Midnight sun on the Turagain Arm with lupine
Photo Credit: Travel Alaska, Michael DeYoung

Celebrating the Midnight Sun in Alaska

Celebrating the Midnight Sun in Alaska

Alaska is home to many seasonal phenomena, and while the winters here are known for the northern lights, there’s nothing like Alaska’s midnight sun in summer. Endless summer days give meaning to the term midnight sun, referring to up to 24-hours of sunlight much of the state basks in from the end of April through mid-August, with the longest day of the year being the summer solstice on June 21.

In Utqiaġvik, the northernmost city of Alaska, the sun rises on May 10 and won’t set until August 2 for 85 straight days of the sun staying above the horizon. Fairbanks sees 24 hours of daylight for 70 days, from mid-May through mid-July. In Southcentral communities like Anchorage, 16 – 19+ hours of daylight from May to July means hiking, fishing, gardening, and so much more into the late hours of the night is common – with the summer solstice seeing over 19 hours of sunlight and 22 hours of functional daylight. In communities a little further south like Juneau and Kodiak, over 18 hours of sunlight shines on the longest day of the year.

The summer days are so long that even locals lose track of time, so be sure to check your watch or phone when you’re out and about in the evening! You will have to sleep at some point, and many hotels include blackout curtains to block out the midnight sun. We recommend bringing an eye mask if you’re traveling in summer, just in case.

The season of the midnight sun has real significance for Alaskans, offering endless hours to enjoy the outdoors and make up for the short days of the winter, along with producing award-winning gardens and giant produce. We also like to celebrate the midnight sun and all of the joy, energy, and activity that this season brings in Alaska, with festivals and events throughout the state for both locals and visitors to enjoy!

Cultural Significance of Alaska’s Sun Cycle

Both the winter and summer solstices hold sacred meaning for Alaska Native and other Indigenous Peoples. Where the winter solstice symbolizes new beginnings as the days begin to extend and brighten, the midnight sun marks the start of the closing of the year, as daylight hours become darker and days shorter after the summer solstice. There is a deep-rooted connection to ancestry, tradition, folklore, and religion in these solstices that is celebrated across the state.

Multiple exposure image of midnight sun above the Arctic Circle, Alaska
Multiple exposure image of the midnight sun above the Arctic Circle

Midnight Sun Festivals & Celebrations by Region

Arctic region

The Arctic undoubtedly enjoys the most sun in summer months, and while the population differs drastically from other areas, there are still celebrations to be had!

Midnight Sun Festival, Nome

Nome isn’t just home to northern lights and Iditarod trails, it also boasts its own Midnight Sun Festival, usually held in mid-June. Here, the 5K Gold Dust Dash, polar bear swim, parade, Nome River Raft Race, midnight softball tournament, great food, and great people collide for an unforgettable experience.

Nalukataq Whaling Festival, Utqiaġvik

In Utqiaġvik, the sun is gone for over two months in winter, so it’s no surprise the summer sunlight is celebrated during its own three month reign. Here, Alaska Native Iñupiaq culture and tradition come first in the form of the Nalukataq Whaling Festival in mid-June. Centered around the whaling hunt, locals gather together to share whale skin and blubber, caribou, seal, homemade soup, traditional song and dance, and more. The blanket toss, or Nalukataq, is a call back to the early Iñupiaq hunters who would use a large seal hide blanket to toss a person into the air to spot whales to hunt.

Qatnut Arctic Fur Trade, Kotzebue

Held at the end of June into the first week of July, this traditional Iñupiaq gathering brings together the people from Kobuk River, the Bering Sea area, and coastal communities of the North Slope to enjoy a three day event celebrating culture and community. There are Iñupiaq games, an art competition, a cloth and fur fashion show, fish-cutting contest, traditional dancing and song, and so much more. It’s a celebration of life, ancestry, and culture, dating back centuries.

Nome at 1AM in Summer
Nome at 1:00am in summer.

Interior Region

Fairbanks, Alaska claims the nickname "Land of the Midnight Sun" and boasts many celebrations to commemorate the 24-hour days in summer.

Midnight Sun Festival & Midnight Sun Baseball Game, Fairbanks

This 12-hour block party is held in late June around the summer solstice and is one of the most popular festivals in the state. Live music, booths selling crafts and artwork, and food trucks make walks around the festival fun and delicious. Live performances and entertainment are also a staple in this sun-celebrating festival! If you’re around on the actual summer solstice – June 21 - don’t miss the Midnight Sun Baseball Game, starting at 10:00pm on solstice evening. Watch the Alaska Goldpanners play an entire game under the midnight sun without the use of artificial light.

Midnight Sun Run 10K, Fairbanks

This family friendly race welcomes runners of all skill levels to join in running on the longest night of the year. Held near the summer solstice, the race begins at 10:00pm. Many people fly in from across the globe, competing for a chance at the title of champion and to enjoy the overall fun of the race. With a costume contest (that’s right - dress up for one of the themes and run or walk in your costume!), the race boasts competition and fun that can’t be missed.

Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, Fairbanks

Since 1980, this festival has averaged over 10,000 attendees each year, showcasing local artists, theater productions, orchestra and jazz ensembles, concerts, and more. Held mid-June around the summer solstice, this is truly a spectacle to behold and take part in! People 18 years and up will be able to engage in workshops and receive training to collaborate with some of the greatest artists and musicians in the state. Music, theatre arts, visual arts, culinary arts, dance, healing arts, and more are all part of this festival.

Sunlit AK Music Festival, Fairbanks

Located in Growden Memorial Park during the first week of June, this day-long music festival features live music, performing arts, food trucks, local vendors and crafts, beer and cocktails, shopping, and more! Bring your lawn chairs, sunscreen, and hat, and get ready for a great time under the midnight sun.

Midnight Sun Festival in Fairbanks
Midnight Sun Festival in Fairbanks

Southcentral Region

The Southcentral region of Alaska may not get quite as much sunlight as the Interior and Arctic, but there’s certainly no shortage of summer celebrations!

Summer Solstice Festival, Anchorage

There are many events to enjoy in downtown Anchorage around solstice. The Summer Solstice Festival is held on the Saturday closest to solstice and features live music, booths, food, and lots of family fun in the heart of downtown. The Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon and Half Marathon is one of the most popular events, with runners of all skill levels enjoying incredible views while running on some of the state’s best trails. The Slam’n Salm’n Derby is held in Ship Creek, allowing anglers to compete for cash or gear prizes by reeling in their best catch. Juneteenth and Anchorage Pride Week celebrations often coincide with solstice weekend, making it a celebration of culture and community, all around.

Sundown Solstice Festival, Anchorage

This musical event showcases global and local musical artists, and even offers an official solstice festival playlist to enjoy before the big day. Hosted in mid-June, with food trucks, local artists, curated bars, state-favorite vendors, carnival ride offerings, and the chance to vibe under the midnight sun, this music festival is one for the ages!

Nikiski Family Days in the Midnight Sun, Nikiski

Carnival rides, an egg toss, and local food vendors have made Nikiski Family Days in the Midnight Sun a fantastic community and visitor event since the 1960s! Held in mid-June, participants can enjoy field games and earn cash and gear prizes in daily raffles.

Seldovia Summer Solstice Music Festival, Seldovia

This community-oriented celebration of summer is held mid-June in the charming town of Seldovia, across the bay from Homer. The festival offers a chance for you to participate in artist-led workshops, sing at open-mic events, and even enjoy sharing musical talent during evening bonfires. Local musicians, songwriters, and more come together for an unforgettable summer musical experience.

Kenai River Festival, Soldotna

Held in Soldotna Creek Park in early June, this festival celebrates summer on the spectacular Kenai River. Local vendors, artists, live music, Run for the River marathon, and a beer garden create a fantastic and fun-filled celebration. Enjoy soaking up the summer sun on the banks of the Kenai River.

Alaska State Fair, Palmer

You simply cannot beat the Alaska State Fair. Held mid-August through the beginning of September, hundreds of vendors from across the state gather to sell everything from artwork, handcrafted items, Alaska Native arts and crafts, clothing, fine jewelry, beer, a wide array of food, produce, and more! You’ll be able to see the state’s award-winning giant produce (think pumpkins big enough for Cinderella to ride in), prize winning livestock, and even concerts by top national and international artists. Carnival rides, events, fireworks, and performances offer something for the entire family. There’s a reason the state fair is an event that brings the entire state and community together!

Seward Music and Arts Festival, Seward

This local favorite is typically held in late summer, with live performances by local musicians and an electric and warm atmosphere. Local vendors sell everything from pottery, jewelry, painting, food, and more, offering an unforgettable community experience on the shores of Resurrection Bay.

Salmonfest, Ninilchik

Every summer in early August, Ninilchik comes alive to the sound of rock, folk, funk, bluegrass and more at one of the state's most fun and eclectic music festivals: Salmonfest. This three-day festivals features over 60 bands on four stages for a weekend of dancing, camping, vendors, locals brews, food trucks, and salmon-themed artwork and festivities. 

Giant produce at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer
Giant produce at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer. Photo Credit: Travel Alaska, Matt Hage

Southwest Region

Endless summer days give rise to more than just salmon spawning, hungry bears, and ripe berries in the Southwest. Here, you’re able to bask in the rays and beauty that accompany the summer months, while celebrating one of Alaska’s most prized bounty: seafood!

Kodiak Crab Fest, Kodiak

Since 1958, Alaska’s glorious seafood has been celebrated in Kodiak on Kodiak Island, just before Memorial Day. With over 30 vendors, a parade, and delicious seafood options, locals and visitors can enjoy celebrating the unique bounty that Kodiak offers! And yes, that means lots (and lots) of crab!

Kayaking under the midnight sun in Kodiak
Kayaking under the midnight sun in Kodiak. Photo Credit: Travel Alaska, Michael DeYoung

Inside Passage Region

The Inside Passage is home to celebrations that pay homage to culture, heritage, and state history.

Celebration, Juneau

This Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultural celebration hosted by the Sealaska Heritage Institute occurs every other year in June and dates back to 1982, with each year highlighting a cultural theme. Dance groups, an Indigenous Fashion Show, art competitions, youth art exhibits, a Native Artist Market, storytelling, food contests, and a feature on Stories on Celebration offer visitors a unique opportunity to experience and participate in Alaska Native culture, history, and traditions.

Southeast Alaska State Fair, Haines

Held in late July, the Southeast Alaska State Fair showcases what makes life in the southeast unique. Regional music, the Wearable Art Review, Fishermen’s Rodeo, Logging Show, Juneau Drag, exhibits, and local arts and food are just some of the reasons why this fun festival should be on your list.

Whether your travels take you far north to Utqiaġvik, or south to the Inside Passage, there are so many ways to revel in Alaska’s midnight sun.

Summer sunset in Alaska's Inside Passage
Summer sunset in Alaska's Inside Passage. Photo Credit: Travel Alaska

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