A winter visit to Fairbanks offers some of the best possible conditions for viewing the northern lights, or aurora borealis. Use this six-day itinerary to enjoy the best of Fairbanks by winter, including plenty of opportunities to see the aurora shining overhead.
Day 1 Fairbanks
Arrive in Fairbanks; you can get here by plane or, on certain days, aboard the Alaska Railroad‘s Aurora Winter train from Anchorage. Once you get settled in, dress in layers and explore the wooded, 1,800-acre Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, where you might be lucky enough to sight chickadees, redpolls or grosbeaks—small songbirds that are more often spotted here in winter than in summer.
Next, head out to the Jeff Studdert Racegrounds to catch the competitive sled dog races that are held most weekends during the winter season. When you turn in for the night, make sure you let the staff at your hotel know that you’d like a wake-up call if the northern lights come out.
Day 2 Fairbanks
Fuel up with a hardy breakfast of Alaskan sourdough pancakes and locally made blueberry syrup before a day in the outdoors. Fairbanks offers many professional tour operators that can help you explore the nearby countryside the real Alaskan way: Atop a snowmobile (or as they say in Alaska, a snowmachine) or mushing a dog sled.
Day 3 Fairbanks
Take to the slopes for downhill skiing or snowboarding at any of several local resorts fully equipped with rental gear. If you prefer to stick to flat ground, cross-country skiers and snowshoers have plenty of terrain to explore in the hills around Fairbanks. Enjoy dinner at one of the rustic lodges or brewpubs on the outskirts of Fairbanks, then rent a winter-ready car and make the short drive to Cleary Summit, a favorite viewing spot for the northern lights. They’re not visible every night, but it’s well worth on the chance they come out while you’re there.
Day 4 Fairbanks and Chena Hot Springs
Try your luck ice fishing with a local guide. In the afternoon, head out to Chena Hot Springs. Make sure to bring your swimsuit so you can enjoy a leisurely dip in the rock-lined outdoor lake, which is warmed by water from the natural hot springs. Cap off the evening with a Sno-Cat tour up a nearby mountain for a panoramic view of the winter landscape and, if you’re lucky, breathtaking displays of the northern lights overhead. You’ll spend the night in the nearby resort, but make sure to ask for an early wakeup call so you can get back to Fairbanks in time for your next tour.
Day 5 Arctic Circle or Rural Communities
Get a bird’s eye view of Alaska’s winter landscape with a flightseeing tour that takes you past the Arctic Circle to one of the oilfield work camps along the Dalton Highway, AKA the Haul Road, which runs all the way to Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s north coast. Or, if you’d rather spend more time in town, book a short trip on a mail plane that visits isolated communities not accessible by road. The plane stops in each community just long enough to drop off or take on packages, and sometimes passengers too, so it’s a fun, fast way to catch a glimpse at real life in an Alaska village. At the end of the day, you’ll return to Fairbanks.
Day 6 Fairbanks
Visit the University of Alaska Museum and see award-winning exhibits on Alaska’s cultural and natural history, including an extensive gold display and Blue Babe, a 36,000-year-old Pleistocene steppe bison that was mummified in the Interior Alaska permafrost. Leave time to catch one of the educational movies shown in the museum’s theater, then browse for authentic Alaska Native art in the gift shop and Fairbanks’s downtown galleries. Fairbanks is booming with art and live music, even during the winter; consider taking in a local concert or a gallery show before you turn in for one last night in your hotel. Tomorrow, you’ll board a plane from Fairbanks’s busy international airport for your flight home.