Alaska’s second-largest city – Hub of the Interior, Gateway to the Bush, the Golden Heart City – call it what you will, Fairbanks is as diverse and distinct as any place in Alaska.
The Fairbanks area is home to just over 100,000 hearty souls, making this region the second-largest population center in Alaska. The city features a university, an Army base and an Air Force Base and is known for dog mushing, northern lights and its extremes of light, dark, warmth and cold. In winter, temperatures as low as -62 degrees have been recorded; temperatures in the 80s are common in summer. Summer days are also long – Fairbanks enjoys more than 22 hours of daylight when the solstice arrives on June 21.
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 displays color the night sky in winter. A wide range of activities are available, including shopping the many art galleries filled with pottery, painting, textiles and Alaska Native art and jewelry; rafting or kayaking the meandering Chena River; golfing; fishing; snowmobiling; enjoying tours and attractions like Pioneer Park that celebrate the town’s gold history; cross-country and Alpine skiing; wildlife viewing; soaking in hot springs; or even enjoying a locally brewed beer.
Fairbanks is home to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and 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.
Fairbanks is also a gateway for trips further into the Interior and the Arctic. 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 new Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center for planning help. The center houses the Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Alaska Public Lands Information Center.
Chena River State Recreation Area is a great place to see moose or launch a canoe, kayak or raft on the Chena River. The Angel Rocks Trailhead is located in the Chena River State Recreation Area, and an eight-mile hike leads to nearby Chena Hot Springs Resort, where tired hikers can soak their bones in the soothing hot springs pools.
Getting here and around
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. An international airport also serves Fairbanks with frequent flights from within Alaska as well as from the Lower 48 and even countries like Japan and Germany. The Alaska Railroad offers service from Anchorage via Denali National Park.
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 oil 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.