A unique community within Alaska’s vast interior is the city of Fairbanks. A perfectly situated base for epic adventures and cultural attractions, Fairbanks is a place for those who crave long summers with a midnight sun or for those chasing the chilling northern lights.
So close to the Arctic Circle, travelers could easily arrive in Fairbanks purely for the nearby adventures. But they’d be doing themselves a disservice. Around the remote city, you’ll uncover cultural and historical things to do in Fairbanks that showcase life in town.
For those willing to brave the winter months, Fairbanks opens itself up to being an incredible year-round destination. A place to explore the wilderness with barely another human in sight.
12. Georgeson Botanical Garden
Looking for a scenic stroll among flowers? You’ll find just that in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Alaska. Home to the Georgeson Botanical Garden, visitors will discover a wide collection of unique and beautiful flora. Not only is it alluring, but it’s informative as well.
The garden provides plenty of learning opportunities for how plants live and thrive in Alaska’s wild climate. For a challenge, see how long you take to find your way out of Alaska’s largest hedge maze, which you can find within the gardens.
While enjoying the sanctuary, be mindful, as it is an active research center. Plant trials and experiments are taking place regularly for studies at the University.
11. Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center
An ideal first stop to explore activities and get yourself excited for your time in Fairbanks is the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors center. It’s a free center with a wealth of information and history. This makes it a straightforward choice for travelers so that no stone is left unturned during your adventure.
If you are worried you have come during the wrong season to complete your must-do list, then don’t worry. Check out the short walk-through museum, which includes descriptions of which season is best for different activities. Feeling overwhelmed with all the possibilities and brochures? A quick chat with one of the staff for advice will help make sure your trip is what you hoped for.
10. Pioneer Park
For the perfect blend of excitement and history, you will want to add Pioneer Park to your itinerary. Best described as half-theme park and half-historic park, Pioneer Park was built to showcase Fairbank’s history through several museums and activities. Including a playground, carousel, and a train that caresses the perimeter. It’s easy to see how the park is a fun, family friendly day out.
You’ll also find a mock gold rush town along with pioneer log cabins which provide fun photo opportunities. In between, discover interesting museums that will keep you and the children entertained for a whole day.
The park is admission free and open year round, however, many attractions and concessions close during the winter months. So it is best to opt for a summer visit.
9. Dog Sledding
If you’re looking for a sport that is quintessential to Alaska, then look no further than dog sledding. Also known as “dog mushing” it’s a sport that involves a sled that is pulled by a team of dogs over ice or through snow. Sled dogs have been used as a means of transportation in Arctic regions as far back as 1000 A.D.
Plenty of companies provide a variety of ways for you to experience what dog sledding is all about. Tours include embarking on a single ride, attending a mushing school, or even going on a multi-day adventure. If you are headed to Alaska in the summer, there’s no need to feel you will miss out. Year round tours are available as well!
8. Riverboat Discovery Cruise
Hop aboard an authentic Alaskan Sternwheeler for a three-hour journey through the Alaskan riverside. By cruising along the Chena and Tanana rivers outside Fairbanks, you will get an unforgettable trip in the wilderness surrounding Fairbanks.
The tour includes an immersive one-hour stop at Chena Indian Village. At the village, native guides show you around their Athabascan home, providing insight into their connection with the land and animals around them. Make sure to take a close look at the native clothing. It’s made of hides and fur from the land and later hand sewn with intricate beadwork.
Afterwards you’ll make another stop at a riverside fish camp. Here you will see firsthand how natives prepare and smoke salmon. To top that off, you will even get to sample this delicacy.
7. North Pole
A quirky town, a short drive (or sleigh ride) from Fairbanks, has adopted the slogan “Where it’s Christmas Every Day”. Known otherwise as the North Pole, not only is it home to the residence of Santa Claus himself, but its streets are decorated year round with jumbo candy canes and jolly displays.
Inside Santa Claus’ house, you can meet the big man himself and shop for fun holiday themed gifts. If you are looking for something really special, you can even buy personalized letters from Santa!
After exploring Santa’s abode, head outside, where you’ll stumble upon one of the world’s largest Santa statues. Get your camera out for the perfect #SantaSelfie.
6. Aurora Ice Museum
Located at the Chena Hot Springs about an hour from Fairbanks is Alaska’s coolest museum! By coolest we mean, literally the coolest. At a chilling 25 degrees Fahrenheit, the Aurora Ice museum lives up to its name.
The museum was envisioned and brought to fruition by 16-time world champion ice carvers, Steve and Heather Brice. It has become “The World’s Largest Year Round Ice Environment”.
Within the complex are impressive ice spectacles such as a spiral ice staircase, color changing chandeliers and even an Ice Bar serving drinks out of ice carved glasses. Do not let the temperature deter you, however. Parkas will be provided upon entry free of charge to ensure a comfortable experience.
5. Fountainhead Auto Museum
Journey back in time to see over 85 antique cars on display at the Fountainhead Auto Museum. This museum is as unique as it is lively, with nearly all the cars manufactured prior to World War II still functioning. The museum curator even makes a point of getting each car outside for a drive at least once a year!
The Fountainhead Auto Museum was created to tell a story of Alaska’s rich history. Immerse yourself in the photos, interesting facts, and period fashion displayed among the cars. The museum’s ability to show off the technological innovations and historical significance of the era will be enough to impress a wider audience than car enthusiasts alone.
4. Museum of the North
For an in-depth exploration of Alaskan history, head to the University of Alaska Museum of the North. It’s the state’s only research and teaching museum, featuring over 1.4 million artifacts and specimens.
You’ll quickly find that there’s nothing this facility does not have. From Alaskan art spanning a mind blowing 2 millennia to a 36,000-year-old mummified bison, affectionately known as “Blue babe”. Add on a gorgeous gallery of the state’s largest gold collection and you could spend an entire day here.
The museum also boasts a coffee and gift shop for those who may get hungry or want a memento of their journey through Alaskan history. Admission to the Museum of the North is below $20, so it’s an inexpensive experience that will teach you all about a rich culture.
3. Chena Hot Springs
For an easy day trip just 1.5 hours east of Fairbanks, head to the amazing Chena Hotsprings. The hot springs are naturally heated and rich in minerals. They are able to reach an astounding 106 degrees Fahrenheit, warm enough to defrost you from the coldest Alaskan days.
The outdoor pools are set among large boulders with a stunning backdrop. But keep in mind these are adult only. If traveling with children, you can visit the more family friendly indoor pools.
The resort comes well equipped, with a hotel and campground if one day is not enough for you. Given the ample outdoor activities if visiting in the summer, we recommend extending your stay at the exciting recreation area.
2. Running Reindeer Ranch
Just north of Fairbanks, in the boreal Forest of Goldstream Valley, is where you’ll find the Running Reindeer Ranch. This family-owned ranch offers a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with reindeer year round! Visitors can walk along, take photos with, and even pet real live reindeer. While enthralling, it’s also informative, with the owners providing incredible knowledge about each and every one of their herd.
If you visit the ranch in the winter, head to Running Reindeer’s website for good information on how to dress well and stay warm for the duration of the tour. After the experience, you can check out the Farmhouse to further your education on these majestic animals or treat yourself to some delicious homemade cookies.
1. Northern Lights Tour
For those willing to brave the cold for the light spectacle of a lifetime, the Northern Lights Tour is a must. With Fairbanks sitting right under the “Aurora Oval”, the likelihood of catching the unforgettable sight of the Aurora Borealis, commonly referred to as the Northern Lights, is high.
Peak season for the Northern Lights ranges from August through March. For best viewing opportunities, travelers should get out of Fairbanks proper and venture to the countryside. Where you’ll find the washout from city lights is lower.
An organized tour may be ideal for many adventurers, with companies offering a wide variety of experiences. These include overnight viewings in a lodge, scenic flights, and even driving to the Arctic Circle.