — no more than 8 guests — and the tour includes a vegan soup dinner and dessert, hot beverages to keep warm by the fire while waiting for the aurora to appear, tripods and headlamps, hand and foot warmers if needed, plus all sort of thermal suits you might need to stay warm. Drop off is included as well, which is nice as you arrive back quite late!

Book your Northern Lights photography tour online here!

Seeing the Aurora Borealis in Tromsø Independently

faint northern lights occuring in the city center of tromso
Sometimes, you can see the lights dance over Tromso, visible even to the naked eye or a cellphone camera!

You can occasionally see the Northern lights dancing over the city of Tromsø itself! My Airbnb host spotted them one night from his house and he popped over to my room to give me a heads up that they were dancing, and I was able to spot them just from the balcony!

However, this only happened once in the 7 days I was in Tromsø, so view it as a bonus, not a given. 

If you want to increase your odds of seeing the Northern lights in Tromsø without booking a guided tour, you can take the Fjellheisen cable car up to their viewing platform. This helps you escape some of the light pollution and also offers a stunning vista over the city.

views from the top of the fjellheisen cable car showing tromso lit up at night and the fjords around it
The view from Fjellheisen at night — no Northern lights appeared during my visit, sadly!

A return ticket costs NOK 218.50, which is around $27 USD, a great price considering you can stay as long as you like! 

There’s also a restaurant up at the top, Fjellstua, which is reasonably priced given its gorgeous location. It’s recommended to reserve a table — email them at [email protected] to do so — as spots are limited. I didn’t reserve a table, but I visited around 4 PM when tables were plentiful. 

I had an all-you-can-drink cup of coffee (hot chocolate also available!) for around $4 USD, and a traditional waffle for another $5 USD!

If the weather forecast for Tromsø is pretty bleak but you don’t have a tour, you can try self-driving, so long as the weather conditions aren’t too intense and you are comfortable driving in cold, snowy landscapes.

You could drive out to Lyngen about an hour from Tromsø. The Lyngen Alps break up some of the cloud cover that Tromsø gets, so it can be a good location to try self-driving.

You might also just want to bite the bullet and drive to Finland if you’re self-driving. We ended up outside the town of Kilpisjärvi on our minibus tour, and it was the only place you could see the Northern lights for miles and miles, according to our guides!

Another option if you prefer independent travel is spending some time in Abisko, Sweden. Abisko is statistically proven to have the best Northern lights around, with scientists pegging your odds at 80% if you stay for 3 days. 

green and pinkish purple colors of the aurora in sweden
Abisko is where I took this gorgeous photograph, with green and a bit of purple!

Personally, I saw them 3 out 3 days in a row!

As a bonus, in Abisko, it’s so easy to see them without any need for tours due to the “Blue Hole” that forms around Torneträsk, the frozen lake at the heart of Abisko National Park. It’s a great budget option, so if you don’t necessarily have your heart set on Tromsø, Abisko makes a great alternative.

I have a bunch of resources on planning a trip to Abisko, which you can find here.

Grand Canyon in Winter: 19 Things to Know Before You Go

Snow covered landscape of the Grand Canyon in the winter months

If you have always dreamed of gazing into the Grand Canyon, you have probably pictured its 6,000-foot tall cliff walls, glowing red landscape, and unparalleled desert scenery.

Looking down into one of the world’s largest canyons and the many layers of rock revealed by the force of the Colorado River is like looking back in time millions of years.

Although Grand Canyon National Park sees unbearably hot temperatures in the summer, the winter in Grand Canyon is a little more bearable… and sees fewer crowds.

Snow blankets the North Rim, accenting the overhanging red rock, and visitation dips quite a bit compared to the steady traffic of summertime.

Although the shift in seasons may change the scenery, there are still many fun activities to do while bundled up in Grand Canyon National Park in the winter!

Grand Canyon Winter Road Closures

Snow covered landscape at the Grand Canyon in winter, red rocks with patches of white snow with the sun rising above the canyon at sunrise.

North Rim Scenic Drive and All North Rim Roads

If you were hoping to visit the North Rim in Grand Canyon National Park, you will have to wait until mid to late spring.

The North Rim Scenic Drive and all amenities in the North Rim area close down during the winter months.

In fact, this road is only open for a short window of time: between May 15th and October 15th. (Read more differences between the North Rim and the South Rim here.)

This scenic road is a common access point for visitors arriving at the park from northern states, but be warned, the South Entrance is over 4 hours driving from the North Entrance if you end up on the wrong side of the canyon.

Desert View Drive (South Rim)

Grand Canyon in morning light covered in snow, with snow blanketing the layers of rock in the canyon as well as some of the trees.

The scenic stretch of road known as the Desert View Drive or East Rim Drive is open year-round to private vehicles.

The drive travels along State Route 64, connecting the South Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park near the town of Tusayan to the East Entrance in the neighboring Navajo Nation.

Although the road is technically open 365 days per year, the park service may elect to close the road due to inclement winter driving conditions.

The weather can change quickly in Grand Canyon National Park in winter, so it is important for visitors to frequently check for weather updates as they prepare to drive to the park.

Hermit Road (South Rim)

Winter landscape at the Grand Canyon, white snow blanketing the higher elevation pockets of the park and tops of the mesas, and the valley below showing red rock and orange rocks

During peak visitation, the Hermit Road, which spans from the South Rim area to Hermit Trailhead where the road dead-ends, is closed to private vehicle traffic.

From March through November, the road can only be traveled by biking, walking, or hopping aboard the free Hermit Road (Red Route) Shuttle.

Once the season of high-visitation is over, the road opens up to private vehicle traffic.

For the months of December, January, and February, visitors can drive along the Hermit Road and park in designated parking areas to access hiking trails and viewpoints.

Grand Canyon Winter Hours of Operation and Facilities

A snow covered visitor center at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park
The North Rim Visitor Center before winter closure can still get covered in snow

Although the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is always open to the public, some of the facilities undergo reduced hours of operation come wintertime.

Remember the North Rim and all facilities are closed between mid-October and mid-May.

If you are visiting Grand Canyon National Park in the winter, you will want to be aware of these changes to facility hours and seasonal closures:

Grand Canyon Village (South Rim) Facility Hours

Grand Canyon Visitor Center: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

Grand Canyon Visitor Center Park Store: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm

South Rim Backcountry Information Center: 8:00 – noon; then, 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm

Yavapai Geology Museum: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Verkamp’s Visitor Center: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Desert View (South Rim) Facility Hours

Watchtower Kiva Shop: 8:00 am – 6:00 pm

Watchtower Stairs: 8:00 am – 5:30 pm, stairs always close 30 minutes before the store

Tusayan Museum: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

North Rim

All facilities and roads are closed for winter at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, so don’t even factor this into a winter trip.

Visitor Centers in Winter

Man standing a few feet from the edge of the Grand Canyon in the snow, wearing a hat, sweater, and jeans.

Visitor centers in Grand Canyon National Park are open in the winter, except select holidays. It is always a good idea to begin a national park trip with a stop at the visitor center.

This is a great way to make sure you have the most up to date information, and it allows you to review your itinerary with professional park staff.

They may even have some insider tips to share with you!

Winter Camping in Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon camping tents near the Grand Canyon
Image provided by Airbnb

Many who come to Grand Canyon National Park choose to camp during their visits.

During the summer months, there are three different campgrounds to choose from: North Rim Campground, Desert View Campground, and Mather Campground.

However, North Rim and Desert View Campgrounds both close in October.

Mather Campground on the South Rim as the only front country year-round camping option in Grand Canyon National Park.

For those planning to stay at Mather Campground during their winter visit, advanced reservations are highly recommended.

As the only open campground in the park, spaces fill quickly! Reservations can be made online up to 6 months in advance.

Not into camping? There are also great Grand Canyon Airbnbs available in the winter.

Winter Safety in Grand Canyon National Park

Icy Trails

Icy trails at Grand Canyon in winter, with snow on the sides and in the canyon itself interspersed with red rock, with visitors at the end of the trail.

With limited daylight, cold nighttime temperatures, and limited sunlight in the deep canyon during the winter, one of the greatest cold season hazard in winter in the Grand Canyon becomes icy trails.

Many of the most popular trails remain open year-round. It’s not uncommon to have clear dry trails. However, ice may be lingering in the shaded areas.

To prevent slipping on icy trails, many hikers choose to carry along Yaktrax or spikes. These handy accessories will help you keep your footing on slick surfaces!

Hypothermia

Woman wearing hat, jacket, jeans, and snow boots at the Grand Canyon in winter, with her arms up in the air as the sun sets.

When your body temperature falls to dangerously cool levels, you begin to experience hypothermia. Wet clothes from snow or rain combined with cold winter temperatures can create a high-risk.

To avoid hypothermia, the park service recommends wearing non-cotton clothing, eating high-energy foods before chill takes effect, and staying dry. Hypothermia is five times more likely to occur in wet conditions!

Rockfall

Snow covering red rocks at the Grand Canyon, other parts of the canyon left untouched by snow, as fog rolls on the top of the canyon

Rockfall is a year-round hazard in Grand Canyon National Park. When recreating within the steep canyon, be aware and alert.

If a rockfall occurs, the park service advises visitors to safely move out of the way. If it is not possible to move out of the way of falling rock, seek shelter behind a large and stable rock feature and place your backpack over your head.

Although rockfall can occur at any time, the risk can become increased due to water freezing behind the cliff walls.

When the water freezes, it can cause the cracks behind rocks to expand occasionally lodging the rocks out of place.

Winter Driving Conditions

Checkpoint for entering Grand Canyon in winter, with a sign that reads "icy road ahead" with little light, either at dusk or dawn.

The elevation on the South Rim is 7,000 feet, and winter weather conditions are not uncommon!

Throughout the winter months, visitors driving the park roads should use caution and slow down. Snow and ice may be lingering on the roads.

Things to Do in the Grand Canyon in Winter

Backpack into the Grand Canyon

View as you hike into the Grand Canyon in winter, with snow covering the top edges of the red rocks and blanketing the trees.

Backcountry permits are hard to come by during the busy season. Once the winter months come around, a permit to camp in the backcountry is a little easier to come by.

Backpacking is one of the best ways to experience the vastness of the Grand Canyon while exploring more remote terrain.

One of the most recommended overnight backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon is to Bright Angel Campground.

This trail has a lot of sun exposure making it difficult to do in the heat of summer, but comfortable during the wintertime!

This backcountry camp offers potable water and toilets year-round, and it is at the very bottom of the canyon about 1/2 mile from the Colorado River.

Bright Angel Campground is about 10 hiking miles from the South Rim.

Keep in mind the first day would be primarily hiking down into the canyon, while your second day would be mostly uphill! The trail’s high sun exposure keeps it free of snow and ice most of the time.

Mule Trips

Mules wearing a winter pelt and saddle traveling into the Grand Canyon, which has some snow on the side of the trail.

There are mule trips offered year-round on Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim.

Going on one of these excursions in the wintertime offers a welcome relief from the hot summer sun!

Winter mule trips vary in length and type of terrain. If you are short on time and not a fan of traveling steep terrain on a mule, you may enjoy the Canyon Vistas Ride. This excursion is a short 3-hour scenic trip along the canyon rim.

Visitors with more time to spare can choose to book a multi-day trip that includes an overnight stay at the Phantom Ranch.

The historic and well-known ranch sits at the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the east side of Bright Angel Creek.

A mule trip to Bright Angel Creek is a great alternative to backpacking!

Winter Landscape Photography

View of the North Rim from Yaki Point in winter at the Grand Canyon South Rim in Arizona, high elevation points blanketed in snow surrounded by trees.

Grand Canyon National Park’s breathtaking landscape becomes something even more picturesque once the snow begins to fall. The tall canyon walls become dusted with snow and the cliff’s red colors pop.

Visitors hoping to capture Grand Canyon’s winter landscape can travel the Desert View Drive along State Route 64 while using the marked turnouts and designated parking areas to find the perfect angles.

Since many of the trails stay open year-round, photographers can also hike to scenic vistas, such as Grandview Point and Mather Point.

Pin This Guide to Winter in the Grand Canyon!

Winter in Zion National Park: What to Know Before You Go

Many outdoor enthusiasts argue that winter in Zion is the best time to visit this beloved national park in southwest Utah!

Home to Angels Landing and the famous Emerald Pools, Zion National Park is often ranked as one of the most visited national parks in the United States.

However, in the winter, Zion’s tall canyon walls become accented in powdery white snow, and the crowds of summer become a distant memory. 

Although the shift in seasons may change the scenery, there are still many fun activities in Zion National Park in the winter! However, there are a few things you should know about visiting Zion in winter, first.

Zion Winter Road Closures

Curve in the road going through a snow covered section of Zion National Park in the winter on a sunny day

Zion Scenic Drive

During peak visitation in the summertime and between December 24th – January 2nd, the Zion Scenic Drive can not be accessed by personal vehicle.

All visitors wishing to explore the Zion Scenic Drive by vehicle must use the park’s shuttle bus system.

The wintertime buses generally run between 8 am and 5 pm and can be used to access trailheads for hikes like Emerald Pools and the West Rim.

When the shuttle bus is not operating in Zion National Park, visitors can use their personal vehicles to access the trailheads and attractions along the Zion Scenic Drive.

The park service recommends arriving at trailheads early in the day because trailheads do fill up. Once a trailhead is full, there will be no more parking allowed, so it is a good idea to have a secondary plan in place.

Zion Mount-Carmel Highway

For visitors traveling from Springdale, UT to the eastern side of the park near Mt Carmel Junction, the Zion Mount-Carmel Highway is the shortest route. This drive does pass under the famous Zion Mount-Carmel Tunnel, which is just over 1 mile long!

Passenger vehicles can pass through the tunnel at any time, but oversized vehicles do have a few prerequisites and restrictions.

All vehicles 11’4” tall or taller or 7’10” wide or wider, including attachments and accessories, will require a tunnel permit. Tunnel permits can be obtained at the entrance stations and cost $15 in addition to park entrance fees.

The final obligation of oversized vehicles using the tunnel is that the vehicles must use the tunnel during operating hours, which are between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm in the winter.

Semi-trucks, vehicles over 13’1”, and single vehicles over 40’ long are prohibited. For more information on prohibited tunnel vehicles or using the tunnel, contact Zion National Park at (435) 772-3256.

Kolob Canyons Road

Wintertime conditions such as impassable snow and icy roads can cause frequent temporary closures on Kolob Canyons Road. The road is maintained throughout the wintertime and is open to private vehicles year-round.

Kolob Terrace Road and Lava Point Road

The Kolob Terrace Road is open year-round. However, 4-wheel drive and tire chains may be required to pass safely through the winter driving conditions.

West Rim Road

The West Rim Road closes during the winter season.

Zion Winter Hours of Operation and Facilities

Snow on the valley floor of Zion National Park, next to a small river, with snow-covered trees and red cliff rock faces showing a winter Zion landscape

Although Zion National Park is always open to the public, some of the facilities do undergo reduced hours of operation come wintertime.

If you are visiting Zion National Park in the winter, you will want to be aware of these facility hours and seasonal closures:

Zion Canyon Visitor Center: 8:00 am – 4:00 pm

Zion Canyon Wilderness Desk: 8:00 am – 10:00 am and 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm

Park Store: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

Kolob Canyons Visitor Center: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm

Zion Human History Museum: closed

Zion Nature Center: closed

It is always a good idea to begin a national park trip with a stop at the visitor center. This is a great way to make sure you have the most up to date information, and it allows you to review your itinerary with professional park staff. They may even have some insider tips to share with you!

Winter Camping in Zion National Park

Snow-covered mountain near the Watchman Campground, with a partly cloudy sky in the background. Red rock showing behind the snow.

Many who come to Zion National Park choose to camp during their visits. During the summer months, there are three different campgrounds: Watchman Campground, South Campground, and Lava Point Campground.

However, Lava Point and South close in the fall leaving Watchman Campground as the only front country year-round camping option in Zion National Park in winter.

Although there are many other lodging accommodations and campgrounds in the town of Springdale, UT, winter visitors with their hearts set on camping at Watchman Campground should plan to arrive early for first come, first serve camping beginning in December.

The campground capacity does reduce for the winter season in Zion!

Winter Safety in Zion National Park

Icy Trails

With limited daylight and cold nighttime temperatures in the wintertime, one of the greatest cold season hazard in Zion Canyon becomes icy trails and icy chains.

Many of the most popular trails, including Angels Landing, remain open year-round. It’s not uncommon to have clear dry trails.

However, ice may be lingering in the shady sections of high elevation trails, which can be especially dangerous on trails like Angels Landing which have sheer-face drops and require the use of chains for leverage!

To combat icy trails, many hikers choose to carry along Yaktrax or spikes. These handy accessories will help you keep your footing on slick surfaces.

Hypothermia

A woman in a lavender top and leggings hiking the ridge of Angel's Landing covered in a light snow, looking over a snow-covered valley in Zion in winter.

When your body temperature falls to dangerously cool levels, you begin to experience hypothermia.

Although Zion National Park is well-known for its mild wintertime temperatures, wet clothes combined with lower temps found in the narrow canyons can create a high-risk.

To avoid hypothermia, the park service recommends wearing non-cotton clothing and eating high-energy foods before chill takes effect.

Thermal layers and leggings will keep you a lot warmer than cotton, and be sure to also bring a waterproof jacket in case of rain, sleet, or snow.

Rockfall

Rock formations covered in snow, surrounded by fog on a wintry day in Zion national park

Rockfall is a year-round hazard in Zion National Park. When recreating within the steep canyon, be aware and alert.

If a rockfall occurs, the park service advises visitors to safely move out of the way. If it is not possible to move out of the way of falling rock, seek shelter behind a large and stable rock feature and place your backpack over your head.

Although rockfall can occur at any time, the risk can become increased due to water freezing behind the cliff walls. When the water freezes, it can cause the cracks behind rocks to expand occasionally lodging the rocks out of place.

Rain is also a big risk for causing rockslides, so even if it’s not freezing or snowing, you do have to be aware when visiting Zion in the winter!

Things to Do in Zion in Winter

Snowshoe to Observation Point

Kolob Canyon walls covered in a light snow which shows from underneath the red rock, a stormy sky with dark clouds above.

If you are fortunate enough to visit Zion National Park after a fresh snowfall, you may be able to cross country ski or snowshoe on some of the park trails! The higher elevation areas in Zion can hold snow from late October until March.

Kolob Canyons’ high  elevation makes it a great place to have fun in the snow all winter long. However, if you are looking for a snowshoe adventure in the main part of Zion National Park, you must check out the trail to Observation Point!

Beginning from the Weeping Rock Trail, hike up the switchbacks and out of the deep canyon. You may not need snowshoes at the beginning part of the hike, but the East Rim is known for holding deep snow. Check current conditions with a ranger before departing!

The trail to Observation Point is much wider than the trail to Angels Landing, but it has quite a bit more elevation gain. From Observation Point, you will be 700 feet higher than the summit at Angels Landing! This 8-mile round trip hike includes a look at Echo Canyon as well as one of the most iconic views in all of Zion National Park.

Take a Scenic Drive Through Zion Canyon

Snow-covered canyon walls with a sunny sky with some clouds, a plowed road that is empty winding through Zion in winter.

Parts of the Zion Scenic Drive are closed to private vehicles during the summer season. Once the crowds disperse, the shuttle bus shuts down, and visitors are allowed to travel through this section of Zion National Park in their own vehicles.

Traveling this scenic route in your personal vehicle allows for the opportunity to stop as needed and take in the gorgeous canyon views. This 57-mile scenic drive is well worth the trip with chances to see wildlife and the ability to stop frequently for photographs. The drive takes about 1.5 hours depended on the number of detours you choose to explore!

Most travelers begin the drive near St. George, UT, and continue through Zion National Park toward Mt Carmel Junction.

Try for Wildlife Viewing

Two goats or sheep with horns looking at the camera, perched on some snow on a red rock landscape in Zion National Park in winter.

There is no better season than winter to spot some of Zion National Park’s wild turkeys roaming the canyon.

Although some of the park wildlife hibernates during the wintertime, it is still possible to spot mule deer, bighorn sheep, and even eagle along the Virgin River!

Binoculars and a keen eye may be necessary to spot some of these well-camouflaged residents. Roaming the park after a fresh snowfall may make it easier to spot deer and bighorn sheep.

Practice Your Wintertime Photography

View of Zion's red rock cliff landscape juxtaposed with bits of white snow in the higher elevation crevices of the canyon on a blue sky winter day in Zion National Park

Zion National Park’s beautiful landscape becomes something even more picturesque once the snow begins to fall. The tall cliffs become dusted with powdery white snow and the wall’s red colors begin to pop.

Visitors hoping to capture Zion’s winter landscape can travel the Zion Scenic Drive while using turnouts and designated parking areas to find the perfect angle. Since many of the trails stay open year-round, photographers can also hike to scenic vistas like Angels Landing and Observation Point.

Pin This Guide to Visiting Zion in Winter!

Winter in Glacier National Park: 21 Things to Know Before You Go!

Towering peaks, lush meadows, alpine lakes, and abundant wildlife sightings await visitors in Glacier National Park no matter the time of year.

A well-known piece of the Crown of the Continent, Glacier National Park is home to over 700 miles of hiking trails, making it a paradise for outdoor adventures!

In the summertime, grizzly bear can be spotted grazing in the meadows and the tall peaks of the Northern Rocky Mountains reflect in the icy blue waters of Lake McDonald. The highest peaks in Glacier can hold deep snow all summer long depending on the year, but many of the hiking trails are accessible without snowpack between June and September.

Glacier National Park quickly begins to transform into a winter wonderland come late fall. Although the backcountry in Glacier National Park is more accessible during the warm season, there is still much to explore and see once the snow begins to fall.

However, a winter vacation to Glacier National Park still requires some forethought and planning due to challenges that snow and closures present. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Glacier National Park in winter!

Glacier National Park Winter Road Conditions

Going to the Sun Mountain from the East Tunnel of the Going to the Sun Road, the sides of the mountain are covered in a light snow, road has been plowed before the road closes in Glacier National Park in winter.

Going-to-the-Sun Road

The stretch of road between the Lake McDonald Lodge and St. Mary Entrance is closed throughout the wintertime. When the road closes is entirely dependent on weather and road conditions.

The Going-to-the-Sun road reopens again once the national park operators can plow the alpine section of road clear of snow and it is deemed safe for private vehicle traffic. Due to the somewhat unpredictable mountain weather, there are no set opening or closing dates.

This road is considered one of the best scenic drives in the USA, but in the wintertime, it is socked in under many feet of snow with even deeper snowdrifts!

Once spring approaches, the road sees various stages of reopening. Be sure to call ahead for an accurate and updated road conditions report.

West Entrance to Lake McDonald Lodge

This is the only section of road that stays open year-round, weather permitting. This ten-mile stretch of road from the West Entrance to the Lake McDonald Lodge is plowed throughout the winter to allow for private vehicle traffic.

Just beyond the Lake McDonald Lodge, the road is gated to prevent further travel.

Many Glacier Road

The road to the Many Glacier Hotel is closed between November and April due to impassable winter road conditions. Folks who wish to explore this section of the park in the snow must either snowshoe or ski down the road.

Two Medicine Road

This road also goes unplowed during the wintertime and is considered closed once the snow is impassable. Call to talk to a ranger at Glacier National Park for current road conditions.

Inside North Fork Road

The Inside North Fork Road travels the western boundary of Glacier National Park leading travelers towards the Canadian Border. During the summer, the road is bumpy and is best taken at a leisurely pace. Once the snow begins to pile up, the road closes to private vehicle traffic.

Camas Road

The Camas Road, which connects West Glacier to Polebridge closes due to impassable snow conditions. However, it does transition into a fun scenic snowshoe trail once the snow is deep enough.

Winter Weather in Glacier National Park

An empty bench with footstep tracks next to it, looking out over Lake McDonald and all the snow-covered mountains surrounding it.

Winter in Glacier National Park can be summed up in a word: cold. I mean, the word ‘glacier’ in the name should be a hint!

Here is the average temperatures for winter months in Glacier National Park (which I’ll call November through March)

November: Average highs of 33° F and average lows of 21° F, with approximately 19 days of rain or snow.

December: Average highs of 27° F and average lows of 14° F, with approximately 19 days of rain or snow.

January: Average highs of 30° F and average lows of 17° F, with approximately 19 days of rain or snow.

February: Average highs of 32° F and average lows of 14° F, with approximately 16 days of rain or snow.

March: Average highs of 39° F and average lows of 20° F, with approximately 18 days of rain or snow.

Winter Hours of Operation and Facilities in Glacier NP

Snow-covered evergreen trees next to a lake, in front of a pyramid-shaped mountain covered in light snow.

Although recreation in Glacier National Park is technically open year-round, some of the facilities undergo reduced hours of operation or close completely come wintertime.

However, note that restrooms and potable water are available at the Apgar Visitor Center year-round.

If you are planning to visit Glacier National Park during the off-season, which is between late September and early May, you will want to be aware of these changes to facility operations:

Apgar Visitor Center: Closed during the winter. Outdoor informational exhibits are open year-round.

Logan Pass Visitor Center: Closed during the winter.

St. Mary Visitor Center: Closed during the winter.

Apgar Village Camp Store: Open intermittently throughout winter.

Backcountry Permit Offices: Call to assure staffing.

Note: All in-park lodging is closed during the wintertime, so you will want to stay in a nearby town, like West Glacier, Hungry Horse, or Whitefish.

Since Glacier National Park is home to such a rugged winter environment, it is a good idea to begin your trip by calling ahead to talk with a park ranger.

Where to Stay near Glacier National Park in Winter

Since you can’t actually stay in the park in the winter, you’ll have to stay nearby. Luckily, there are plenty of great options: these ones are all in Whitefish, which has the most options in terms of accommodations, but you can also look at West Glacier, Hungry Horse, or Kalispell.

Luxury

Lodge at Whitefish Lake: This cozy 4-star lodge boasts a beautiful location, an on-site spa, cozy rooms, and an award-winning restaurant — what else could you want when visiting Glacier in winter? The Spa is a great place to relax after a day recreating in Glacier National Park, with massages, facials, treatments, a steam room, a hot tub, a relaxation room, and more in their wellness center!
>> Book your stay the Lodge at Whitefish Lake here

Mid-Range

The Firebrand: This chic boutique hotel is one of Whitefish’s newest offerings, and it’s a great place with tons of personality. Amenities include a fitness center, ski storage and ski pass sales, and on-site restaurants and bars. Cozy robes and luxe en-suite bathrooms make each room feel spa-perfect.
>> Book a stay at the Firebrand here

Budget

Grouse Mountain Lodge: This cozy lodge is no-frills, but it’s a lovely place to stay in the winter when all you want is a roaring fireplace, lovely log cabin vibes, and snow-covered scenery! It has some great amenities including an outdoor firepit and hot tub as well as an indoor pool and a Finnish-style dry sauna.

Winter Camping in Glacier National Park

The unfrozen surface of Lake McDonald in early winter in Glacier National Park, reflecting the snow-covered mountains with a patch of fog on a sunny winter day.
Lake McDonald, where you’ll find the only winter Glacier campground at Apgar Campground

Many national park travelers like to camp during their outdoor adventures. Glacier National Park is home to thirteen front-country campgrounds, which are spread throughout the one million acre park!

During the busy season between May and most of September, many of the popular campgrounds are on an online reservation system and are full each night.

Out of the thirteen front-country campgrounds, Apgar Campground on Lake McDonald is the only one that stays open year-round.

The campground sees reduced site availability and primitive camping only during the cold season. Primitive camping in Glacier National Park means there are vault toilets open, but no potable water available.

Luckily, if you are unable to snag a site inside the park, there are plenty of camping opportunities and lodging accommodations ranging in levels of luxury nearby in West Glacier and Hungry Horse.

Winter Safety in Glacier National Park

A man wearing weather-appropriate clothing hiking through the snow, exhibiting winter safety guidelines in Glacier National Park in the snow.

Hypothermia

When your body temperature falls to dangerously cool levels, you begin to experience hypothermia. Wet clothes combined with freezing outside temperatures can create a high-risk environment.

To avoid hypothermia, the park service recommends wearing non-cotton clothing and doing everything possible to avoid submerging yourself in water.

According to the National Park Service, water is the number one cause of fatality in Glacier. If you are recreating near water, avoid walking on slippery rocks and crossing over moving water on thin snowbridges.

Staying Found

Trails covered in a fresh layer of snow can become difficult to follow. As you snowshoe, ski, or hike along, pay close attention to trail markers and junctions signs. Cell phone coverage is spotty to nonexistent in most areas of Glacier National Park. If you do become lost, stay where you are, and wait for rescue.

Always pack a map with navigation tools, and remember to tell someone where you are going before departing for the trail. If you are unsure of your abilities, always go with companions.

Avalanche

The deep powdery snow combined with the steep mountain terrain in Glacier National Park is the perfect formula for avalanches.

If you plan to recreate in the backcountry during the winter season, you should be professionally trained in avalanche safety and know how to use the appropriate safety gear.

Snowbridges

The thin layers of snow and ice covering water, crevasses, or massive snow caves can be difficult to detect. The fragile ice can give way to your body weight and leave you victim to the hazards below.

Before recreating on glaciers, in snowfields, or near bodies of water in the winter, be sure to talk to a park ranger about snowbridge safety.

Wildlife

Glacier National Park is home to diverse and magnificent wildlife. Although there will be many great opportunities to view wildlife, always make sure you are doing so safely. If it is a hoofed animal, such as moose, elk, sheep, and goats, keep back 75 feet. For grizzly and black bears, always try to maintain a distance of at least 300 feet.

Although bear hibernate in the wintertime, Glacier National Park is still grizzly country. Carry bear spray and follow appropriate bear aware protocol while recreating.

Things to Do in Glacier National Park in Winter

Go for a Scenic Drive

Icy surface of Lake McDonald as seen in winter, wth snow and ice on the banks of the lake, with snow-covered mountains in the distance.

As you have learned, many of the roads in Glacier National Park shut down due to impassable snow in the wintertime. However, there is still enough roadway open to private vehicle traffic for a fun drive through the snowy mountains!

The section of road between the West Entrance and the Lake McDonald Lodge remains open year-round due to the exceptional plow operators. The 10-mile stretch of road winds along the scenic and picturesque shore of Lake McDonald.

Although you may not get to see the lake’s colorful rock shores in the wintertime, you can still appreciate the towering peaks, such as Stanton Mountain, McPartland Mountain, and Heavens Peak, in the background.

This drive is perfect for photographers hoping to capture the beauty of Glacier National Park’s front country. As you drive along, use the frequent turnouts to access the lake’s shore and capture every accessible angle.

It is common to spot whitetail deer roaming along the roadway, but keep an eye out for other wildlife like moose, elk, fox, and coyote.

The bear may be fast asleep during your visit, but if you’re coming during the late fall or early spring, it is possible to spot bear grazing along the shore.

Go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing

Female hiker in snowshoes with trekking poles wearing a black jacket and baby blue pants, looking over a snow-covered mountainous landscape in Glacier National park in the winter time.

Winter is the dominant season in Glacier National Park and all of northern Montana, since all the other seasons are so short-lived!

To make the best of the snowy months and continue exploring, strap on a pair of snowshoes or cross country skis.

The Apgar Village has a variety of ski and snowshoe trails for everyone to enjoy. For a short 3-mile outing, consider exploring the Lower McDonald Creek Trail.

Those who are looking for something a little longer in the Apgar Village area might like the 6-mile round trip trail to Rocky Point, which offers multiple viewpoints featuring Lake McDonald and surrounding peaks!

Take a scenic snowmobile ride

Snowmobile tracks on the frozen lake at Whitefish Lake in Whitefish, MT with houses and lodges in the background.

For those looking for a little high-octane adventure, rent a snowmobile and explore the backcountry areas around Glacier National Park for yourself.

While snowmobiling is not permitted within the park itself, you can snowmobile just outside of the park’s limits. Snowmobiling is one of the most popular winter activities for visitors to Northern Montana, with snowmobile tours departing from common bases like Whitefish and West Glacier.

I recommend traveling with Action Rentals, who offer independent and guided snowmobile rentals departing from Whitefish, MT.

Book a snowmobile rental here!

Go ice climbing

A woman in a pink jacket and red pants climbing up the icicles of a frozen waterfall with climbing equipment and harness.

Winter’s answer to rock climbing is ice climbing!

This fun activity allows you to scale up beautiful, otherworldly landscapes like frozen waterfalls and icy, snow-covered cliff edges, equipped with little more than ice picks and a harness.

Ice climbing is dangerous to do solo, so make sure you go with a trusted guide like Whitefish Vertical Adventures.

What to Pack for Glacier National Park in Winter

Baby blue and pastel pink sky at sunrise over the trees and mountains of the Montana winter landscape in Glacier National Park

Waterproof Parka: In the snow of Glacier in winter, you’ll want a really warm winter jacket, like this ultra-insulated North Face parka. I admit it’s a bit pricy, but it comes with a guarantee that it’ll last a lifetime.. and I tested this guarantee by sending in a zipper to be fixed which got damaged after 4 years of abuse wearing it every winter day to cycle 15 miles — my jacket came back like new and better than ever.

I’ve had my North Face parka for literally 10 years, and it’s held up from winters biking through New York City to multiple trips north of the Arctic Circle in places like Tromso and Abisko. It’ll serve you well in Glacier in winter!

Get the exact jacket I have here! 

Waterproof Pants: If you’re cross-country skiing or snowboarding or doing some winter hiking, you’ll absolutely want waterproof pants. Jeans put you at risk of hypothermia if you get wet, so avoid at all costs.

Snow Boots: Since you’ll likely be trudging through quite deep snow both in Glacier National Park and wherever you set up your base, you’ll absolutely need proper snow boots for a trip to Glacier in winter. I love these stylish and warm Sorel boots for women, which are waterproof and warm but also have plenty of traction. For added steadiness on your feet, throw on some Yaktrax to the bottom for grip on icy surfaces and pathways. These are a godsend (they saved me from eating it many times when I was in Tromso!)

Warm Leggings: There are two choices when it comes to a cozy base layer for your bottom half: fleece-lined for people with sensitive skin like me, and merino wool for people who don’t find wool itchy like I do. I own several pairs of these fleece-lined leggings in a variety of colors (I have black, gray, and maroon). Be sure to wear waterproof layers over this if you’ll be out in the snow, though! For people who like wool, merino wool leggings are the way to go – the absolute warmest you can get. However, it’s too much wool for me to handle, but I have particularly sensitive skin.

Fleece-Lined Knit Hat: If you enjoy fashion, winter can be a bit of a drag because you basically commit to one jacket (typically in a neutral color) for an entire season. I absolutely live for livening up my look with tons of different colors of knit hats. I have one in virtually every color, but I love red and yellow best for the best ‘pop’ of color against the snow. Since I have so many hats, I don’t really have anything special: just a snug knit hat lined in fleece and with a pompom that does absolutely nothing to add warmth but I love them anyway.

Thermal Top Layer: Again, what kind of thermal you go for will definitely depend on whether or not you have any skin sensitivities and if you can handle wool. I hate wool on anything but socks, so instead, I go for thin performance thermals like this Heat Plus layer from 32 Degrees. However, if you’re a fan of wool, a merino wool base layer will keep you insanely warm. Better yet, wool doesn’t trap odors the same way other materials do, meaning you can re-wear it several times before your under-layers will need to be washed — great for people who pack light!

An Enormous Scarf: I go for big, warm, and infinite-style scarfs. I tend to opt for bright, bold colors to liven up my look. I love these ones — they’re cheap and feel cashmere-soft, but they aren’t pricy like it.

Touchscreen Friendly Gloves: You’ll likely want to have your hands out of your pockets at times when you’re navigating on Google Maps, looking up something you’ve bookmarked (maybe this blog?), etc.! Most gloves these days tend to be touchscreen-friendly, but check before you buy. These gloves are cute, smartphone-compatible, and inexpensive.

Waterproof Gloves: You’ll also want to layer waterproof gloves over your touchscreen gloves if you’re snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, or anything where you are out and about in the snow and need your hands out for balance or gripping poles, etc.

Headlamp (and Extra Batteries): Glacier National Park in winter can get dark early — and quickly! — due to the early sunset time that naturally occurs in winter… plus the mountains making it get dark long before that! Bring a headlamp in case any outdoor excursions take longer than expected. You don’t want to get lost after dark in the snow. This Petzl headlamp is highly-rated and affordable.

Waterproof Backpack: You’ll want to keep your belongings dry, especially if you’re doing long treks on cross-country skis or snowshoes in the snow or freezing rain. Bring a waterproof backpack — you won’t regret it, especially if you’re carrying pricy camera equipment.

Snowshoes (optional): Many trails in Glacier National Park in winter will require proper snowshoes (different than snow boots — these allow you to ‘float’ on top of snow instead of sinking through it!) as well as trekking poles if you want to do some winter exploring. You can also rent them, but they’re pretty cheap to buy and will last you for future winter trips, so I recommend investing in them if you are a fan of snow travel.

Camera: You’ll want a camera to capture all that Glacier National Park winter beauty. I use and love my Sony A6000! It’s mirrorless, so it’s lightweight and perfect for a high-quality camera that won’t weigh you down. Be sure to bring a handful of extra batteries! Trust me, I’ve learned from many an experience in the cold photographing the Northern Lights that batteries burn out sooo much faster in the cold.

Battery Pack: Going off of what I said above, extend that to your phone as well! Cold weather depletes cell phone batteries extra quickly, so if you’re using your cell phone as your primary camera and navigation device (and who doesn’t these days?) you’ll absolutely want the ability to power up without a wall outlet while you’re out enjoying nature. I rely on an Anker battery pack to keep all my devices charged in the cold — and as a blogger who takes frequent winter trips to the Arctic and beyond with way more gear than a normal person needs, it’s served me very well!