Ahh, the Last Frontier…what an amazing place to plan an Alaska road trip!
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 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 vast and beautiful Alaska landscape.
In this post, we’re sharing 38 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 quick 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 experiencing 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.
Other Hot Springs in Fairbanks include:
- Manley Hot Springs
- Hutlinana Hot Springs
- Tolovana Hot Springs
- Kanuti Hot Springs
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 – The Northern Lights
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 (UAMN) 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.
Things To Do In Alaska During Summer
10. Take A Hike
Summer in Fairbanks 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!
11. Dog Carting
Dog Carting in Fairbanks is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of a sled, you use a cart! This is a fun way to enjoy summer in Fairbanks with these cute pups.
Prices for dog carting range from $60-$80 for a 1-hour ride, and it depends on the type of experience you book.
12. Georgeson Botanical Gardens
Location: 2180 W Tanana Dr Fairbanks, AK 99775
Georgeson Botanical Gardens is a nationally recognized botanical garden located in the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.
It’s used primarily for the School of Natural Resources for the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It began in 1989 as a public education program, and continues to invite visitors today!
Located in zone 2A (quite extreme for gardeners our there!), the garden experiments to see what crops, flowers, and plants can be grown in such an extreme climate.
They welcome visitors between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and admission is $7.
13. Take a Scenic Drive From Fairbanks
Looking for a nice Fairbanks scenic day drive to fill your day? You’re in luck – there are lots of routes to choose from!
Here are our favorite scenic drives from Fairbanks:
- Richardson Highway: The Richardson Highway is essentially an alternate route down to Anchorage. You’ll experience towering mountain peaks and lots of foliage in the fall.
- Steese Highway: This Fairbanks scenic drive is full of natural wonders, old pioneer history, and lots of wide-open skies.
- Parks Highway: This 323-mile long road connects Anchorage to Fairbanks. Drive as far as Healy to enjoy the scenery.
14. See The Midnight Sun
Fairbanks is nicknamed “The Land of the Midnight Sun” because the sun doesn’t actually fully set between April 22nd to August 20th.
You can wake up in the middle of the night to people gardening, riding their bikes, or going about their day!
Don’t feel like missing out? Sign up for the Midnight Sun Run. It’s a 10K race that happened every summer. Come join by dressing up in costume with fun themes and music!
15. Stay at a Public Use Cabin in Alaska
If you love getting out in the backcountry, you’ll love Alaska’s Public Use Cabins! Located along trails, streams, beaches, and deep in the woods, there are 80 cabins available for public use.
Visitors can expect primitive structures, with a general availability of sleeping platforms, benches, and tables. Visitors must reserve and obtain a permit before using a Public Use Cabin.
Visitors also should prepare to be self-sufficient. That means bringing adequate water, fire, fuel, and safety equipment. Wildlife is common and comes often so keep your food locked up!
16. Take An Alaska ATV Tour
When visiting Fairbanks in the summer, ATV tours are a great way to get out in nature. Guest can be taken on guided routes, and challenged by going up steep or rocky terrain for an exciting experience.
17. See The Trans Alaskan Pipeline
One of the coolest things to do in Fairbanks is to go and see the Trans Alaskan Pipeline.
Built in the late 1900s by the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, this pipeline spans 789 from Prudhoe Bay in the north to Valdez in the south. It transports nearly 2 million barrels of oil A DAY.
18. Take a Walk Along The Chena River (Chena Riverwalk)
The Chena River winds right through the center of downtown Fairbanks. One of the easiest and most fun things to do in Fairbanks in the summer is to take the Chena Riverwalk.
The Chena Riverwalk is a 3.5-mile walking route between Pioneer Park and Airport way. It extends farther if you want, but this is the most common strip to enjoy!
It’s best enjoyed in the summertime (July and August) when you can walk under the Antler Arch and see all the flower in full bloom.
19. Take A Riverboat Discovery Tour
The Riverboat Discovery Tour is one of the most popular summer things to do in Fairbanks. For a good reason too – this tour is so much fun!
From guided stories to live demonstrations, this tour is three hours of pure fun. You’ll get to hear about the Athabasca Village Living Museum. watch a bush plane take off, and see some sled dogs in action.
This is a great activity to do in Fairbanks during the beginning of your trip – it will get you aquainted with stories and history about the area.
20. Go Gold Panning at Gold Dredge #8
Want to see what life was like for gold miners back in the early 1900s? You can, with a living mining museum called Gold Dredge #8!
During the tour, you’ll learn about what life was like as a miner, and how the land was processed for finding gold. You will be taken on a replica of the Tanana Valley Railroad to the dredge, with stories about the past and the mine.
Finally, you’ll be able to pan for gold yourself! You’ll be taught how to mine for gold in pans, and maybe even hit the jackpot with your own Alaskan gold!
21. Visit The University of Alaska Musk Ox Farm
Love animals? You’ll love a visit to the Large Animal Research Station at the University of Alaska Fairbanks!
A Muskox is an ice age relic that has been roaming the earth for about 60,000 years. While they usually resemble bison or ox, they actually are more closely related to sheep and goats.
Tours of the facility are fairly cheap, around $15 per ticket. Click here for opening dates during summer and winter, because they change seasonally.
22. Go Fishing In Fairbanks
What’s a trip to Alaska without a classic fishing experience? You can find Copper River King (Chinook) and Red (Sockeye) Salmon in abundance in the beautiful Alaskan wilderness.
AK Fish Charters runs tours on the Copper River Basin. They also are focused on making your trip a unique and personal experience, focused on responsible and sustainable fishing.
Coming in the winter months? You can book an ice fishing tour too!
23. Visit Pioneer Park
Pioneer Park is a place that feels like you’ve stepped 100 years in the past! Here, you can walk amongst original Fairbanks buildings, moved from downtown Fairbanks to the park.
Experience museums, a gold rush town street, and lots of displays of the pioneering days of Alaska.
This park also includes carousel rides, a train, and lots of gifts shops, restaurants, and games to play. Thing is a great activity to do in Fairbanks with the whole family!
24. Book a Tour On The Alaska Railroad
While traveling from Anchorage to Fairbanks, guests will be able to participate in day excursions to iconic Alaska stops. These stops include Talkeetna tours, Denali National Park, and other personalized accommodations.
Tickets are around $250 each way but can save a ton of money if it’s your main source of transportation. You can skip the rental cars and expensive gas!
25. Take a Scenic Flight In Fairbanks
One of the ways people have historically moved around the state is by bush planes and small charter flights. They are easier to fly and land in small areas and can accommodate small towns and remote areas much easier than big airplanes.
Take your own scenic flight tour in Fairbanks! This is an awesome way to see the vast and beautiful landscape from above.
Tours cost about $500 per person for a 3-4 hour ride.
26. Drive To The Arctic Circle
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can drive to the Arctic Circle from Fairbanks. The route is 198 miles from Fairbanks and can take up to 7 hours to reach the Arctic Circle Sign. You’ll drive the Dalton Highway, with has sections of paved road but is mostly gravel and dirt.
This route is extremely remote, so only attempt it if you’ve got a clear plan in place. Expect a popped tire, and know what to do in case of emergencies. Come with plenty of food and water, and tell someone where you are going beforehand!
More Things To Do In Alaska During Winter
27. Stay At Borealis Basecamp
Looking for unique things to do in Fairbanks? A stay at Borealis Basecamp is definitely one to remember!
Here, you can stay in a private igloo that overlooks the beautiful night sky. You may even be able to see the Aurora Borealis.
Packages range between $1,000-$2,000 for 2-4 nights. It might seem steep but packages actually include tons of goodies! Your package includes a dog sledding tour, snow machine tour, and roundtrip transportation to and from Fairbanks.
28. Dine In At Latitude 65
Owned by the same people that host Borealis Basecamp, Latitude 65 is the restaurant at the same location. It’s owned by Chef Easter and is recognized and awarded for his locally sourced dishes and cuisine.
Guests enjoy food in a yurt, with views of the Wickersham Dome and the White Mountains.
It’s most easily accessible for guests that are staying at Borealis Basecamp. However, you can also call ahead and ask if you want a private experience. Latitude 65 is 45 minutes from Fairbanks.
29. Take The Aurora Winter Train
For a unique winter experience in Fairbanks, you can take the Aurora Winter Train from Anchorage of Fairbanks. This 12-hour ride goes through Wasilla, Talkeetna, Hurricane, Healy, and Nenana.
Enjoy the winter wonderland of Alaska’s wilderness in the comfort of your own railcar, and go between Alaska cities with ease.
This is a great way to see Alaska in the winter season. Schedules vary, and the railcar works with flights too, for a seamless Alaska experience without a car!
30. Go Snowmobiling
Enjoy the vast open winter landscapes of Fairbanks via snowmobiling. (FYI real Alaskans call them Snow machines!)
Renting snow machines or taking a Fairbanks snow machine tour is a great way to experience the landscape. On a sunny day, enjoy the spruce forest, wide-open spaces, and beautiful mountains.
Fairbanks Snowmobile Tours is conveniently just 15 minutes away from town. Tours range from $60-$120 and are really great for complete beginners!
31. Go Dog Sledding
Take part in the thrill of the winter season and enjoy an hour of dog sledding. Like dog sledding in Banff, the outfitters in Fairbanks treat their dogs like family.
The dogs are given top-quality care, and the dogs absolutely love to pull the sled and have a good time!
Four convenient tours in Fairbanks, consider booking at Paws For Adventure or Alaskiwi Adventures. Tours range from $100-$150 per person.
32. Take A Geothermal Tour at Chena Hot Springs
If you are already visiting Chena Hot Springs for its healing and relaxing waters, consider staying a bit longer to take their Geothermal Renewable Energy Tours. The cost of the tours are FREE and they run daily each at 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm..
During the tour, you’ll learn about how the plant is the lowest temperature geothermal resource in the world to be used for commercial power.
They will also share about their energy experiments, and how they are always innovating and finding new ways to be a renewable power resource at Chena Hot Springs.
33. Attend The World Ice Art Championship
If you are visiting Fairbanks in February of March, you need to check out the World Ice Art Championship!
This annual event hosts over 100 ice artists from around the world. They create everything from thrones to sculptures, exhibition pieces, and even playful interactive ice art for kids!
General admission tickets are $17 for adults. You can also buy a season pass for $30 if you want to return multiple times during your stay.
34. Visit The North Pole
Come and visit a place where it’s Christmas every day – The North Pole! This small holiday town is located just 20 minutes from downtown Fairbanks – a very easy day trip to take.
Here, you can visit the “official” home of Santa Claus. The town welcomes letters from all over the world, and you can leave with your very own official North Pole postmark too.
This place is especially magical during the Christmas season, but it’s also one of the most fun things to do in Fairbanks any time of year!
35. Participate in Winter Sports
Want to try some skiing, snowboarding, or nordic skiing with visiting Fairbanks in the winter? Moose Mountain Ski Resort is the largest resort in Alaska’s interior, with over 750 acres of land to explore.
36. Take A Snowy Walk in Creamer’s Field
Creamer’s Field is a great place to visit in the summertime, but the winter brings on a whole new perspective!
Come here for a quiet walk, to play on nordic ski trails, or try your hand at snowshoeing.
You can pick up a winter trails map for ski routes and dog mushing routes at the Visitors Center in town.
37. Take A Fairbanks Beer Tour
Love beer? You’re going to love Fairbanks and their craft breweries!
There are more than 10 breweries and distilleries in Fairbanks, and some provide tours of their facilities on-site. The most popular places to visit are HooDoo Brewing Company, Silver Gulch Brewing, and Black Spruce Brewing Company.
If you want a personalized experience, you can book a Craft Brewery Tour with 1st Alaska Tours with a meal and transportation included.
38. Visit The Castner Glacier Ice Caves
The Castner Glacier Ice Caves is one of the coolest (literally!) things to do in Fairbanks. This cave provides opportunities for hiking, backpacking, snowshoeing, and mountaineering.
It will likely take your entire day to visit the Castner Glacier Ice Caves. It’s 140 miles from Fairbanks, with a 2.5-hour drive each way.
Once you reach the parking lot, the trail to the cave is easy and straightforward, follow the creek for about 1.5 miles to reach the cave!
FAQs About Things To Do In Fairbanks
What’s The Weather Like In Fairbanks?
The weather in Fairbanks ranges from warm summers to frigid winters.
On average, the summers are around 73 degrees F and winters are around -13 degrees F. Snow is common nearly 6 months of the year, between October and April.
What’s The Best Time To Visit Fairbanks?
The best time to visit Fairbanks depends on the kinds of activities you want to do.
Summer opens up the possibilities for hiking and fishing. Winter provides opportunities to visit museums and watch the northern lights.
The season with the least access to tours and activities is the spring. April is when most outfitters and workers take their own vacations!
For the most access to tours and accommodations, the best time to visit Fairbanks is between late June and late July.
What are The Best Restaurants In Fairbanks?
The downtown area has some incredible places to eat in Fairbanks!
From Asian dishes like pho and noodles to locally sourced salmon and game, there’s something for everyone!
Here are some of the best restaurants in Fairbanks to check out:
Soba: Authentic Moldovan Cuisine, which is yummy Eastern European food and wine
Bobbys Downtown: Greek food with live Jazz music on the weekends
Thai House Restaurant: Self-acclaimed as most northern Thai food you can get!
Jazz Bistro on 4th: Latino tapas and delicious Cuban cuisine, often paired with live music.
The Crepery: Delicious sweet and savory crepes with coffee service.
What is the best coffee in Fairbanks? Alaska Coffee Roasting Company. Come for their drive-thru or stay awhile with their indoor seating.
What are the Best Places To Stay In Fairbanks?
Some of the best places to stay in Fairbanks range from small BnBs to campgrounds to cabins and convenient hotels.
The places to stay in Fairbanks depend on your comfort level and the season you are visiting. Here are some of our favorite accommodations in Fairbanks:
Bed and Breakfast: Alaska Grizzly Lodge
Campground: River’s Edge RV Park
Hotel: 7 Gables Inn and Suites
What is Permafrost in Fairbanks? Is Alaska Melting?
Permafrost is when the ground temperature (consisting of soil, rocks, and water) is frozen year-round. This happens when summer thawing doesn’t go deep enough to melt the frost before winter returns.
In recent years, these studies have shown that permafrost has been melting at a much faster rate. This can lead to dire consequences, like more CO2 released into the atmosphere and accelerating global warming.
You can see the permafrost in Fairbanks quite easily because Fairbanks is located in the cold Alaskan Interior. It can be visible along riverbanks or road cuts, or simply just digging 30-40 centimeters below the soil.
Map of Things To Do In Fairbanks
To make sense of all these fun things to do in Fairbanks, we put together a handy dandy map!
Click here for our map of things to do in Fairbanks, for your next epic Alaska road trip.
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!
MORE CITIES TO EXPLORE
Want more inspiration for things to do in Fairbanks? Follow our Alaska Pinterest board for more ideas!