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Top Things to Do in Fairbanks, Alaska

Green and purple northern lights over Fairbanks, Alaska

Image courtesy of Neill Toelle

Fairbanks is one of Alaska’s treasures. Located only a short distance from the Arctic Circle, this city continues to be an important destination for tourists traveling to the northernmost U.S. state. As a popular stop for those heading out onto or coming back from an Alaskan cruise, Fairbanks offers a glimpse into the natural beauty that makes its citizens so proud to live in a place so cold.

From majestic mountain peaks to delicate ice sculptures, there is something for everyone in this one-of-a-kind town. Looking for ideas on what to do? We’ve compiled a list of eight of our top favorite winter and summer activities for visitors. Check them out below!

8. Marvel at the northern lights (aurora borealis).

If you’ve made it this far north, you won’t want to miss out on one of Alaska’s most stunning natural phenomena: the northern lights. Caused by solar wind particles making their way into Earth’s magnetosphere(opens in a new tab), the northern lights are often seen as green or purple-tinged light trails shimmering across the night sky. Winter is the prime season to see the lights due to the season’s short days and long nights, and it’s worth braving the cold to see them! Explore Fairbanks offers the nifty Aurora Tracker(opens in a new tab) with up-to-date information on weather conditions to increase your likelihood of spotting this incredible phenomenon.

For those who want to maximize their chances of seeing the northern lights, consider going on a tour with one of the many operators in the area. You can choose anywhere from a one-night excursion to a week-long experience(opens in a new tab) with a whole host of reputable companies. Not sure where to start? Check out the Alaska Channel’s list of northern lights tours(opens in a new tab).

7. Soak in the Chena Hot Springs.

Fancy a dip in a comfortable geothermal pool? Make a trip to Chena Hot Springs Resort(opens in a new tab), which is only about an hour and 20 minutes from Fairbanks. Discovered in 1905 by the Swan brothers who were looking for a way to alleviate rheumatoid pain(opens in a new tab), Chena Hot Springs offers steaming hot baths for you to take a dip in at any time of the year. Feel the stark contrast between the 100+ F (about 38+ C) degree waters and the subzero air breezing across your face as you float in the comfortable hot springs. They’re open all year, so you can enjoy this activity no matter the season!

6. Witness fierce competitors at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.

A trip to Fairbanks in July isn’t complete without a visit to the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO)(opens in a new tab). Watch participants compete in games like the Alaskan High Kick or Ear Pull(opens in a new tab), and learn a new sport or two! Attending daytime is free of charge(opens in a new tab) — so you can watch as many of these exciting contests as you’d like. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even discover a new hobby.

5. Discover the state’s history at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

Get a deeper look at Alaskan natural history at the Museum of the North(opens in a new tab). As part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Museum of the North seamlessly combines ancient artwork and artifacts with exhibits of Alaska’s current geography and wildlife. Peruse the Gallery of Alaska(opens in a new tab), which features collections centered on each of the states’ five main regions, or listen to the sound of Alaskan nature in The Place Where You Go to Listen(opens in a new tab), described as “an ever-changing musical ecosystem [that] gives voice to the rhythms of daylight and darkness, the phases of the moon, the seismic vibrations of the earth, and the dance of the aurora borealis.”

The Museum of the North is sure to amuse both adults and children alike, so be sure to check out their website for summer and winter operating hours.

4. Shred some fresh powder at the Moose Mountain Ski Resort.

If winter sports are your thing, check out Moose Mountain Ski Resort(opens in a new tab). Located in Fairbanks’ backyard, this ski resort features thousands of feet of vertical that skilled skiers and snowmobilers are sure to love. Open in the wintertime, this exciting mountain getaway will treat you to adrenaline-pumping adventures and downhill tracks designed to make your heart race! It’s perfect for those who want an experience in the Alaskan Range like none other.

3. Meet dog mushing legend Mary Shields at Alaskan Tails of the Trail.

Mary Shields made Alaskan (and Fairbanks) history as the first woman to finish the Iditarod, a 1000-mile sled dog race across the state(opens in a new tab). Though she continues to raise dog teams each year, she now also offers tours of her home and dog yard, introducing visitors to her large but lovable pups. Hear her tell harrowing “tails” of her many years in the Iditarod as well as other challenging races like the Yukon Quest and Hope Race. If three and a half hours with Mary and her fiercely loyal four-legged friends sounds like a dream, stop at Alaskan Tails of the Trail during your visit to Fairbanks.

2. Hike the trails at Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge.

Alaska is a wildlife lover’s paradise, from land animals like moose and bears to marine life like salmon and whales. Although perhaps less well-known, our state also features a whole host of bird species (at least for part of the year), which you can see at Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge(opens in a new tab). Explore the area’s many marked trails(opens in a new tab) and spot wildlife like the sandhill crane, a creature honored by the Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival each August. The perfect intersection of birdwatching and trail hiking, Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge is a Fairbanks must-see.

1. Play reindeer games at Running Reindeer Ranch.

It probably comes as no surprise that we made our own list. After all, we think we’re a pretty exciting attraction! Join us on a Reindeer Walk, and meet our herd of furry friends. We’ll talk about their home, the boreal forest, as we stroll alongside them and teach you about how they’ve adapted to life in the freezing cold. Afterwards, you’re invited into our home for world-famous cookies and more insight into why we’ve chosen a life filled with reindeer.

We also offer exciting activities like Reindeer Yoga. Trade your downward-facing dog for sleeping reindeer, who are content to wander or rest peacefully while you stretch. Our Facebook page(opens in a new tab) provides details on this and future events, so be sure to check it out!

We’ve only just scratched the surface of the many activities available in Fairbanks. No matter when you’re visiting the 49th state, whether it be the winter or summer, you’ll never run out of things to do.

So, what are you waiting for? Head up our way for a little bit of reindeer, a lot of snow, and an abundance of Alaskan wilderness.

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