Ahh, the Last Frontier!
Berty and I love exploring the PNW and when we were dreaming of new locations to discover, well, we knew we couldn’t get more “Pacific Northwest” than the gorgeous 49th state!
Pretty much immediately after arriving, we hopped in our vintage VW van (thanks to Trickster Trips!) and started the drive to our first destination: Fairbanks, Alaska.
The population of the city and directly nearby cities reaches just over 100,000, putting it as the second largest city in Alaska.
Located in the “Interior” region of the state, Fairbanks is the perfect base for epic adventures like exploring the Arctic (just 196 miles away!), witnessing a dog sled race during the winter (Iditarod and the Yukon Quest), taking a bush plane to a northern town, and so much more.
In this post, we’re sharing 10 things to do in Fairbanks for a full Alaskan experience!
10 Awesome Things To Do In Fairbanks
1. Stay at the Northern Sky Lodge
This was the ultimate home base for our time in and around Fairbanks.
The Northern Sky Lodge is located 30 miles west of the city, which makes it a great launching point for outdoor adventures, hikes, and quicker trips to Denali National Park.
In the winter, there is a very good chance of seeing the Northern Lights on their 22-acre property – the skies are so clear and bright there!
Each of their 7 rooms (fits 22 people total) has an Alaskan theme, (ours was the “Denali” room) and visitors get a taste of traditional Alaskan culture with all the modern amenities and comforts.
Northern Sky Lodge has inviting communal spaces and a huge deck with wide open windows overlooking their wonderful property.
One thing we especially loved about this place is the kitchen available to all guests. Breakfast is provided by the lodge, but anyone can come in and cook their own food for lunch and dinner, with refrigerator space available.
This creates a sense of camaraderie and community, and you’re sure to check out of the lodge with a new friend or two!
Run by a fantastic group of people, you will get all the comforts of home in a cozy, quiet lodge for the perfect getaway in the Alaskan wilderness.
2. Fountainhead Auto Museum
The Fountainhead Auto Museum was the most recommended activity of all the things to do in Fairbanks. Before you tell me “Nah, cars aren’t my thing” let me tell you why this place is worth your time.
With over 85 antique cars on display, this museum takes you on a story through time with photos, interesting facts, and period-fashion paired with the cars to create a unique and rich historical perspective.
All these elements work together to transport you back in time and put yourself in the driver’s shoes!
Willy, the curator, spent years creating this unique collection of antique cars and vintage clothing to tell a story of history in Alaska. Nearly all the cars are working, functioning cars, making this place a true “living” museum.
Willy makes it a priority that nearly every single one of his cars get outside and are driven at least once a year!
If you’re into old cars, engines, and antiques, Willy also has a Youtube channel talking about everything you can see on display in the museum!
Read More: 16 Epic Things To Do In Boise, Idaho
3. Relax At Chena Hot Springs
Located 1.5 hours east of Fairbanks, you can easily spend an entire day at Chena Hot Springs. This resort comes with everything you could need – hotel rooms, a campground, a dining hall, and even an airstrip for cargo and flightseeing tours!
Visitors can book a number of activities on-site, including a tour of their greenhouse, visiting the resident sled dogs, and experience Fairbanks’ very own year-round ice museum.
The star of the show is the hot springs, of course. Naturally heated and mineral rich, this hot spring can get up to 106 degrees!
The resort provides a family-friendly indoor pool as well as an adult-only outdoor pool with large boulders and a beautiful aesthetic.
Come here for an afternoon or stay for the whole weekend!
4. Aurora Ice Museum
Created by Steve Brice (16-time world champion ice carver) and his wife Heather, the Aurora Ice Museum is “the world’s largest year-round ice environment“!
It was on track to becoming the world’s first “ice hotel” but Sweden barely beat them out, so they had to call it the “ice museum”.
Inside are beautiful carvings, a spiral ice staircase, life-size sculptures, and color-changing chandeliers! All around, there are several architectural features made purely out of ice and lit up with the colors of the northern lights. It’s truly a sight to see!
Inside the 25-degree museum, there is an “ice bar” that serves the property’s signature appletinis in glasses carved out of ice.
It’s tradition to take your glass outside and smash it on the ground when you’re done, so we did just that!
5. Watch The Aurora Borealis – Or Experience the Midnight Sun!
On our visit here, Berty and I just barely missed out on Aurora season (August 31 through April 21).
Even still, we spent countless nights setting our alarm for 1:30 am just to see if we could catch a glimpse of the dancing lights in the sky.
On the other hand, we were able to experience the beginning of the long summer days in Alaska. During our visit (late April) we were getting 18-19 hours of daylight, which meant the sun rose incredibly early and set very late.
Even after it set, the blue hour felt more like blue evening! If you are visiting in the summer, you will get a chance to see the midnight sun, which gives you 24 hours of daylight!
Whether you visit Fairbanks in the winter or summer, you will have a remarkable experience!
Read More Awesome Earth Phenomena: Total Eclipse 2017 in Oregon
6. Museum of The North – University of Alaska
The Museum Of The North was established in 1929 and has been an integral part of the research and study of Alaskan cultural and geological history.
In the museum, artifacts, masks, tools, clothing, and tons of animals are on display.
You can even take a photo with the huge bear that greets museum visitors! His name is Otto Geist, after the late naturalist who contributed many of the first pieces to the museum.
Inside is a coffee shop, gift shop, movie theater, and tons of opportunities to get involved with Alaska’s living history.
One thing I especially loved about this museum was the contemporary art collection titled “Decolonizing Alaska” created by local artists.
The gallery focused on the clash between Alaskan history, modern culture, identity, and what all that meant in terms of fitting in today.
7. Morris-Thompson Cultural Center
The Morris-Thompson Cultural Center is the perfect headquarters for tons of ideas on things to do in Fairbanks. You can get tons of brochures for activities and places to go around the city.
There is also the friendly staff of Explore Fairbanks to help point you in the right direction!
The center has its own short walk-through museum which includes descriptions of different activities to do in each season. They even have a park and an arch built completely out of moose antlers!
8. Running Reindeer Ranch
Running Reindeer Ranch is a family-owned operation that lets visitors get up close and personal with real reindeer!
A perfect activity in all seasons, people get to hear the whole story of how the farm started, how they’ve grown, and what’s next.
Jane, the owner, knows each and every one of her reindeer, and loves sharing their quirks, personalities, and history with everyone who comes for a tour!
We learned so much about reindeer while visiting here.
Jane was very helpful in sharing fun facts like their clicking back-foot tendon (meant for spring in their step!), the difference between antlers vs horns, and how they shed their antlers every year to grow new ones.
We even got to see a baby calf – just three days old!
Walk with reindeer through their beautiful birch forest, take photos, and interact with these creatures. The tours are open year-round and each time you come will be a new experience! Thanks, Jane, for a wonderful time!
9. Denali National Park
We only scratched the surface when visiting this national park. Coming early in the season (most of the road doesn’t open until the snow is plowed or melted – which is May/June) we were limited to our activities of winter camping and sightseeing.
There is only one road in the park and private vehicles are only allowed for the first 15 miles.
After that, you must take a shuttle bus into the park, and services begin mid-May. Click here to see what you can do if you plan to visit during the shoulder season.
*Note* This park is 2 hours away from Fairbanks!
Things To Do at Denali National Park:
- Go camping. There are lots of places to stay in Denali National Park, though reservations are highly recommended after May 11. We stayed at Riley Creek campground and it’s free in the wintertime!
- Visit the Denali kennels, where the dogs are actually considered employees of the national park.
- Take the shuttle bus into the park and hike trails into the backcountry.
10. Take A Hike
Summertime in Alaska can be a magical place booming with wildflowers and endless sunshine.
While the snow was still around during our visit, we researched some of the best hikes in the area to do anyway. Here’s what we suggest if you are visiting in the summer or early fall:
- Creamers Field Nature Hike: An easy boardwalk trail, this family-friendly hike will bring you close to wildlife like ducks and geese, as well as small plants surrounded by a birch forest. (Distance: 2.0 miles)
- Chena Riverwalk: This paved walk parallels the winding river through downtown Fairbanks. Walk the entire 3.5 miles or just a small portion of it for a relaxing afternoon. (Distance: Up to 3.5 miles)
- Table Top Mountain: Take this trail for panoramic views of the White Mountains and the surrounding area. It is also considered “one of the most scenic drives in the area” according to Alaska.org. (Distance: 3 miles)
- The Northern Sky Lodge has some pretty amazing trails around their property!
What are some of your favorite things to do in Fairbanks? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this city in the comments!
There is so much to do in the city, but we only had a few days to see as much as we could. We also were aware that we came in April, which is what the people of Alaska call “breakup” when all the snow melts and everything is muddy.
Despite the conditions, we had such a wonderful time in Fairbanks and found the city inviting and fun!
Berty and I will have to come back during true winter to experience the aurora borealis, as well as in the summer to experience the wildflowers, endless hikes, and the midnight sun of course!
Alaska has captured our hearts and it certainly won’t be the last time we’re here in this beautiful state!
Thank you Explore Fairbanks for arranging some of our things to do in Fairbanks! We are very grateful for your hospitality!
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