Located in Alaska's interior, Fairbanks is not only your gateway to Denali National Park and the Arctic Circle but is a fascinating destination on its own. 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. Here are my picks for the best visitor attractions and activities in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Located in downtown Fairbanks along the Chena River, the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center is a great place to start your visit. A "super" visitor information center, this facility includes spaces and representatives from major Alaska 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 & Visitors Center offers informative exhibits and films on local history and culture. Family-friendly workshops and special events are 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 displays amazing artifacts that demonstrate the state's vast size and diversity, covering the history, geography, culture, and wildlife of each different region.
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. Art lovers will find much to appreciate at the Museum of the North.
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.
The Riverboat Discovery will take you down the Chena River to the Tanana River (and back). 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.
You'll view a live sled dog demonstration at a stop in front of the home and kennels of the late Susan Butcher. You'll learn about the harvest, preparation, smoking, and storage of salmon at an Athabaskan fish camp.
Finally, you get the opportunity to get off the Riverboat Discovery 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 a 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.
Fairbanks is one of the best places in the United States for aurora viewing, with many hotels and tour companies providing services specifically for the comfort of night-time viewing.
Viewing and photographing the northern lights is on many people's bucket list, and Fairbanks provides you a decent chance of experiencing this amazing phenomenon.
Where El Dorado gives you a more personal view of gold mining in Alaska, a visit to Gold Dredge No. 8 provides a look at large-scale mechanized gold mining. In operation from 1928 to 1958, the massive Gold Dredge No. 8 chewed up the riverbed and washed out the gold. A tour of the historic dredge site, which includes mining equipment and structures, is typically taken as part of a packaged group tour and includes a meal.
The Trans-Alaska pipeline, an amazing feat of engineering constructed during the 1970s, runs from the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska. 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.
Fairbanks Festivals & Special Events
Here are a few of the many special events and community festivals that are held throughout the year in Fairbanks:
- Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race (February)
- World Ice Art Championships (March)
- Festival of Native Arts (April)
- Fairbanks Summer Folk Fest (June)
- World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (July)
- Tanana Valley State Fair (August)
Fun Things to Do Nearby
AddressDenali National Park and Preserve, AK, USA
Fairbanks can also be your base from which to enjoy such major attractions as:
- Denali National Park: Spectacular mountain and tundra scenery and abundant wildlife make Denali National Park Alaska's must-do attraction.
- North Pole, Alaska: Located less than a half hour's drive from Fairbanks, the Alaska city of North Pole celebrates Santa and Christmas all year long.
- Visit the Arctic Circle: The Arctic Circle includes 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.