Chase the Midnight Sun
Alaska's long summer days are legendary. But because Alaska is so big, not every community gets the same amount of midnight sun. In northern cities like Utqiagvik/Barrow, residents won't see a single sunset from mid-May to mid-August; the sun circles low over the horizon instead of dipping below it. A few hundred miles to the south in Fairbanks the sun will barely dip below the horizon, creating a lovely pink- and peach-shaded twilight before it rises again for another day.
Heading further south, the cities of Anchorage and Juneau receive a more genuine twilight that fades to gray before the sun comes up again—but during the months of June and July, the sky is still bright enough to go about your everyday activities all night long.
Alaskans often joke about turning a little bit manic during the summer, but it's true: After a cold and dark winter, they just have to celebrate all that sunlight! Here's how you can make the most of Alaska's midnight sun, just like a local:
Fairbanks residents celebrate the summer solstice with a weekend-long festival that includes a massive block party, evening footraces, a midnight baseball game, late-night golfing, and informal, late-night trips to favorite viewpoints like the hike-in Murphy Dome and the drive-up Eagle Summit. Stores stay open late over the solstice weekend as part of the festivities, so you can enjoy the novelty of doing your gift shopping or catching a restaurant meal while most of the country is still fast asleep.
Anchorage also packs its downtown streets with revelers for a big block party, but most of the festivities in Alaska's biggest city take place during the day. The evening is given over to live music and a true only-in-Anchorage tradition: A midnight summit of 3,510 foot Flattop Mountain, which overlooks the city from its perch in the front range of the Chugach Mountains.
There's never a bad time for taking a bus tour into Denali National Park. But Denali's northerly location—just a couple hours south of Fairbanks—means that if you time your visit for June or July you can sit up all night around the campfire, telling stories and watching the twilight sun paint 20,310 foot Denali in beautiful alpenglow before it eases back above the horizon for another day.
Utqiagvik/Barrow doesn't host the same large, organized celebrations you'll find in bigger cities; maybe that's because with almost three months of never-ending sunlight every year, they're pretty used to it by the time the summer solstice rolls around. But if you want an incredible time lapse photo of the sun circling the horizon or a chance to splash along the coast of the Arctic Ocean while the sun shines overhead, this is the place to be. Consider timing your visit to coincide with the Nalukataq Whaling Festival, an Iñupiat tradition in which locals give thanks for a successful spring whaling season; it's usually held in the third week of June, and you can hire a guide to give you the inside scoop on the traditional songs, dances and games (including the iconic blanket toss) that you'll see as part of the festival.
Nome was quite the lawless frontier town in its heyday, driven by its isolated location and gold strikes so rich that some people are still mining them today. The locals revel in that frontier mentality during the summer solstice, with a staged bank robbery that harks back to the days when gold fever was rampant and hardly any lawmen were to be had. Watch out: The locals also enjoy putting visitors on the spot to help judge the parade festivities that run through town. Afterward, you can join them in another solstice tradition, jumping into the frigid waters of the Bering Sea.
Dalton Highway to Arctic Ocean
For a truly rugged adventure that you'll be telling stories about for years to come, book a flight to Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse, a remote work camp on Alaska's north coast. Accommodations in the camp are very rustic, but you're just a short van ride away from the shore of the Arctic Ocean, where you can leap into the water while the midnight sun circles the horizon around you. The truly rugged part of the adventure comes when you take a van ride along the rugged Dalton Highway, AKA the Haul Road, all the way south to Fairbanks. This narrow, winding and often unpaved two-lane road can be a rough ride, but it's the only roadway that passes through Alaska's Brooks Range, and you'll get to visit tiny, remote communities like Coldfoot and Wiseman.
Pack in Adventures
No matter where you are in the state, the most Alaskan thing you can do with all that midnight sun is to pack it full of adventures. Now is the time to plan that long hiking or camping trip so you can roll back the tent fly and watch the horizon blush pink, but never truly go dark; or book an overnight fishing charter and keep fishing all night long, or attend one of the many local music and art festivals that spring up in the wake of the summer sun.
Oh, and make sure you bring a sleeping mask or book a hotel that has blackout blinds, which blot out even the most persistent sunlight. Sometimes, that's the only way to convince your body that it's time to sleep.