About Fairbanks (Tanana Athabascan: Ch'elaat'uudze Yekh)
At 65 degrees north latitude, Fairbanks is renowned for the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, the midnight sun, and sunsets and sunrises that last forever. Basecamp to Denali National Park & Preserve, the Interior, and the Arctic — Fairbanks is the Golden Heart of Alaska. Home to just over 100,000 hearty souls, the Fairbanks region is the second-largest population center in Alaska.
Locals embrace the natural world and have created a vibrant river city in the far north. Where else can you travel to such a remote locale and still enjoy all the amenities of a charming downtown, a thriving arts community, rich Alaska Native culture, authentic Alaska activities and attractions, and endless opportunities for exploration?
HISTORY of Fairbanks
Fairbanks dates back to 1901, when E.T. Barnette cruised up the Tanana River on the SS Lavelle Young with 130 tons of supplies bound for the Tanacross goldfields. The next year an Italian prospector named Felix Pedro struck gold 12 miles to the north and Barnette’s trading post became a boomtown with hordes of miners stampeding into the area. The construction of the Alaska Railroad, the Alaska Highway, and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline all contributed greatly to the growth of Fairbanks. The city still has gold at its heart: the nearby Fort Knox Gold Mine is Alaska’s largest.
Getting to Fairbanks
Fairbanks sits at the confluence of the Richardson Highway, George Parks Highway, Steese Highway, and Elliott Highway, which is why it’s known as a hub city. The Fairbanks International Airport also serves Fairbanks with frequent flights from within Alaska as well as from the Lower 48 and even some international destinations. The Alaska Railroad offers service from Anchorage via Denali National Park & Preserve.
Things to Do in Fairbanks
Fairbanks is one of Alaska's best year-round destinations and visitors will find plenty to do whether they come for the long, warm summer days or to watch spectacular northern lights coloring the night sky during Aurora Season. With the summer sun shining up to 24 hours a day during the Midnight Sun Season from April 22 to August 20, the subarctic summer is filled with action and brimming with growth. In fact, from mid-May through mid-July Fairbanks experiences 70 straight days of daylight!
Experience the MIDNIGHT SUN
Whether you plan on going on a hike, floating down the Chena River, or having a late-night dessert on an outdoor deck, the rousing Midnight Sun Season is awesome and energizing. For locals, summertime middle-of-the-night activities include running, golfing, gardening, walking the dog, and even baseball—where the Alaska Goldpanners start their historic solstice game at 10:30pm. With the chance of a truly rainy day low, the average temperature hovering between 70 and 80 degrees, and the midnight sun simply refusing to set, this town enjoys one of the best summers the earth has to offer.
View the NORTHERN LIGHTS
From mid-August through mid-April, Fairbanks is one of the best places to view the northern lights in Alaska due to its location, hours of darkness in the winter, and auroral activity. While the northern lights can be seen from anywhere in town, the best opportunities for northern lights viewing happen away from the city's ambient light. Join a guided tour to let the locals take you to the best spots for northern lights viewing. For a more immersive experience, book a multi-day northern lights package, which will include northern lights viewing excursions, meals, and overnight stays at unique, remote lodging options specifically-designed for northern lights viewing.
Built alongside the Chena River, downtown Fairbanks is bustling year-round with a variety of shops, restaurants, museums, the Golden Heart Plaza, and historical buildings. A boat cruise of the Chena River, including some on a historical sternwheeler, is an excellent way to explore the city’s outlying areas.
Golden Heart Plaza
Golden Heart Plaza was built as a public space for people to recognize Fairbanks’ historical significance and celebrate its culture. The statue in the center of the plaza was designed by Malcolm Alexander and is called “The Unknown First Family," dedicated to families from the past, present, and future who make up the local community. The plaza has been awarded the title of one of the “Great Places in America.” Visitors can arrive at the plaza from the town by taking 1st Avenue at Cushman Street and heading toward the Chena River.
Just a couple miles away from downtown is Pioneer Park, Alaska's only historical theme park. History buffs should waste no time checking out this park, where museums, relics, rides, and restaurants all honor the gold rush. The park is spread across 44 acres and is one of Fairbanks’ most popular attractions. It’s also a top pick for families, as there’s something for everyone to enjoy in the park.
UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA FAIRBANKS
University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) is the original campus of the state's university system, founded in 1917 as the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines. Today the university has more than 8000 students that study at a beautiful campus on a hilltop west of downtown Fairbanks. On a clear day visitors can see Denali from the Alaska Range viewpoint on campus that includes an interpretive display describing the mountainous horizon. Guided campus tours are available on most weekdays.
UAF houses the University of Alaska Museum of the North with fascinating collections of natural history and art. It’s rightfully considered one of the finest museums in the state. The Robert G. White Large Animal Research Station features herds of musk oxen, reindeer, and caribou that researchers raise to study their unique adaptations to a sub-Arctic climate. There are viewing areas outside the fenced pastures or visitors can join naturalist-led tours to see the nursery and learn about the history, ecology, and biology of each species.
Also located on the edge of the UAF campus is the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, home to the five-acre Georgeson Botanical Garden. In the garden, visitors can learn about native plants growing under the midnight sun, examine Alaska's world-famous cabbages that are the size bushel baskets, and join a tour of the facility.
Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center
To discover more about Alaska Native culture in Fairbanks, spend some time in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center. The center has a variety of films, talks, and exhibits that document the history of different communities, and showcase their contributions to life in the city in modern times. The center also houses the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, including world-class exhibits of Alaska’s four seasons and stunning displays of Alaska Native art. Admission is free and the center is open year-round.
University of Alaska Museum of the North
The University of Alaska Museum of the North is a must-see attraction for Fairbanks first-timers. The museum showcases stories from people and places in Alaska, has award-winning exhibitions, and a souvenir shop bursting with special local treats. Be sure to stop by The Place Where You Go To Listen exhibit – a sound and light display driven by the real-time position of the moon and sun. The museum is home to the Gallery of Alaska, which examines the geology, history, and unusual aspects of each region of the state. Its most famous exhibit is Blue Babe, a 36,000-year-old bison found preserved in the permafrost by Fairbanks-area miners. In the museum theater, special programs are shown throughout the day, including an amazing multimedia presentation on the northern lights.
Fairbanks Community Museum
Housed in Historic City Hall, the Fairbanks Community Museum traces the city's history through an interesting collection of exhibits displaying mining artifacts from the past, sled dog racing equipment, a complete trapper's cabin, and a peek inside what life is like in Fairbanks when it's 60 below zero.
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
Motorheads rejoice, this auto museum is home to several one-of-a-kind vintage cars. Visitors can browse the display models, taking in the stylish fashion of the mannequins, and learning about the automobile’s (literal) journey over the years. Children under 5 can enter the museum for free.
Pioneer Air Museum & Fiarbanks Pioneer Museum
Both the Pioneer Air Museum and Pioneer Museum are located at Pioneer Park. Housed in the Gold Dome, the Pioneer Air Museum features aircraft used in Alaska from 1913 to 1948. There are also photographs and exhibits devoted to everything from the Land-Lease flights to Russia during World War II, to the airplane crash that killed Carl Eielson, the founder of Alaska Airlines. The Fairbanks Pioneer Museum focuses on the area's gold rush stampedes and history of early Fairbanks and the Interior through dioramas of early gold mines, art, artifacts, and a narrated presentation called "The Big Stampede" that tells stories of the time through a series of large gold rush oil paintings.
Fairbanks' top-of-the-world location makes it one of the best places on earth to see the captivating light of the aurora borealis, but that's not all there is to do in winter. Skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, ice fishing, tubing, and dog sledding abound. To get out into the backcountry, outfitters offer guided snowmobile tours in the Fairbanks area and Chena River State Recreation Area.
Fairbanks has a variety of Nordic ski trail systems, with many trails groomed for classic and skate skiing and lit for night skiing, including Birch Hill Recreation Area and trails around the University Alaska Fairbanks. The Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks stages ski races and other cross-country events throughout the year. If you're more in to downhill, you can shred at Skiland - home of the furthest north chairlift on the continent, and Moose Mountain - home to no chairlift all, where you take heated buses up the mountain between runs.
Dog sledding (or dog mushing) is a popular sport in Fairbanks, home of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. Within the area are almost a dozen sled dog kennels that offer guided tours and the opportunity for visitors to mush and work with their own team for a day or more. Also available are dog sled rides, multi-day expeditions, and mushing schools.
CHENA HOT SPRINGS RESORT
About 55 miles outside of town is Chena Hot Springs Resort, where visitors can soak in the soothing hot springs pools. Chena Hot Springs is a must-do activity for visitors to Fairbanks, whether you have a few hours or a couple days to spend here. The year-round resort features indoor and outdoor thermal pools and accommodations (lodge, cabins, and camping) with a focus on renewable energy and sustainability. If that wasn't enough, they offer a wide range of summer and winter tours including dog sledding, ATV tours, river trips, horseback riding, and more. There's nothing quite like watching the northern lights dance above you while soaking in a natural hot spring on a dark winter night.
Chena Hot Springs Resort is also home to the Aurora Ice Museum - constructed using more than one thousand tons of snow and ice and built by an ice art carving champion. The museum includes ice chandeliers, horses, furniture, and most importantly – an ice bar to refresh after a long day of exploring.
Chena River State Recreation Area
One of the best places for hiking in the Fairbanks area is the nearby Chena River State Recreation Area, with popular hikes including Granite Tors Trail and Angel Rocks Trail. It's also a great place to see moose, go fishing, camp, or launch a canoe, kayak, or raft on the Chena River.
Fairbanks offers excellent birding opportunities at Creamers Field Migratory Bird Refuge. The high point for many local birders is the refuge's Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival, when the return of the sandhill cranes is witnessed. The three-day event features naturalist talks, hikes into the refuge to see the cranes, crafts, and music.
With the Chena River running through the middle of the city, Fairbanks offers a wide variety of canoeing opportunities from leisurely day trips to overnight trips. Outfitters rent canoes, provide drop-off and pick-up transportation, and offer guided expeditions to many rivers in the area, including the Chena, Tanana, and Chatanika Rivers.
Charter fishing tour operators based in Fairbanks offer a wide range of adventures for visiting anglers. Outings include both guided charters on rivers and fly-in adventures to remote lakes, and ice fishing in winter. Species targeted include king salmon, northern pike, char, lake trout, and Arctic grayling.
Have a case of gold fever? Fairbanks is the perfect cure. Hardware stores and supply shops sell what you need to pan for gold and the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitor Center can provide a list of public areas where you can prospect without being a claim jumper. Located north of Fairbanks off the Steese Highway, Gold Dredge 8 is a five-story, 250-foot-long dredge that was built in 1928 and operated until 1959. Today it's a National Historic Site and one of the most visited dredges in Alaska. Tours are offered through the day during the summer and there's gold panning on site for those that want to try their luck.
One of Fairbanks' biggest attractions is an imaginary line: the Arctic Circle. Charter air companies offer a wide range of flightseeing tours out of Fairbanks that fly above the Arctic Circle into the Arctic Region of Alaska. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is accessible by small plane, and any trip up the famous Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay – also known as the “Haul Road” – begins in Fairbanks. Check out the city’s Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center for planning help.
Festivals & Events
One of Fairbanks' largest festivals is Golden Days, staged mid-July to commemorate Felix Pedro's discovery of gold and the founding of Fairbanks. The event features a parade, street fair, games, contests, entertainment, and reenactments.
Fairbanks hosts one of the best summer solstice celebrations in Alaska on summer solstice weekend, when the midnight sun shines all night long. This free event includes a downtown street fair with arts, crafts, food, live music, and entertainment. Don’t miss the Midnight Sun Baseball Game, starting at 10:30pm on solstice evening.
The Tanana Valley State Fair is Alaska's oldest state fair and takes place in August. The fairgrounds on the north side of town come alive with entertainment, livestock contests, craft booths, and lots to eat.
One of Fairbanks' most unique events is the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics. This four-day event attracts Indigenous people from across the north who display amazing athletic abilities in contests like the Alaska High Kick and Eskimo stick pull. There's also dancing and cultural performances in traditional regalia.
The World Ice Art Championships, held in February and March, attracts talented ice carvers from around the world. The event is one of the largest ice art competitions in the world, featuring stunning ice sculptures lit up with colorful lights.
The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race is staged in February along a 1,023-mile route between Fairbanks and Whitehorse. Along the way mushers and their teams climb four mountains over 3000 feet in elevation high and run along hundreds of miles of the frozen Yukon River.
Alaska Native performers and artists gather in March for the Festival of Native Arts, a multi-day event that celebrates Alaska Native and Indigenous song, dance, and arts.
Best Time to Visit Fairbanks
If you’re looking for daylight and warm temps, the best time to visit is June through August, when summer is in full swing. Temperatures can get up into the 80s and it doesn’t get completely dark for 70 days straight, from May 17 – July 27. Keep in mind that July to August is peak visitor season in the city and accommodation prices can be more expensive.
For a less busy and more affordable visit, the shoulder seasons are equally great in Fairbanks. Fall brings crisp and bright days with temperatures falling to the 40s, and seeing the changing colors is well worth the extra layers. The cooler weather makes hiking more comfortable, and the darker skies mark the start of the northern lights viewing season.
The winter months from December to March are the peak times to see the northern lights. The days can get as cold as -30 degrees and snowfall can be heavy. Accommodation prices increase slightly in winter due to the influx of northern lights seekers and the many winter festivals that the city hosts, but they typically don’t exceed the prices for summer.
Lodging in Fairbanks
From large hotels to cozy cabins, there's a wide variety of places to stay in Fairbanks. Several national and locally owned hotels and lodges can be found in town, some featuring riverfront views of the Chena River. If you're interested in connecting with locals, book one of the many bed & breakfasts for cozy accommodations both in and outside of town. Cabins can be rented in town and in remote areas for a true Alaska experience. Prefer to camp? Fairbanks is home to several campground and RV parks.
Visitors to Fairbanks are spoiled with choices when it comes to finding somewhere to stay. Whether you’re looking for a cozy hideout in nature, a chic hotel downtown, or a one-of-a-kind accommodation experience, Fairbanks has it all. Below are just a few of the best areas for lodging in the city.
For travelers looking to be close to all the action, downtown is where you want to stay. The vibrant zone is packed with museums and restaurants and is close to the Chena River, which boasts beautiful views across the water. Downtown has many accommodation types, including luxury hotels, family apartments, and tiny homes. Properties are available to suit all budget types.
You’ll find a variety of lodging near the airport, from budget options to riverfront hotels overlooking the Chena River. These properties are just a few miles from downtown and are close to grocery stores and restaurants.
Out of Town
For those looking for some peace and quiet with a side of adventure, Fairbanks is home to an array of accommodations located outside of town, ranging from high-end luxury lodges to cabins build specifically for northern lights viewing to cozy family-run B&Bs and guesthouses. Away from the ambient city light, staying at these accommodations gives you even better chances of seeing the aurora borealis.
Still looking for more ideas? Read 7 Things to Do in Fairbanks.
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For Alaska's day-to-day weather, it’s best to plan for a bit of everything. Learn more about weather in this area.