Located in Alaska's interior, Fairbanks is not only your gateway to Denali National Park and the Arctic Circle but is a fascinating destination in its own right. Rich in gold mining history, Native traditions, and spectacular scenery, Fairbanks offers quality activities and attractions that will keep any visitor pleasantly occupied for several days. Whether you're exploring the Museum of the North or celebrating the culture of Alaska at an annual festival, there's plenty to do in Fairbanks throughout the year.
Attend a Festival or Special Event
From community celebrations to annual traditions, there is no shortage of fun activities to enjoy on your trip to Fairbanks any time of year. Whether you're stopping by the World Ice Art Championships in March or you're attending the Tanana Valley State Fair in August, you're sure to find a unique festival or special event happening in the city during your trip.
- Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race: Held in February each year, this race travels over 1,000 miles from Fairbanks in Alaska to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory of Canada.
- World Ice Art Championships: This ice-sculpting contest is held in Fairbanks from mid-February to the end of March each year, attracting more than 100 sculptors from around the world to show off their icy creations.
- Festival of Native Arts: Hosted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks in late February and early March each year, this unique cultural celebration features dancing, music, and a variety of exhibitions on Native American clothing, food, and culture.
- Fairbanks Summer Folk Fest: Held each year in June, this music event features concerts from local and international bluegrass, folk, reggae, ska, and classical artists.
- World Eskimo-Indian Olympics: This competition comes to the Carlson Center in Fairbanks each July to pit Native American and Eskimo athletes against one another for four days of Olympic events.
- Tanana Valley State Fair: Featuring family-friendly entertainment, dozens of concerts, all-ages rides, and plenty of delicious food, this annual celebration of Tanana Valley takes place at the Fairbanks Fairgrounds in August.
Located in downtown Fairbanks along the Chena River, the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is a great place to start your visit. A "super" visitor information center, this facility is also home to other major Alaskan agencies including the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, and the Tanana Chiefs Cultural Program.
If you are looking for a recreation guide or outfitter, you'll find plenty of information here. Along with brochures and maps galore, the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center offers informative exhibits and films on local history and culture. Family-friendly workshops and special events are also frequently on this facility's schedule.
Located on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, the Museum of the North is filled with fascinating exhibits that illuminate Alaska's human and natural history. The Gallery of Alaska houses amazing artifacts that demonstrate the state's vast size and diversity, covering the history, geography, culture, and wildlife of each region of Alaska.
Don't miss the chance to learn more about the northern lights by taking in "Dynamic Aurora," one of several films shown in the museum's Arnold Espe Auditorium. Additionally, the Alaska Classics gallery features historic paintings focusing on the state's people and landscapes. Upstairs, the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery displays works both ancient and contemporary. Along with a variety of other indoor and outdoor exhibits and experiences, this fabulous museum has a gift and book shop and a small cafe.
Much more than a scenic cruise, the Riverboat Discovery provides a 3.5-hour experience where you'll learn about the contemporary and traditional ways of life in Alaska as it runs down the Chena River to the Tanana River (and back).
While on the voyage, you'll also view a live sled dog demonstration at a stop in front of the home and kennels of the late Susan Butcher. Later, you'll learn about the harvest, preparation, smoking, and storage of salmon at an Athabaskan fish camp. Finally, you'll get the opportunity to disembark and explore the Chena Indian Village, an Athabaskan settlement where you can get an up-close look at the gear, dwellings, and animals that are part of their culture.
Video screens and speakers assure that no matter where you are seated on the stern-wheeler riverboat, you'll see and hear each presentation. At the Riverboat Discovery docking area, you'll find an extensive gift shop offering Alaska souvenirs of all kinds.
The aurora borealis, or northern lights, is an amazing natural phenomenon that results in curtains of light and color in the night sky at far northern latitudes. Seen on most clear nights between September and April, the Northern Lights are one of the biggest tourist attractions in Fairbanks, which is one of the best places in the United States to see or photograph this natural phenomenon.
Fortunately, a number of hotels and tour companies in Fairbanks provide services specifically for viewing the lights. Look out for vacation packages that include transportation to the lights, accommodations under the bright sky, or tours and hotel deals that will help you see the lights in style.
Step back into the history of gold mining in the state at Gold Dredge Number 8 National Historic District, which serves as a monument to the miners who helped establish Fairbanks. In operation from 1928 to 1956, the massive Gold Dredge No. 8 is a large-scale mechanized gold mining facility that chewed up the riverbed and washed out the sediment to produce over 7.5 million ounces of gold.
A tour of the historic dredge site is typically taken as part of a packaged group tour, which includes a meal as well as stops at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and the Tanana Valley Railroad. While on the tour, you'll get a chance to get up close with the facilities, mining equipment, and structures that helped make the Gold Dredge No. 8 a huge success in its heyday.
The Trans-Alaska pipeline, an amazing feat of engineering constructed during the 1970s, runs from the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska, transporting thousands of gallons of raw oil across the state each year. You can view an above-ground portion of this pipeline, where it passes by Fairbanks, at an interpretive site located near milepost 8 on the Steese Highway.
Stop by the 48-inch pipeline, which is responsible for approximately 15% of the nation's domestic oil production, to view informational displays and hear about the history and function of the pipeline. At the interpretive site, you'll also be able to walk under the pipeline and even snap your picture "holding it up."
Located 120 miles south of Fairbanks and 240 miles north of Anchorage, Denali National Park might be remote, but it's also Alaska's most famous and popular national park. Denali encompasses more than six million acres of Alaskan wilderness and is home to some of the most breathtaking scenery and diverse wildlife in the state.
To avoid crowds while still experiencing mild weather during your trip, visit Denali in June, late August, or early September before the cold sets in for the long fall and winter seasons. Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America and which was officially renamed Denali in 2015, also sits in the middle of the park, and guests can hike to its summit with our without a tour guide. If you want to stay overnight, there are five campgrounds located within the park that are open from late spring to early fall as well as several lodges—including North Face Lodge, Denali Backcountry Lodge, and Kentishna Roadhouse—that are open year-round.
Located less than a half-hour drive from Fairbanks, the Alaska city of North Pole celebrates Santa and Christmas all year long. While you're there, you can stop by the Arctic Circle, which includes all points above latitude 66° 33' 44". Many folks take advantage of the opportunity to cross into the Arctic Circle by taking a flightseeing or driving tour out of Fairbanks.
However, one of the best ways to see and experience the northernmost parts of the world is to embark on a polar expedition with a licensed guide. IceTrek, for example, offers ski expeditions, treks, tours, and flights to not only the North Pole and Arctic Circle but the South Pole and Antarctica as well.
Part of the 105-acre Wedgewood Resort and wildlife sanctuary, the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum showcases over eight historic cars—including the last-remaining 1920 Argonne and the 1905 Sheldon Roundabout, the first car built in the state. Explore interactive and multimedia exhibits that explain the vast automotive history of Alaska, including how vehicles helped shape the modern landscape of the state. While you're there, also stop by the on-site historical clothing exhibit, which features flapper girl dresses and other high-society attire from the early 20th century.
While you may not run into any of Santa's reindeer on your trip to the North Pole, you can find a whole herd of these "magical" beasts right outside of Fairbanks at the Running Reindeer Ranch. Take a reindeer-led tour through the beautiful boreal forests of this private Fairbanks ranch as you listen to tour guides talk about the region's natural history and the lives of the reindeer on the property and across the state.
Opened in 2011 by Fairbanks native Bobby Wilken, HooDoo Brewing Company is one of the most well-known breweries in Alaska and is one of only three in Fairbanks. Stop by the open and inviting taproom for a glass of beer or to pick up a growler to-go. Also be sure to check out the calendar of special events and activities happening at HooDoo each month, which range from weekly yoga classes at the taproom to the annual Gold Stream to HooDoo Half-Marathon.
Nestled into the woods of the historic Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, the Palace Theater is recognized by the Alaska Visitor's Association as one of the top attractions in this city. Each night, the Palace Theater presents performances of the Golden Heart Revue, a musical and comedy act dedicated to the social and cultural history of the region. Owned and operated by the Alaska Salmon Bake, the city's oldest family-owned restaurant, this unique cultural event is a must-see on your trip to Fairbanks any time of year.
Originally constructed for the Alaska 1967 Centennial Exposition to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the United States purchasing Alaska from Russia, Pioneer Park is a unique destination teeming with events, activities, and things to do no matter what time of year you visit. Along with the Palace Theater, Pioneer Park is also home to a zoo, a midway with amusement rides, the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum, and the Alaska Centennial Center for the Arts as well as a number of historical artifacts like the Queen of the Yukon Riverboat and several pieces of authentic mining equipment.