Welcome to ‘Interior Alaska’ – the land between the mountains. Fairbanks sits in the center of the state and is the jumping-off point for visiting the high Arctic. One of the few big landlocked towns in Alaska, Fairbanks is often overlooked since it’s not a cruise port. But that doesn’t mean that there are not plenty of things to do in Fairbanks year-round!
Fairbanks has been a critical hub in Alaska ever since its inception. It started as a gold rush outpost for the region and then evolved into a critical pipeline outpost during its construction. Now it acts as the outpost of Alaska’s Interior.
I’ve been to Fairbanks 5 different times in summer and winter. In fact, I love Fairbanks so much that I even run Ottsworld Tours there! Hands down Fairbanks is the best place to really get to know the hearty people of the interior of Alaska. It’s also the best place to have a chance to see the aurora from September through April.
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Living on the edge of the Arctic Circle
With a population of 32,000, I was excited to visit Fairbanks and meet the people who live in this extreme environment on the edge of the Arctic. You have to embrace change if you live in Alaska; daylight changes drastically from day to day losing 6 minutes of daylight (nearly an hour every week!) as it heads towards December 21st and gains 6 minutes after that.
With the darkness comes the cold and parking lots with electrical outlets at every spot. Due to the extreme cold temperatures in Fairbanks during the winter, most vehicles are equipped with several electric “heating” devices that facilitate starting during the coldest time and should be plugged in to keep warm.
“When it gets cold, we just get close,” a local Fairbanks man told me when I asked how he survived the winters.
But with the summer comes the long days and a population with an abundance of ‘cabin fever’. As I drove around the city center in the summer I was impressed by all of the outdoor trails and activities. People in Fairbanks love to get outside in the summer and winter, and so do I.
What To Expect From This Fairbanks List
There are a number of operators to choose from that are well established; however, in my travels, I like to focus on the new, unique operators. They tend to be the smaller, younger companies that are serving the independent traveler and providing a more personal touch than the larger tour options. If you just dig a little bit, you can find those smaller, individual experiences that might be harder to get to or even more expensive.
Luckily though you don’t have to dig – I’ve compiled all of these awesome Fairbanks things to do into this list. I’ve organized the things to do in Fairbanks by summer, winter, and both seasons. My goal is to help you experience a unique Fairbanks trip that takes you a bit off the tourist track and is more integrated locally.
Things to do in Fairbanks in the Summer
Fairbanks often goes unnoticed by tourists in the summer, but of course, I was not going to overlook this old gold-mining town. Thanks to being brought up in the Midwest, I am always intrigued with towns and communities that are landlocked and in the middle, that are overshadowed by their more popular neighbors (ahem…Anchorage).
1. Fountainhead Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary & Trails
Just outside my hotel was the Fountainhead Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary – a series of trails winding through the boreal forest, perfect for running and walking. After spending a week in the treeless tundra around Nome I was excited to see trees again when I got back to Fairbanks!
I ran into many people taking their dogs out for walks and birdwatching as I did a little 3-mile run over wooden bridges and around the lakes. The trails connect to the Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. This is one run where I was happy I took my phone with me to take some pictures along the way!
More Information: Fountainhead Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary
2. Tanana Valley Farmer’s Market
This is the oldest established farmers market in Alaska and the only one located in its own permanent building. The Tanana Valley Farmers Market showcases a wide variety of Alaska-grown produce, native Alaskan plants, and locally made, Alaskan art and crafts.
Not only can you buy produce there, but you can also plan on having lunch…and you should go hungry! There was a surprising variety of ethnic food and I stuffed my face with Asian pork buns as well as Mexican tacos.
I spent the rest of my time looking around at the giant produce and strange veggies that I had never seen before. Everyone was so friendly and it was a great way to spend an afternoon learning more about the community.
More Information: Tanana Valley Farrmers Market Website
The market is open from May to September on Wednesdays and Saturdays
3. Georgeson Botanical Garden
Be an amateur botanist for the day as you wander around Georgeson Botanical Garden in search of rare, far-north plants. You’ll discover unusual species of flowers and trees that are endemic to Alaska and learn how they live and thrive in the wild climate of Alaska’s sub-Arctic interior.
This five-acre garden is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus and was officially opened in 1989 as a research facility. It’s now a vibrant green space that is beautiful, especially in spring and summer.
Kids will love the Babula Children’s Garden where Alaska’s largest hedge maze beckons. Its well-designed pathways meander through lush greenery. Kids can explore different sections named after beloved storybook characters like Peter Rabbit or Cinderella. Each area features plant species carefully chosen to reflect elements from these timeless tales – truly bringing stories to life!
More information: Georgeson Botanical Garden
4. Tanana Valley Railroad Museum
All aboard! Get ready for a charming journey through railroad history with a visit to this delightful museum situated within Pioneer Park. Marvel at vintage locomotives and explore model train layouts depicting various Alaskan landscapes.
Learn how steam locomotives played an essential role in shaping Northern Alaska as you explore vintage railcars filled with intriguing artifacts from yesteryear. You even take a ride on one of the park’s miniature trains!
More information: The Tanana Valley Railroad Museum is temporarily closed
5. Gold Dredge 8
Fairbanks owes its existence to the gold fever that descended on the Tanana Valley. Gold Dredge 8 takes you back to the late 19th century when prospectors flocked to Alaska in search of fortune. This massive gold dredge, towering over the landscape, once extracted millions of ounces of gold from the icy ground.
Now retired but meticulously preserved, it’s a national monument where you can learn about Alaska’s mining heritage. It stands as a testament to the incredible engineering and determination of those who sought their dreams during this historic period.
When you step onto Gold Dredge 8’s property, get ready for an immersive experience. The knowledgeable guides here will take you on a journey through time as they share captivating stories and insights. You’ll learn about the dredging process that revolutionized gold mining and witness firsthand how these behemoth machines operated. Plus – you can even pan for gold as part of your visit.
More information: Gold Dredge 8
Things to do in Fairbanks Year-Round
6. University of Alaska Museum of the North
As I pulled up to the sleek white building I was surprised to find modern architecture in a small community. And the surprise didn’t stop there. The exhibits inside the Alaska Museum of the North were equally impressive. There was a large Alaska natural history section that will fully educate you about the grand state.
And upstairs was an impressive array of contemporary and modern art done by Alaskan artists. I loved the upstairs exhibits as I’m a modern art buff. Many of the works had an Alaska theme to them in some way – but some were also just great pieces that had nothing to do with the state.
And of course, I couldn’t miss out on Otto the Bear, the most recognizable specimen at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Campus of the North. Otto is an 8′ 9” brown bear that has greeted guests for more than 40 years. And yes – Ottsworld met Otto.
The museum has been working on restoring Bus 142 from the story Into the Wild for the last few years. Hopefully, in 2024 it will be on exhibit for the public to see and experience. Check out the museum website for updates on its status.
More Information: University of Alaska Museum of the North
7. HooDoo Brewing Company
I had been hearing good things about the Fairbanks craft brew scene, so I decided to check it out myself. After getting lost around the railroad tracks, I finally came across the big industrial building that was HooDoo Brewing Company. In true Alaska form – it was basic and rugged, not like the craft breweries and bars in hipster neighborhoods that I’m used to. It was functional.
Go inside and order a HooDoo beer and then head back outside to the picnic tables to enjoy your frosty brew. It didn’t take me long to make friends with some locals I shared the picnic table with. HooDoo Brewing doesn’t have food, instead, they have various food trucks that come each night and park on the premises serving up food to the hungry beer drinkers. I loved the outdoor vibe; everyone soaking up the daylight and enjoying the outdoors and laid-back feel.
8. Running Reindeer Ranch
As I pulled into the driveway two big balls of brown fur ran out in front of my car I hit the brakes in a panic. I let out a sigh of relief, it would have been pretty bad if I had hit a reindeer as I entered the Running Reindeer Ranch!
As reindeer roamed freely in the Running Reindeer Ranch yard and around the cars the owner, Jane, greeted us and started filling our heads with fascinating reindeer facts. I was there to not only learn about reindeer but to also walk with them through the forest – a unique Fairbanks activity offered year-round. Read about my entire reindeer experience and how I nearly got myself run over.
My first visit to the ranch was in the summer. There are few places I go back to a 2nd time because there are just so many places to see in the world that I’m not fond of do-overs. However, as soon as I knew I was going back to Fairbanks in the winter, I put Running Reindeer Ranch on my must-see list…again. I visited Jane’s unique reindeer experience when I traveled through Fairbanks in the summer a few years back, but I was really excited to see and walk with the reindeer in the winter landscape.
My winter visit had some new surprises in store for me compared to my summer visit. In addition to the snow that was dolloped on the trees, there was one thing that was vastly different on this visit to the reindeer – the people! Jane was still there giving the fascinating history of reindeer and how she ended up being what I call the ‘reindeer whisperer’, but the sheer number of people who were also there to see the reindeer surprised me. In the summer when I came there were only 3 of us. However, in the winter there were nearly 18 of us! Luckily there are plenty of lovable reindeer to go around.
Take a walk through the boreal forest along with the reindeer, get pictures, and learn about the fascinating lives of these gentle animals. It will take you far beyond Christmas myths, and it will make you want to come back for more in other seasons!
The Running Reindeer Ranch is located near the University of Fairbanks. It operates year-round except for Christmas when the reindeer have other ‘important’ work to do. Book early as the tour has become pretty popular and often fills up in the winter!
9. Morris Thompson Cultural Center
Check out the Morris Thompson Cultural Center and you’ll quickly have a full Fairbanks itinerary planned! The facility was created by the Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, and the Tanana Chiefs Conference.
The Morris Thompson Cultural Center aims to inspire residents and visitors to get out and explore Interior Alaska and Arctic Alaska as well as to preserve Athabascan languages and carry on traditional knowledge through Elder teachings. Here you will be able to find all the information you’ll need for your Fairbanks visit to Interior Alaska and Arctic Alaska.
More information: Morris Thompson Cultural Center
10. Visit the Arctic Circle and Coldfoot Truck Stop – Day Trip
Fairbanks is the hopping-off point for the Arctic Circle, and the only way to get to the Arctic Circle is to take one of the many Alaska bush flights or drive the Dalton Highway; I did both! If you have time while you visit Fairbanks head north out of town where the pavement ends and the highway begins.
The Dalton Highway follows the Alaskan pipeline from Fairbanks to Coldfoot Alaska (a midway truck stop) and slightly beyond. The highway was built as a supply road to support the construction of the pipeline in 1974. It’s a 414-mile road (the majority of it dirt) beginning at the Elliott Highway north of Fairbanks and ending at Deadhorse near the Arctic Ocean. And it’s still used primarily in conjunction with the pipeline today for maintenance crews, shipping…and a little bit of…tourism.
You might think that this chance to visit the Arctic Circle and drive the Dalton Highway is only available in the summer – but you’re wrong! You can do this tour in the winter too! I’ve actually done it in the summer and winter and loved both trips.
In the summer, expect a lot of daylight to explore. You’ll stop at some old roadhouses, the Yukon River, the Arctic Circle, and Coldfoot. I actually stayed in Coldfoot for a night and did more exploring with a guide hiking through the tundra and learning about the history of this unique area before flying in a bush plane back to Fairbanks.
You can do the same sort of trip in the winter with a few additions. I flew up to Coldfoot on a perfect winter day. It was spectacular to see the tundra from the plane covered in snow. We had lunch in Coldfoot at the truck stop and then hopped in the van and started the long and fascinating drive back to Fairbanks.
We stopped to see the pipeline, do some sledding, and enjoy the Arctic Circle and the Yukon. Finally – I chose to do an add-on experience where we stopped at a cabin about 90 minutes north of Fairbanks to watch for the aurora. As we were in the van we could see the aurora starting to appear and by the time we arrived at the cabin, it was in full swing.
This was one of the best aurora viewing nights I had in Fairbanks – the lights danced for hours. Plus – the cabin provided a wonderful place to warm up and have snacks in between aurora viewing! It was a very long day as we didn’t get back to Fairbanks until 5 AM! But it was soooo worth it.
More Information for driving the Dalton Highway
Northern Alaska Tour Company – drive-up/fly-back variations in winter and summer
Rent your Own Car from Arctic Outfitters – gravel road-allowed automobile rentals for the Dalton Highway traveler
Dalton Highway Shuttle
11. Aurora Ice Museum – Day Trip
Located at the Chena Hot Springs Resort about an hour from Fairbanks is Alaska’s coolest museum! By coolest I mean, literally the coolest. At a chilling 25 degrees Fahrenheit, the Aurora Ice Museum lives up to its name. It features the world’s largest year-round ice sculpture display. The sculptures in the museum are all created by Heather and Steve Brice who are indeed very big names in ice sculpting.
As you wander through the museum’s icy corridors, be prepared to encounter magnificent sculptures that seem almost otherworldly. From life-sized animals to mythical creatures and intricate ice chandeliers, each creation is meticulously carved. Every corner reveals something new and astonishing – play an ice xylophone, crawl into an indoor igloo, or visit a frosted chapel!
Have a Drink at the Famous Ice Bar
One of the highlights of the Aurora Ice Museum is its famous “Ice Bar.” Step inside this frigid lounge area adorned with icy furnishings while enjoying your favorite beverage served in -10°F glasses made entirely out of ice! It’s a truly chilling experience that will make your heart race while keeping you refreshed at the same time.
If you’re lucky enough to visit during winter months when Alaska’s famous Northern Lights illuminate the sky, prepare yourself for an even more enchanting encounter. The museum’s location offers an ideal vantage point for witnessing nature’s most mesmerizing light show – dancing curtains of vibrant colors painting an indigo canvas above your head.
More information: Aurora Ice Museum at Chena Hot Springs
12. Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
Calling all car enthusiasts! Visit the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum to delve into automotive history. This treasure trove showcases rare and beautifully restored automobiles from as early as 1898. Discover how vehicles have evolved throughout time while appreciating their intricate designs and craftsmanship. Don’t miss the horseless carriages and the cycle cars.
But wait…the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum is so much more than a car museum. The real charm comes from the early models and the era clothing on display with each car. It houses many accessories that bring the Art Deco period to life. The museum is located on the grounds of the Wedgewood Resort.
More information: Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
13. Pioneer Park
Not your typical museum or visitors center per se, Pioneer Park is a living testament to Fairbanks’ past. This attraction in Alaska was created for the Alaska ‘67 Centennial Exposition to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the state’s purchase from Russia. It showcases 5 family-friendly educational and community attractions.
Pioneer Park isn’t just an ordinary park; it’s also home to several engaging museums that offer insights into Fairbanks’ cultural history. Nestled along the Chena River, this park recreates an early 1900s gold rush town with authentic log cabins transformed into quirky shops and eateries.
Take a trip back in time at the Pioneer Air Museum where you can marvel at vintage aircraft or hop aboard a replica paddlewheel riverboat at The Riverboat Nenana Museum for a scenic cruise. With its playground, carousel, and train that circles the perimeter, it’s easy to see how the park is a fun, family-friendly day out.
More information: Pioneer Park
14. Fairbanks Community Museum
Explore Fairbanks’ colorful past at this charming community museum located in the heart of downtown Fairbanks. Hear stories about its pioneers, gold rush history, and the significant role that the railroad played in shaping this frontier city. View fascinating exhibits on local industries like mining and dog mushing. Don’t forget to check out their rotating exhibits which often highlight local artists and community events. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of how this vibrant city came to be.
More information: Fairbanks Community Museum
15. Alyeska Pipeline Visitor Center
Situated along the iconic Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), this unique attraction offers a fascinating journey through the history, technology, and environmental impact of one of the world’s largest pipeline systems. As you step into the visitors center, prepare to be amazed by the sheer scale of TAPS. The pipeline stretches an impressive 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope all the way to Valdez on its southern coast. It was built in response to America’s growing demand for oil in the 1970s and has been operating safely ever since.
The visitor center provides an excellent opportunity to learn about how TAPS operates and its significant role in transporting crude oil across this vast state. Engaging exhibits showcase various aspects of pipeline construction, maintenance, and safety protocols. You’ll gain insights into the intricate engineering techniques used to overcome challenges such as permafrost conditions and wildlife conservation efforts implemented along its route.
One highlight of your visit will undoubtedly be exploring “Pipeline Alley.” This outdoor exhibit features an actual section of pipe allowing you to see up close how it functions. Marvel at its size and strength while learning about the innovative measures taken to protect it from extreme weather conditions like earthquakes and avalanches.
For those interested in environmental stewardship, there are interactive displays that delve into Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s commitment to minimizing impacts on local ecosystems. Discover their extensive monitoring programs aimed at safeguarding wildlife habitats and ensuring clean waterways throughout TAPS’ operation.
More information: Trans-Alaska Pipeline Viewpoint
16. Visit the Fairbanks Geophysical Institute
For those science-y people – this is a super cool thing to do in Fairbanks. Visit the Geophysical Institute located at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Since it was established by an Act of Congress in 1946, scientists at the Geophysical Institute have studied geophysical processes from the center of the Earth to the surface of the sun and beyond, turning data and observations into information useful for state, Arctic, and national priorities.
World-class researchers study everything from the center of the Earth to the center of the Sun. When I was researching a story about the northern lights in Fairbanks, I actually was able to meet with some of the scientists at GI and talk to them about aurora on other planets.
However, for the tourist – you can also visit the institute and learn more about their research. They offer free public tours in the summer weekly on Wednesdays at 1 PM. If you can’t make that time, they have self-guided tours you can do. They also run tours out at Poker Flat Research Range. Poker Flat is the largest land-based rocket research range in the world and the only high-latitude rocket range in the United States. Join a tour to learn about the exciting science that happens at the range and see some of the facilities, including the blockhouse complex and the launch pads.
Check out the Fairbanks food scene
Most people come to Fairbanks for adventure – and there is plenty of that. However one of the surprising things about Fairbanks is the food scene. For a town of 30,000 people, I’m amazed at the ethnic diversity and quality of food in Fairbanks. And it’s not all seafood and steak! These are all places that I take my tour groups when I’m there.
17. Thai Food in Fairbanks
The Thai House Restaurant was the first to bring Thai food to Fairbanks, in 1989. Now there are over 20 Thai restaurants in the relatively small town of Fairbanks. It is the Thai capital of Alaska! There was a migration of Thai people into the Alaska interior for gold mining; when that didn’t pan out, many stayed needing a livelihood. Restaurants followed. I suggest you try Thai House and Bahn Thai – everything is delicious – and authentic!
More information: Thai House Restaurant
18. Try Moldovan Food at Soba
Yes – you read that right – there’s a Moldova restaurant in Fairbanks. I’m pretty sure my home in Denver doesn’t even have a Moldova restaurant. Soba serves authentic Eastern European food and Moldovan wines. It’s the perfect hearty food in the winter.
We tried the potato pierogies, pelmeni pork dumplings, cabbage wraps with rice and pork, beet soup, and don’t miss out on the sour cherry crepes. It’s all so good!
More information: Soba Restaurant
19. The Crepery Restaurant
The Crepery is the place to be in downtown Fairbanks. It’s a popular stop for locals and tourists. They serve up sweet and savory crepes and it’s a favorite place of mine for lunch. Popular fillings include Brie and pear, as well as smoked salmon. Gluten-free versions are available.
More information: The Crepery
20. Pump House Restaurant
The Pump House is one of my favorite upscale restaurants in Fairbanks. The historic building along the Chena River was reconstructed in the spring of 1978 giving a nod to the 1890’s “Gold Rush” motif and atmosphere. Everywhere you look you will see relics from the rich and illustrious past. In the summer months, sit on the deck overlooking the historic Chena River and watch the Riverboat Discovery pass and the float planes land. The Pump House serves more traditional Alaskan fair such as steaks and seafood. Expect big portions and great drinks too.
More information: The Pump House
Fairbanks Alaska – Your Home Base for Winter Fun
Fairbanks is where all the Alaska winter fun seems to happen. Unlike summer where so many tour offerings are about cruises, the winter in Alaska is about the interior and survival.
Traveling overland in summer is a tough process; Alaska’s landscape is made up of a lot of spongy tundra (permafrost covers half of Alaska) and there are few roads. But winter suddenly makes everything accessible. Rivers freeze and become highways to move around on. The ground hardens and suddenly Alaska sled dogs can take you anywhere.
Watch my winter adventures in Fairbanks below! Video by Michaela Potter
Alaska Winter Weather
I know what you are thinking – it’s too cold, there’s too much snow, it’s too dark. However, if you are going for a winter vacation – don’t you want snow? And if you are going to see the Northern Lights – don’t you want darkness?
You might be surprised to find out that the coastal areas don’t get as cold as you think – they rarely fall below 20F except for the occasional storm. Up in the Arctic areas, they don’t get much snow because it’s considered a desert.
However, Alaska’s interior does get cold and has lots of snow. There you may experience temperatures dipping into the -20F range and get lots of snow that will stick around all winter from October through March. All Alaskans know that you combat winter weather with the right gear. If you have the right gear – you can enjoy Alaska winter – even in Fairbanks!
I’ve traveled to some pretty cold places around the world and have found some key gear that I take on every winter adventure. Check out my list of extreme winter gear I use
Monthly temperatures Coastal and Interior Alaska
Alaska Winter Driving
Most of these places I’ve mentioned do require a rental car, but it’s worth it to brave the winter roads so that you can get out and have all of these wonderful experiences. It’s easy to rent a car at the Fairbanks airport. I used Avis, but there are a number of options.
I would absolutely get an all-wheel drive vehicle though as it is necessary and there were a few times when I was driving through a lot of snow on not-so-well-plowed back country roads!
Do note that Fairbanks and the surrounding area don’t use salt on their roads, but that doesn’t seem to bother the locals much and I was able to get around fine.
Plus if you go to Alaska in the winter, you get introduced to the unique Alaska winter culture of plugging in your car at night! Yes, that’s right, your rental car will come with an electric chord that you can use to plug in your car everywhere you go and keep the engine block from freezing.
More information: Fairbanks Rental Cars
Things to do in Fairbanks in the Winter
While Alaska is a popular dream destination in the summer, it gets little respect in the winter. The fear of frigid temperatures, lack of light, and heavy snow scare off most people. However, that’s the exact reason why I thought Fairbanks would be the perfect place to go for an Alaska winter adventure – I wanted to see how the hearty Alaskans lived and played in the off-season.
Plus you get a couple of bonuses to the Fairbanks winter, like Northern Lights and cheaper prices. My airfare from Denver to Fairbanks was only a mere fraction of summer prices, and quite a bit less than other hearty further flung Scandinavian winter destinations.
And while a Fairbanks Northern Lights trip may have brought you to this lesser-known part of Alaska, there are plenty of other things to do which makes Fairbanks the perfect spot for an Alaska winter adventure vacation!
21. Ice Fishing
Fairbanks is a winter wonderland for ice-fishing enthusiasts! If you’re looking to experience the thrill of catching fish through a frozen lake’s icy surface, look no further than this incredible destination. Nestled amidst scenic landscapes and frigid temperatures, this charming city offers an exhilarating experience for both novice and seasoned anglers alike.
Fairbanks is renowned for its stunning frozen lakes and rivers that transform into a winter playground for ice-fishing enthusiasts. With over 100 lakes within a 50-mile radius, you’ll have endless opportunities to explore new spots and find that perfect catch. The region boasts numerous lakes teeming with various fish species such as Arctic char, northern pike, rainbow trout, and burbot.
Rods Alaskan Guide Service offers a ton of different winter tous in the area and that includes ice fishing. Don’t worry about getting cold – you fish from inside a warm little hut/cabin on the ice. If you go with a guide – you’ll have everything you need, equipment and a warm place to wait for the fish to bite! They even offer an aurora tour also – so you can snag that Arctic Char under the northern lights!
More information: Rods Alaskan Guide Service
22. Dog Mushing
Experience Alaska’s number one winter sport – dog sledding. Any Alaska winter trip needs to include some dog mushing! Fairbanks, with its stunning landscapes and frigid climate, offers a perfect setting for this traditional mode of transportation.
Dog mushing has been an integral part of Alaskan history and culture for centuries. Originally used as a means of transportation by indigenous peoples, today it has evolved into a popular recreational sport and tourist attraction. In Fairbanks, where winters are long and snow is abundant, dog mushing remains deeply ingrained in local traditions.
The true stars of dog sledding are undoubtedly the incredible sled dogs themselves. These highly trained canine athletes possess remarkable endurance and strength. Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and Alaskan Huskies are commonly found breeds in sled dog teams due to their exceptional cold-weather adaptability.
Fairbanks boasts an extensive network of well-groomed trails that wind through breathtaking forests and frozen landscapes. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced adventurer, there are options available for all skill levels. From shorter introductory rides to multi-day expeditions across remote territories such as Denali National Park – there’s something for everyone!
Go to Mushing School and learn how to operate a dog sledding team
There are so many choices and styles to choose from around Fairbanks for dog mushing. However, I was looking for a more hands-on experience as I wanted to learn more about how to mush my own team. Explore Fairbanks recommended I check out a new, young operation in Two Rivers, The Last Frontier Mushing Co-op.
Not only did I learn how to mush your own team in a half-day ‘mushing school’ tour, but I also learned a wealth of information about the dog racing culture of Alaska and what it takes to run a racing kennel. The young owners of the Co-op all have serious backgrounds in racing and because of that, they want to offer visitors a real immersive experience at their sled dog kennels. Their goal is to have people see how much the dogs love their job and experience the real Alaska.
But I must warn you, once you learn how to mush your own team of dogs, you’ll never want to go back to simply riding in a dog sled again. I was bitten by the dog sledding Alaska bug and can’t wait to go back again!
More information: Last Frontier Mushing Co-op. Located just 30 minutes outside of Fairbanks, the Co-op offers day tours, expedition-style tours, and aurora tours! Read about and see my mushing school experience.
23. Winter Warm-Up at Chena Hot Springs – Day Trip
One of the most popular stops around Fairbanks is a trip to Chena Hot Springs. Just hop on the Chena Hot Springs road and drive it until the end – about an hour from Fairbanks. You’ll arrive at a warm and toasty Alaskan winter wonderland.
This is a bigger tourist operation than the others I mentioned above, however, it is worth a stop – especially in the winter! It’s not just about the hot springs, the resort also offers snowshoeing, ice skating, snowmobiling, and dog sledding.
I recommend simply making this a day trip as the lodging options aren’t that great unless you get a cabin.
However, we booked a little cabin set away from other housing and enjoyed our warm cozy spot while the snow fell outside. After a big hike, we went for a soak in the hot springs at night. The wind was blustery and the snow was flying while we had a surreal experience floating around the many manmade hot spring pools in the evening. It was just what our sore legs needed! Sadly the beautiful snowfall ruined our chances to see aurora there, but it’s a great spot to situate yourself to see the aurora!
24. View the Northern Lights
Fairbanks is one of the prime spots on Earth for witnessing the breathtaking spectacle known as the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. It is truly a paradise for aurora borealis hunters; however, catching sight of those elusive green waves dancing across the sky isn’t just a piece of cake. Plan your visit between September and April when nights are longer and darker – perfect conditions for spotting those shimmering Northern Lights.
Location matters! To maximize your chances of spotting the Northern Lights, escape from the city lights. Head out to remote areas away from light pollution or get cozy at one of Fairbanks’ charming lodges where you can gaze at stars without any interference. Remember: It’s all about finding that sweet spot where darkness reigns supreme.
Also, keep in mind that one of the reasons why Fairbanks (the interior) is such a great place to view the northern lights is because it is inland and usually has clear skies. Unlike the coastal areas and countries like Iceland.
When it comes to witnessing the celestial Aurora Borealis painting its way across Alaska’s skies, patience is key — unless you’ve been blessed by some sort of cosmic cheat code! Sometimes the Northern Lights appear early; sometimes they make you wait.
Have an Alaska Aurora Experience at Aurora Bear
Frank and Miriam will gladly welcome you into their home and Alaska way of life on their off-grid home an hour north of Fairbanks. They offer nightly Northern Lights tours and photography instruction. They only take on small groups so they can provide an intimate level of service since they are hosting you in their home. They are situated perfectly for Northern Lights viewing north of Fairbanks under the aurora oval and among a backdrop of beautiful forest.
In addition, they share their interesting perspective on Alaska since they both came from Germany recently and decided to make this their new home. They fell in love with the Alaskan wilderness and have embraced it as their new home.
We all became fast friends and even came back out to meet them for an afternoon of snowshoeing before we departed! Their hospitality was phenomenal not to mention their darn cute dogs you will fall in love with. Aurora Bear is by far my favorite place to wait and watch for Northern Lights. It is also where I take my Ottsworld Tour Group!
25. Visit Denali and ride the Winter Aurora Train – Day Trip
Most people think that Denali National Park is only open in the summer, but it’s actually open year-round! Winter is a great time to visit Denali National Park as the crowds have all left, and you’ll find that you have the place to yourself! Stop in at the visitor center and ask to ‘borrow’ some snow shoes and poles, and you’ll be able to take on some of the winter trails.
Denali is about a 2-hour drive south of Fairbanks, but if you want a real unique adventure take the Denali in a Day Alaska winter train trip where you are driven down to Denali (with a few scenic stops along the way), snowshoe in the national park there, and then hop on the northbound Aurora Winter Train and slowly come back to Fairbanks via the Alaska Railroad!
This day tour allows you to visit Denali National Park, and ride the winter train all using Fairbanks as your hub! Read about my winter train experience here.
More information: Denali in a Day on the AKRR Website
26. Snowshoeing Nature Walks
Lots of places in Fairbanks offer snowshoeing tours in the winter. But if you really want to get out and appreciate the outdoors, learn about the winter flora and fauna, and the ecosystem of life among all the snow – then you want to check out Leaf Out Tours.
This is a local small operator that I use on my Ottsworld Alaska winter tours. I love to support small businesses when I travel, so when I met Shannon from Leaf Out a nature guide running her own little guiding business I was pretty excited. She took me out around her cabin to go snowshoeing in the woods. She’s a naturalist and the snowshoe hike was more like an interactive classroom – I learned SO MUCH. I played “Guess that Skat”, learned about reading animal tracks in the snow and understanding which way they were walking, and learned that squirrels are messy eaters!
If you are traveling independently around Fairbanks – be sure to look up Leaf Out and meet Shannon for a hike or snowshoe – she’s a wealth of knowledge and one of those awesome bad-ass Alaska women.
More Information: Leaf Out Nature Guides
27. Visit the Fairbanks Curling Club
We’ve all seen it during the Winter Olympics – the strange and foreign sport of curling. I am always intrigued by things that are specific to a region – and the sport of curling is definitely specific to the far north. The Fairbanks Curling Club is proud to be the oldest organized sports group in Alaska. If you visit Fairbanks in the winter and wonder, “What do the locals do during these long, cold winters”, just head to the curling club and you’ll get your answer.
There is league play practically every night in the winter – so why not head to the Fairbanks Curling Club, sit up in the viewing area, grab a beer (yes – there is always a bar), and watch the locals play in this fascinating sport! Plus – there will be plenty of other local spectators there to answer your many questions about the sport.
In addition, there are some opportunities to get hands-on and learn how to curl yourself! I have this as an activity in my Ottsworld Alaska winter tour and it’s always a highlight. Or you can always go to the Fairbanks Curling Club website and ask about beginner courses!
More Information: Fairbanks Curling Club
28. Fairbanks Ice Carving
Fairbanks is home to the World Ice Carving Championship. Each February the best ice sculptors in the world compete. So of course, if you are visiting during the championship – you should definitely head to the Ice Park and check it out and see the artists in action.
Even after the competition is over – the ice sculptures remain on display and you can walk through and view them for the remainder of the winter…or until they melt! It does require a ticket to get in – but it’s worth it to see these unique works of art. It’s particularly beautiful at night when the sculptures are lit up and seem to glow.
In addition, you can learn more about Alaska ice carving at the Fairbanks Ice Museum. This museum is open year-round and will take you through the history of carving and the competitions. In addition – in the summer they offer classes so you can learn how to carve your own ice art!
More Information: Fairbanks Ice Museum | Ice Alaska – Ice Carving Championship and Ice Park
29. Snow Machining
While in Fairbanks, make sure you try to travel around the Alaska wilderness like a local – on a snow machine! We call them snowmobiles in the lower 48, but if you want to fit in while traveling in Alaska – you better call it a snow machine!
There are a number of places where you can book a tour – from a few hours to a snowmobile multi-day tour. If you want to just get your feet wet and see what it’s like, then check out Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service. They offer a number of different tours and you can combine them with things like ice fishing or dog sledding.
I did a half-day tour with them and I was really impressed with the quality of their equipment and the level of instruction. They will provide all of the warm winter gear you need including boots and gloves. The snowmobiles are also in really great condition. I also loved that they gave you time on your own to just zip around the lake and take a look by yourself without having to always follow the group!
More Information: Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service Snowmobiling Tours
Now you are all set to experience winter and summer adventures in and outside of Fairbanks!
Where to stay in Fairbanks
This is a really nice hotel located in Downtown. It’s a perfect location to be able to walk to all of those great ethnic restaurants, and bars, get gifts, and the Ice Museum. Plus, it’s close to the river and you can do a number of nice walks around the river.
Pike’s Waterfront Lodge
Located on the banks of the Chena River – this big lodge is a great location for the airport and the train station. It has a lovely restaurant associated with it and in the winter they even have some special aurora viewing areas set up where you can keep warm while waiting. There’s always a lot of hustle and bustle at this lodge!
Check prices and availability for Pike’s Waterfront Lodge | Read reviews for Pike’s Waterfront Lodge on TripAdvisor | Search for other hotels in Fairbanks
Bear Lodge at Wedgewood
This is also a pretty big hotel often used by cruise companies in the summer. The hotel is nice and it’s located by many things on this list – like Creamers Field, Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary and Trails, and the Antique Automotive Museum.
Lodging outside of Fairbanks
If you want to get really off the beaten path, then go spend a night outside of Fairbanks at the Lodge at Black Rapids.
Lodge at Black Rapids – a Modern-Day Roadhouse
A 2 hour drive south of Fairbanks you’ll go deep into the Alaskan wilderness and history at the Lodge at Black Rapids. This impressive lodge made of slate and timber was made by hand by owners Annie and Mike Hopper.
It took them 10 years to build it! Now it sits perfectly perched on a hill overlooking the Black Rapids Glacier situated on Richardson Highway, what used to be the old main highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks. However, now since the new Parks Highway has been built, this route through the Eastern Alaska Range has become the road less traveled and is seldom seen by tourists.
Discover all the things to do in Anchorage in Summer or Winter
In addition, this route was also home to historic roadhouses that were built to serve travelers back in 1904 traveling the Valdez-Fairbanks trail. In fact, Annie has a ‘labor of love’ project currently restoring the old Black Rapids roadhouse that sits just below the new lodge.
Black Rapids Lodge is sort of like a modern-day roadhouse; a place to stop, get a warm meal, a comfortable bed, and local hospitality. But unlike traditional roadhouses, you’ll want to stay a while because Annie and Michael have an incredible list of outdoor winter adventures for you to sample.
One of the best activities they offer is a snowshoeing adventure to a nearby ice cave. Black Rapids supplied all of the gear and are happy to lend extra warm weather gear if you need it. You can do these hikes or skiing independently or hire a local guide via Black Rapids.
The rugged luxury lodge is just how you want to spend your winter in Alaska; enjoying the outdoors and then having a warm, comfortable place to come ‘home’ to with a little pampering. It’s a place where you will feel immediately at home.
Stay at The Lodge at Black Rapids for a weekend and have multiple adventures! Read reviews for The Lodge at Black Rapids on TripAdvisor
See my stories on other ‘underdog’ towns and regions you shouldn’t overlook
I was a guest of Alaska Tourism during my time in Fairbanks, however all opinions here are my own.