Winter Adventure at the Top of the World
Interior Alaska covers a wide swath of geography and includes Fairbanks, one of the state’s largest cities, Denali National Park and the northern edge of the Alaska Range. The climate varies wildly, averaging 62 degrees in Fairbanks in summer, and -12 in winter! But don’t let the temperatures scare you; despite the chill, Interior Alaska has much to offer the winter traveler.
One of the most dramatic and unique winter experiences in the Interior region is watching the Northern Lights. With very little daylight in mid-winter, as well as almost no light pollution outside of towns and villages, the Interior is where the aurora borealis sparkles almost every night from September to April. And thanks to easy access by highway and commercial jet, Fairbanks and nearby areas are popular spots to chase the aurora.
For those seeking relaxing accommodations under the Northern Lights, several lodging options are available outside of the city. Another easy option is taking a guided tour with one of the many local tour operators specializing in Northern Lights viewing. Choose from overnight or late night/early morning excursions to remote locations to reach the best shows.
Chena Hot Springs in particular is a favorite among travelers who come to soak in the steaming springs under the dancing night sky.
Chena Hot Springs is also home to the Aurora Ice Museum, the world’s largest year-round ice museum. The museum sparkles with ice sculptures created by world champion ice carvers Steve and Heather Brice. Visitors can stroll through elaborate ice-chiseled installations illuminated with Northern Lights-inspired lighting, and then stop at the museum’s Ice Bar for a round of sweet appletinis served in up in martini glasses carved from ice.
Fairbanks has a long-standing history with ice carving and winter festivals, and this tradition comes to life at the World Ice Art Championships in February. The month-long event draws in top ice sculptors from around the world who construct a variety of sculptures for display in a giant ice park. Spectators can wander through and enjoy the temporary artwork for several weeks, and early festival attendees can watch these beautiful works of art being created.
Located 14 miles southwest of Fairbanks, travelers young and old will delight in a visit to the North Pole and Santa Claus House, especially during the holiday season. This charming community celebrates Christmas year round, and transforms into a winter wonderland for the 6 weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The holiday season kicks off with the North Pole Christmas In Ice Contest, where competitors from around the world are invited to create holiday-themed ice artwork outside of Santa Clause House. In addition to the competition, the event also features ice slides, a maze, twirlers and educational ice sculpture demonstrations.
Dog mushing continues as a customary mode of transportation in the Interior, and the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race honors this longtime tradition. Similar to the well-known Iditarod race, the Yukon Quest runs 1000 miles between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Canada. The race begins in either one of the two cities, alternating even years in Fairbanks and odd years in Whitehorse. Whether or not the race starts or finishes that year in Fairbanks, the town buzzes with excitement surrounding the event.
Certainly, the Quest isn’t the only opportunity to enjoy dog mushing when in Fairbanks. Tourists can also check out sprint dog mushing races almost every weekend in the winter or take a dog sledding tour to experience this historic mode of transportation in full action.