Girdwood, Fairbanks and Nome Gold Rush Heritage

This is a great gold-rush-focused addition to a longer Alaska trip, or the starting point for other history-oriented travels throughout the state.

Day 1

Start your day early with a guided tour of a working gold mine in Girdwood. Located just 35 miles south of Anchorage, Girdwood was established in the mid 1890s as the first gold strikes were made along Turnagain Arm. Nowadays, you can pan for gold and take a guided tour of historical buildings, or just watch other miners who regularly work the gold-bearing creek. Enjoy lunch at one of Girdwood’s excellent restaurants, then take a tram ride to the top of Mount Alyeska, which offers a panoramic view of seven hanging glaciers in the surrounding peaks. From there, it’s time to head back to Anchorage for a late-afternoon flight to Nome, where you'll spend the night.

Day 2

Spend a day working a local creek for gold. Nome tour companies offer a variety of gold panning tours and experiences, and many can combine a day of gold panning with fishing for salmon or a visit to historical buildings and cabins from the early 1900s. To learn more about the gold rush that drove settlement in Nome, visit the city-owned Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum on Front Street. This small museum is packed with artifacts and stories of the gold rush, Alaska Native culture and dog mushing, including the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Take a photo in front of the largest gold pan in the United States and the famous burled arch that marks the end of the Iditarod, both located in downtown Nome, or spend a few hours beachcombing along the coast where the Bering Sea meets the Seward Peninsula. Some of the gold mining equipment you’ll see sitting on the beach or moored in shallow waters is still in use. Catch the last evening flight back to Anchorage, where you’ll spend the night before taking a morning flight to Fairbanks.

Girdwood, Fairbanks, and Nome gold rush heritage

Day 3

Start your day in Fairbanks with a visit to the University of Alaska Museum of the North, located on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This excellent museum features the state’s largest public display of gold and a wealth of information on the role this rare mineral has played in Alaska’s history. Here, you’ll learn about the gold strike by Italian immigrant Felix Pedro that brought hordes of gold seekers to Interior Alaska and spurred the founding of Fairbanks. Soak up the last light of the long, sunny summer evening as you enjoy dinner on an outdoor deck at one of several Fairbanks restaurants situated on the banks of the Chena River.

Day 4

Ready to get your hands dirty? Fairbanks has several hands-on gold panning tours to choose from. Some of them also include a stop at the Trans Alaska Pipeline viewing area on the Steese Highway; if your tour doesn’t include this, make sure to visit on your own. Here, you can get a close-up view of one of Alaska’s most under-appreciated engineering marvels: the 48-inch-diameter pipeline that carries crude oil 800 miles from the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay to the town of Valdez on the state’s southern coastline, where it’s loaded onto barges for shipment to refineries. Discovery of the oil spurred a 20th-century boom that had similar effects to the gold rushes of the 19th century, expanding communities and industries as eager workers flocked to the state. Later in the day, head to downtown Fairbanks and spend some time at the Fairbanks Community Museum, where you can see packing lists and other memorabilia from some of the earliest gold rush prospectors, and the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center, which offers wonderful displays on local culture and the history of gold mining in the area.

Day 5

Spend the day exploring Fairbanks’ delightful Pioneer Park, which features dozens of shops, small museums and historical artifacts scattered throughout a large outdoor park in the heart of Fairbanks. Many of the buildings are themselves artifacts that were relocated to the park, and some of them have been refurbished to mimic decor typical of the early 1900s in this area. Don’t miss the massive Riverboat Nenana and historic gold-mining equipment, all of which are on display throughout the park. End your evening with a delightful dinner theater revue that explains the town’s history in song, dance and hilarity, then spend the night in one of Fairbanks’ many comfortable hotels before you catch your flight home.