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.
About Fairbanks (Tanana Athabascan: Ch'elaat'uudze Yekh)
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!
Things to do
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!
Whether you plan on going on a nature hike, watching a glorious garden grow, floating down the Chena River or having a late-night dessert on an outdoor deck, the rousing Midnight Sun Season is awesome and energizing. 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 at 70 degrees, and the midnight sun simply refusing to set, this town enjoys one of the best summers the earth has to offer.
Northern Lights Viewing
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.
Fairbanks's top-of-the-world location also makes it one of the best places on earth to see the captivating light of the aurora borealis, view amazing outdoor ice sculptures, and experience the exhilarating sport of dog mushing. This surprising trio of events makes winter a traveler's snowy paradise. Not to mention that there are always a multitude of other activities, cultural celebrations, art exhibitions, and sporting events happening throughout the winter.
Skiing, ice skating, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice fishing, tubing, and ice hockey abound. Behold three-ton pieces of ice being turned into works of art and visit Santa in North Pole. Journey above the Arctic Circle or discover the incredible warmth of Alaska hot springs at the end of an adventure-filled day.
Fairbanks has a variety of Nordic ski trail systems, with many trails groomed for classic and skate skiing and lit for night skiing. The Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks stages ski races and other cross-country events throughout the year.
Sled 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.
During the winter outfitters offer guided snowmobile tours in the Fairbanks area and Chena River State Recreation Area, with snow machines and transportation provided for visiting snowmobilers.
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 historic sternwheeler, is an excellent way to explore the city’s outlying areas.
Just a couple miles away from downtown is Pioneer Park, Alaska's only historic theme park. This 44 acre, family-friendly park brings the area's history to life through museums, art galleries, a historic sternwheeler, an operational train and carousel, and buildings that date back to the gold rush era.
University of Alaska Fairbanks
University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) is the original campus of the state's university system, having been 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 a display detailing the mountainous horizon. Guided campus tours are available on most weekdays.
UAF houses the University of Alaska Museum of the North, where the collections feature both natural history and art items. 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.
Explore Arctic Alaska
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.
Chena Hot Springs Resort & Chena River State Recreation Area
Chena River State Recreation Area is a great place to see moose, launch a canoe, kayak, or raft on the Chena River, or stretch your legs on the popular Angel Rocks Trail. At the end of the Chena Hot Spsrings Road is the Chena Hot Springs Resort, where tired travelers can soak in the soothing hot springs pools. The year-round resort features indoor and outdoor pools, accommodations (lodge, cabins, and camping), an ice museum, and tours, with a focus on renewable energy and sustainability. There's nothing quite like watching the northern lights dance above you while soaking in a natural hot spring on a dark winter night.
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 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. 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 and 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 No. 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.
The Morris Thomson Cultural and Visitor Center in downtown Fairbanks houses the Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau and 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.
Located on the UAF campus is the University of Alaska Museum of the North - one of Alaska's finest museums. The architecturally innovative building was inspired by alpine ridges, glaciers, the Yukon River, and the northern lights. The museum is home to the Gallery of Alaska, which examines the geology, history, and unusual aspects of each region of the state. The museum's most famous exhibit is Blue Babe, a 36,000-year-old bison found preserved in the permafrost by Fairbanks-area miners. The Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery houses northern artwork ranging from ancient ivory carvings to contemporary photographs. In the museum theater, special programs are shown throughout the day, including an amazing multimedia presentation on the northern lights.
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.
The Pioneer Air Museum is located at Pioneer Park. Housed in the Gold Dome, the 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.
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.
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.
Staying in Fairbanks
From large hotels to cozy cabins, Fairbanks has a wide variety of accommodation options. 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.
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.