Traveling thru or to Fairbanks and wonder what to do in Fairbanks? Read about what are the Must-have-seen in the various months, and year round.
- A Visit by Lifestyle blogger Chrissie of Granola and Grace
- Must-see in Fairbanks: The Trans Alaska Pipeline
- January: If Possible See the New Members of the 40 Below Club
- February: Yukon Quest, and Fiedler Festival
- March: Best Time for Aurora Watching and Visiting the International Ice Championship
- June: Midnight Sun Run, Baseball Game, Salsa & Tequila Tasting Cruise
- July: Summer Arts Festival, Golden Days
- August: Tanana Valley Fair
- September: Equinox Marathon
- October: International Friendship Day and Celebrate Oktoberfest with Alaskan Brews
- Fairbanks Museums Worth Visiting
- Watch an Ice Hockey or Sun Baseball Game
- Riverboat Discovery Tours
- Enjoying the Outdoors
- Mosquito Alert: Start After Snow-Melt, End with First Snow
- What to Do about Mosquitoes?
- Visit the Red Carpet at the Howling Dog
- Year Round Entertainment
- More about Fairbanks: A Metropolitan Area Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere
- Seattle Is the Connection to the World
- What Crissy and I Wore
Disclosure: This post has affiliate links.
Important notice: Terms marked with * are explained in the High Latitude Style Glossary.
A Visit by Lifestyle blogger Chrissie of Granola and Grace
Since the end of the Cold War, nobody comes to Fairbanks by bloody accident anymore. Fairbanks has become a destination. People go there on purpose. Fairbanks is no longer a pit-stop where a Pope and a President meet at the airport on a red carpet like President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II did on May 2, 1984 with 5,000 Alaskans witnessing the meeting.
Chrissy, the blogger at Granola and Grace came to Fairbanks because her sister’s husband is stationed at Ft. Wainwright, a base east of Fairbanks. You can find a feature of Chrissy from Granola and Grace at this link. Prior to her visit, she had asked me a bunch of question that may be also of interest to other Fairbanks travelers.
Must-see in Fairbanks: The Trans Alaska Pipeline
Like many things in Alaska, what to do or what you can do in a week worth of time while in Fairbanks depends on the season you are visiting. In this post, I start with January to March. I will cover other months in later posts. No matter which month you visit, it’s a great fact that the Trans-Alaska pipeline is a Must-see.
January: If Possible See the New Members of the 40 Below Club
January is the coldest month. According to the statistics, temperature is 40 below zero every 500 days. Just looking at the number gives you already the insight that one can’t live by statistics. Weather is what you get climatology is what you find in tourist catalogs. This year we had 40 below for a couple of days. The event before dates back to winter 2012/13. In 2019, I finally made it to join the “40 Below Club” by having my photo taken in bikini at 40 below in front of the sign.
Even when you are not lucky to visit on a 40 below freezing day, you can still experience the cold in the Ice Museum. However, it is a bit different than the actual 40 below. In the cold room, humidity is much higher than it is usually in Fairbanks on 40 below days.
February: Yukon Quest, Fiedler Festival
Every even years, the Yukon Quest starts its 1000 miles (1600 km) race to Whitehorse on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks. In odd years, you can see the teams arriving after the 9 to 14 days tour. In the days prior to the start, there is a meet-and-greet with the mushers. Dress-code: Casual.
The dogs know they are in a race and want to run. It takes a snow machine and several men to keep a team in start position. The mushers start with 14 dogs. They can leave dogs at the check points when the dogs don’t feel well. But once dropped, the dog is out for the entire race. A team must still have 6 dogs upon arrival.
The Fairbanks Fiddler Festival attracts fmusicians and dancers alike. The performers wear kuspuks, or fancy gowns, while the dancers wear casual clothes with Alaska style jeans (16 oz with flannel plaid lining) and flannel shirts.
March: Best Time for Aurora Watching and Visit the International Ice Championship
In February and March, many Japanese tourists come to see the aurora. When you come in summer, you can’t see the aurora. To view the aurora, March is best. It is the driest month, which means likelihood for clear sky is high. Days and twilight are about 14 hours leaving enough time for dark skies with a dancing aurora. Of course only when weather allows and the Sun was very active. Read more about the aurora like why it is green. Also it’s important to know what to pack for aurora watching. Just having the right clothing isn’t enough. You also need to master the art of layering the right way to avoid discomfort when watching the aurora.
March also brings the International Ice Championship. In a park, ice carving artists produce beautiful sculptures. You can read more about how these ice sculptures are made at the link. Timing is key. While the exhibition is open for about a month, in the early stage only few sculptures are there, while towards the end the very whimsical one may have already the delicate parts sublimated, broken off, or melted in the spring sun.
Once in a blue moon, you may be lucky that due to low snow conditions in the Anchorage area, the Iditarod re-starts in Fairbanks. This race hits the trail with 16 dogs. The Iditrod trail is 1150 miles (1850.746 km). This year, Fairbanks is lucky to have the Iditarod on March 6 around lunch break. It’s a Must-see not only for the race, but also for the Iditarod street style of the people cheering the mushers and dogs along the trails.
June: Midnight Sun Run, Baseball Game, Salsa & Tequila Tasting Cruise
The midnight-sun run (10 K) not only attracts serious runners, but also Alaskan costume designers. Dress code: Any sports wear and costume goes as well as casual summer wear. There are various competitions for the best costume. One important prerequisite for getting the Best Costume Award is to actually do the run in that costume! The route of the run is just around the corner of our street. In the year, when Sarah Palin * became Governor of Alaska there was an invasion of Sarah Palins with her signature red blazer, black skirt and 2 inch heel black pumps.
In early June, the salsa and tequila tasting cruise is a great eventfor dancers. All tables and chairs are brought on land. Only a long table is left for a Mexican buffet and two short tables for tequila and Margarita tasting. Once all passengers have boarded and eaten their food, the boat sails with loud salsa music down the Chena towards the Tanana River. Passengers dance to the music on all decks. Well not all passengers, some passenger take care of the tequila tickets of the dancing passengers.
What to Do When You Spend a Week in Fairbanks Click To Tweet
Of course, like any cruise, this annual dance cruise asks for dress-up. Since the best space is on the open top deck, the weather determines the outfits. When it is humid outside, many women wear jeans with glamour long sleeve tops because of mosquitoes. Warm and sunny weather calls for party dresses. More tips what to wear on Saturday Nite dances.
Celebrate at Pioneer Park
The celebration starts in Pioneer Park, a historic park dedicated to the Gold Rush time. Various bands including military, bluegrass and immigrant bands play music at different pavilions. There is even a bag-pipe troupe and a steel drum band. Local groups perform a variety of dances from folk dance, over middle eastern belly dance, Hawaiian and Polynesian dance, to swing dance, etc..
Summer Arts Festivals
Musicians, actors, dancers and artists of various media are excited about the annual Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival at the end of July. While many of the attendees are from all over Alaska, there are lecturers from all over the world. On the stage, you will see the same high end clothing you see in performances in other places. The audience, however, wears what is Fairbanks Formal. More on the dress-code at the link.
At the end of July, the striking of gold in Fox near Fairbanks by Felix Pedro* is celebrated with the Golden Days Parade and many local dance, music, dinning and show events. You can even buy a warrant to have your travel companion, friend, spouse or kid imprisoned. You can get imprisoned yourself by not wearing the Golden Days button or stocking holder of the respective year. This events attracts people from everywhere between the Alaska and Brooks Range as well as tourists. Dress code options: Dounders’ years attire, kuspaks or casual. You will be immediately recognized as a tourist when you wear long sleeves and pants with a rain jacket and sneakers or Birkenstocks. Fairbanksans bear the rain with an umbrella or just so with short sleeves and pants.
August: Tanana Valley Fair
Alaskans in the Interior and on the North Slope get glaze in their eyes about the Tanana Valley Fair in August that provides great shopping and amusement opportunities. Dancing with the Fairbanks Stars is a big attraction like the riesenrad or the plastic bubbles that you enter and then roll with in a big water pool. For my European readers note that this fair is a combined business, trade and funfair. August is the rain season, rain gear is key. Sunshine means shorts and shirts.
September: Equinox Marathon
Marathon runners think of the must-do-once-in-a-lifetime Equinox Marathon in fall. At that time, temperatures are often already in the 40s to 60s (4 to 15.5o, but the runners wear their normal running gear and on-viewers wear jeans, shirts and a light jacket.
The International Friendship Day belongs to the 10 best fall events in Alaska.
Every October, many local breweries in Alaska celebrate Oktoberfest with special brews, and special “German” food. I never had such food in Germany, you get the idea. On weekends, they typically have a local band playing some bluegrass, country music, blues, salsa or pop music.
Also the bars dip in on the event. At the Howling Dog in Fox, a little community of 417 outside of Fairbanks, for instance, the Howling Dog (the place with the red carpet on which President Reagan and Pope Johannes Paul II met in Fairbanks on May 2, 1984), they often have a band that plays real Bavarian music. And guess what? These guys even wear Hosentürle Lederhosen, Bavarian hats, and Karohemden. Karo is a sort of gingham pattern with just two colors and the plaid is about 0.3937 inch x 0.3937 inch (1cm x 1cm) wide. Think more of a supersized gingham pattern than American style plaid. The word “Hemd” means shirt. Hosentürle means little door of the pants. 🙂 The female singer wears a dirndl she probably bought in South Tyrol or Austria.
Which Fairbanks Museums Are Worth Visiting?
I already mentioned the Ice Museum where you can see ice sculptures and test-drive the cold. Another museum to visit, is the Museum of the North on the UAF campus has a great Alaska art collection, many stuffed Alaskan animals, and Alaskan Native art work like grass and root baskets. The Alaska gallery introduces Alaska’s five major geographic regions in highlights of geography, artifacts, people, wildlife, and history. In spring, there is an exhibit on university hibernation research.
The Fountain Head Antique Car Museum is my favorite. Don’t think the cars of the 50s and 60s. No, real old cars like an Argonne, Argo Limousine, Columbia Mark XIX, McFarlan Type 125, or a Heine-Velox Victoria automobile. However, it’s not the cars that make this museum my favorite. It’s their historic fashion collection. It encompasses an assortment of motoring clothes, and everyday wear as well as formal dresses. There are items from the 19th century to the mid 20th of American style.
Pioneer Park itself is a museum of houses and buildings from the Gold Rush time. In the park itself there is a museum featuring the gold rush years in photos and items, and an airplane exhibition. However, in spring, you can only see the houses, but not enter them. To do so you must visit in summer. Nevertheless, it is nice to visit the park at night because of the colorful twinkle lights that adore the historic buildings. Yes, not very original, but still nice when the days are short and the nights are long.
Watch an Ice Hockey or Baseball Game
When you like ice hockey there are two teams in Fairbanks. The UAF Nanooks playing college ice hockey, and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs who play in the North American Hockey League. The former play either at the Patty Center or at the Carlson Center. The Ice Dogs play at the Ice Area on Cowles Road. Another famous sports team from Fairbanks are the Gold Panners.
Well, they don’t play before June as they are a baseball team, but their game on June 21 is one of the 10 Must-sees in baseball. The mid-nightsun baseball game starts at 10:30 pm at the Growden Memorial Park on Solstice.
Dine on the Tanana Chief or take an educational tour on the Chena with one of the three boats of Riverboat Discovery. There is a port-like dock with a Saloon for lunch or dinner and a store for ticket sale and souvenirs at the Chena. The large two boats dock here for river tours which are really informative. You will learn about dog mushing, see the late Susan Butcher‘s dog yard and Senator Murkowski‘s house where President Ronald Reagan spent a night. Furthermore, there is a visit of an Indian village, a fish wheel, a float plane starting and landing on the Chena, and a demonstration how to pin-bone a salmon with an ulu* with two cuts
The best part of the cruises is when the boat reaches the Tanana. The Tanana is glacier-fed. Consequently, her water is milky from silt. On the contrary, the Chena is rain-fed meaning that the water is crystal clear. The point where the Chena flows into the Tanana shows how the rivers mix because their water colors differ. The eddies of various size change in color due to the mixing process.
Another interesting thing is the higher water table of the Tanana than that of the Chena. This means some water of the Tanana flows upstream into the Chena. It actually flows down the gradient from the higher to the lower water table. Watching this play of nature is just fascinating.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Watching dog races is one thing, but actually sitting in a dog sled with the snow flashing in your face is another. There are several kennels in Fairbanks and its outskirts that offer sled dog rides for tourists. If you are a real outdoor enthusiast – I’m not – you have to go for a ride.
Rent a snow machine and take a ride on the frozen river. However, avoid the area between the Princess Hotel and the power plant! There the ice is thin or not even there due to the wastewater. I have seen a snow machine breaking thru the ice of the Chena and going under in March a couple of years ago.
Go skiing. The university ski trails are great for cross country skiing. The Birch Hill Ski Resort has downhill skiing. There is light at night. There is also a great place outside of town on the road to the Poker Flat Research Range. When you come with a large group you may try to arrange for a tour of this university owned rocket port at the public information office of the Geophysical Institute.
Take a dog sled ride, and visit Mary Shields*. What you most likely can’t do, is building a snowman. The snow in the Interior is rarely sticky enough to keep the snow together.
In summer, go hiking, kayaking or biking.
Mosquito Alert: Start After Snow-Melt, End with First Snow
Biologists estimate that there are about 17.5 trillion mosquitoes in Alaska! Waters are a mosquito breading paradise. The first generation of mosquitoes shows up right upon onset of snow-melt and breakup of the smaller rivers. They are small compared to the later ones. Mosquitoes are everywhere. People in the Interior always look forward to the arrival of the first dragon flies in mid June as they munch on mosquitoes. The first robins are also welcome for the same reason.
In spring, it often happens that a robin or dragon fly follows you around when you mow your lawn with a push mower. The mower scares the mosquitoes and they leave their hide-outs in the grass and became an easy meal for the predators.
What to Do about Mosquitoes?
When we immigrated to the Interior we did what all tourists and newcomers from mid-latitudes do, we bought mosquito repellents. Unfortunately, they seemed not to work. Therefore, we asked Alaskans who had a sourdough status of 20 years or more about what they do with respect to the mosquitoes. Their answer was
We just ignore them. You’ll get used to them or leave within two years.
Upon asking why they won’t use a mosquito repellent we got the answer
They take it as an appetizer.
Visit the Red Carpet at the Howling Dog
During the cold war, Fairbanks was a pit-stop for European flights to Japan or southeast Asia to fuel and exchange the crews. This fact even led to a meeting of Pope Johannes Paul II and President Ronald Reagan on a red carpet at the Fairbanks International Airport as they both traveled thru in the 1980s. That carpet is now in the Howling Dog Saloon in Fox, a small settlement 20 miles (32 km) outside of Fairbanks close to the goldmine. The saloon is open in summer only as the Fairbanks crowd stays away in winter because it is hard to start an unplugged car at 40 below (-40oC). more on what is a plugin for a car.
Year Round Entertainment
While there are many annual or biannual events in Fairbanks, there are also many monthly events for the locals. I already mentioned the large arts scene in Fairbanks in my post what to wear for First Friday and presented one of the events that presented beautiful (unwearable) dresses.
More about Fairbanks: A Metropolitan Area Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere
Fairbanks is an island in a sea of trees – somewhere in the middle of nowhere – in a taiga landscape with wildfires every summer. The next big city, population wise, is Anchorage 423 miles (681 km) bee line away. Driving to Anchorage means more than half a day on the road and crossing the Alaska Range, icy roads in winter. The so-called Parks Highway to Anchorage becomes a lonely one lane road in each direction with normal intersections once in a while after you pass the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ campus. The Alcan is a dirt road once you get into Canada. The Dalton is a haul-way to the oilfields and an unpaved road about 35 miles (56 km) north of Fairbanks. Therefore, most Fairbanksans leave town by plane.
Well, in Fairbanks only about 30% of the inhabitants are born in Alaska. This means 70% moved there. Where do these other people come from? This question reminds me of the little toddler with his father at the Fairbanks airport in the crowd of people who were waiting to pick up their folks. The little boy asked his dad “where do new Alaskans come from?” The dad answered “From the airport.” 🙂 I am one of those. I came to Fairbanks in 2001 and since then made Fairbanks to my personal runway ;).
Seattle Is the Connection to the World
Under these aspects it is not an odd thing anymore that most Fairbanksans consider the Seattle Tacoma airport as their backyard door. It is there where you get the connection to the world and the Alaskans’ most favorite destinations Mexico and Hawaii. Fairbanksans use the plane like New Yorkers use the subway.
What Chrissie and I wore
We hadn’t coordinated our LOTD. Thus, it was pure accident that we both wore something in red and black. Chrissie was dressed for hitting the outdoors after visiting me. She wore a buffalo plaid flannel shirt, while I wore a red and leopard print outfit. Since the last fresh snow was a while ago, I added red booties for styling my little red dress. On contrary to Chrissie, I had dressed to be ready for work after her visit.
Photos: G. Kramm if not indicated otherwise
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