Located in Interior Alaska, Fairbanks, the state’s second largest city, offers a unique blend of natural wonders, cultural experiences and outdoor adventures. Whether you’re interested in exploring local history, witnessing the aurora borealis or immersing yourself in the stunning Alaska wilderness, Fairbanks has something for everyone. Explore the best things to do in Fairbanks and the surrounding areas, offering a variety of activities for visitors and locals alike.
1. Attend a Fairbanks Festival
Photo Credit: Kim Iverson
Attending a festival in Fairbanks is a must for those looking for a vibrant and fun experience, offering a glimpse into the local community’s traditions and celebrations. From the World Ice Art Championships to the Midnight Sun Festival, these events showcase Fairbanks’ rich heritage and community that adds an extra layer of enjoyment to your visit.
- World Ice Art Championships (February-March): This competition draws artists from around the globe to sculpt intricate ice masterpieces, transforming Fairbanks into a winter wonderland.
- Midnight Sun Festival (June): A lively celebration during the summer solstice featuring music, art and cultural performances. If you need more reasons to attend the Midnight Sun Festival, remember there’s a reason why Alaska has the nickname Land of the Midnight Sun, with nearly 22 hours of sunlight and two hours of civil twilight on solstice.
- Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival (July): This festival is a creative haven, offering workshops and performances in various disciplines including music, dance, visual arts and more.
- World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (July): This special event showcases traditional Alaska Native athletic competitions, fostering and celebrating cultural pride.
2. Dip into Chena Hot Springs
Chena Hot Springs, 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks, is a geothermal gem known for its therapeutic mineral-rich waters, providing a year-round destination for rejuvenation. Visitors can soak in the outdoor rock pools while enjoying views of the mountains, creating a perfect blend of natural beauty and relaxation. Beyond the hot springs, the Chena River area offers outdoor fans opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and hiking, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the Alaska wilderness.
3. Go Dog Sledding
Alaska’s dog mushing history dates back to when sled dogs were essential for transportation across the state. During the 1925 serum run to Nome, mushers and their sled dog teams played a pivotal role in delivering diphtheria antitoxin, a venture that could only be done by dog sled. Dog sledding has evolved into a popular recreational activity, offering visitors a thrilling way to experience the state’s national sport. In Fairbanks, dog sledding offers memorable experiences throughout the year: summer brings the opportunity to meet sled dog puppies, while winter provides the chance to embark on a northern lights dog sledding tour.
4. Shop Local
Photo credit: The Knotty Shop
Fairbanks offers a fun shopping experience, offering Alaska artistry, Indigenous crafts and outdoor gear. Downtown features boutique stores, art galleries and specialty shops offering a variety of clothing, jewelry and gifts. Whether searching for authentic Alaska Native art, ulus — a traditional Inuit knife, smoked wild salmon or outdoor gear, Fairbanks provides a delightful shopping mix that caters to various tastes and preferences.
Remember that seasonal hours may vary, so checking individual store websites or contacting them directly for the most accurate information is advisable. We recommend checking out the following shops:
- Beaver Sports: Your one-stop shop for outdoor gear, catering to adventurers and offering equipment rentals for those ready to explore the outdoors.
- The Great Alaska Bowl Company: Watch artists as they craft Alaska art specialties, including the creation of birch bowls.
- Knotty Shop: Beautiful hand-crafted items such as wood carvings and glass sun catchers can be found at this local gift shop.
- Local Art Galleries: Learn about contemporary Alaska art by exploring local art galleries or picking up the free “Art Tours” pamphlet from the convention and visitors bureau.
- Santa Claus House: Visit Santa at his North Pole, Alaska residence, just outside town. The Santa Claus House sells Christmas items year-round, and you can take pictures in front of the murals outside the building.
- Tanana Valley Farmers Market Shop: Shop with the locals at the summer farmers market beside the Tanana Valley fairgrounds. Try some local favorites like reindeer sausage or salmonberry jelly.
5. Take a Hike
© State of Alaska/Michael DeYoung
Hiking in Fairbanks is a worthwhile experience due to the region’s unique geographical features. The vast landscapes encompassing the city are characterized by the presence of the Alaska Range to the south and the White Mountains to the north. The Chena River, flowing through the heart of Fairbanks, offers additional scenic riverbank trails for hikers. These terrains cater to hikers of all skill levels, with various trails that showcase the breathtaking beauty of Alaska.
We recommend the following trails:
- Angel Rocks: Located in the Chena River State Recreation Area near Fairbanks, this popular hiking destination has a three-and-a-half-mile loop. This trail offers gorgeous views of the surrounding wilderness and the Chena River.
- Granite Tors: This 15-mile loop takes hikers through a diverse landscape featuring alpine tundra and, as the name suggests, impressive granite tors. These tors are large rock formations shaped millions of years ago by cooled molten rock.
- Chena Dome:The Chena Dome trail covers a 29-mile loop in the Chena River State Recreation Area for a more extensive backpacking trip. The hike offers a comprehensive exploration of the area, including dense forests and open alpine terrain, making it an attractive option for those seeking a more extensive hiking experience.
6. Search for Wildlife
The Interior is home to various species, such as moose, caribou and Dall sheep, often spotted in the forests and mountains surrounding Fairbanks. The Chena River and its adjacent areas provide habitats for beavers and muskrats. Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge is a prime location for bird watchers to observe migratory birds. Additionally, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Large Animal Research Station offers tours to observe muskoxen, an ancient Arctic mammal known for its exceptionally thick coat, one of the warmest natural fibers on the planet. These tours contribute to wildlife observation and educational insights into the research conducted on the animals.
7. View the Aurora Borealis
© State of Alaska/Chris McLennan
If you’re in Fairbanks between September and April, staying up late to chase the northern lights is a must. Fairbanks is a prime location for seeing northern lights in Alaska due to being right under the aurora oval— a ring across the globe at 65 degrees north. Our favorite months for spotting the lights are September, February and March due to warmer temperatures and relatively clear skies. To make the most of your northern lights hunt, read our complete guide to seeing the aurora borealis.
8. Bike the Trails
Fairbanks has an extensive biking trail network that caters to recreational cyclists and more extreme enthusiasts. The city’s well-kept trails make biking ideal for exploring the area. The Fairbanks Cycle Club maintains various trails along the Chena River and through the city’s parks, providing many options based on skill levels and preferences. Several rental vendors in Fairbanks offer quality bicycles for visitors to rent to explore the city and its surroundings. The University of Alaska Fairbanks and Goldstream Sports both offer options for short or long-term rentals.
We recommend the following bike paths:
- Chena River Trail: A leisurely ride along the Chena River to enjoy the natural beauty.
- Ester Dome Singletrack Happy Valley Trail: A challenging mountain biking ride with scenic views.
- University Trail system: A network of trails providing various options and distances.
9. Visit Pioneer Park
Pioneer Park is a cultural experience easily accessible from downtown Fairbanks. Pioneer Park visitors can learn about the state’s history with various attractions, including the Pioneer Museum, showcasing artifacts from Alaska’s past. The park offers a pleasant atmosphere for strolls with beautifully landscaped grounds. Visitors can partake in the Gold Rush Town, an authentic recreation of an early 1900s Alaskan town with historic buildings and costumed actors. Families can enjoy the Pioneer Air Museum, housing a collection of vintage aircraft. Throughout the year, the park hosts events and festivals, which can find listed on their concert calendar. Entering the park is free, though some museums require admission.
10. Try Gold Panning
© State of Alaska/Matt Hage
For the true Alaska pioneer experience, try your hand at gold panning. Fairbanks, a central location of Alaska’s historic gold rush legacy, is close to the Klondike and Fairbanks goldfields, where significant gold deposits were discovered in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Visitors in Fairbanks have the opportunity to try this time-honored activity in various locations, including local streams and creeks renowned for their gold-bearing potential. The Chena River offers accessible areas for recreational gold panning, allowing participants to relive the prospecting spirit of the past. Fairbanks gold mine tours are also available for a first-hand experience of gold panning and learning about Gold Dredge 8 in the Tanana Valley.
11. Enjoy a Museum Day
© State of Alaska/Michael DeYoung.
Fairbanks offers exceptional museums, from science to history and everything in between. Exploring the museums in Fairbanks allows visitors to take a journey through the history and cultural heritage of the region. Whether delving into the traditions of Alaska Native cultures or admiring the intricate craftsmanship of ice sculptures, a day spent museum-hopping in Fairbanks promises an enriching and memorable experience.
- Aurora Ice Museum: Take a seat at the bar carved of ice, enjoy a cocktail from an ice glass and marvel at the two-story ice museum made from 1,000 tons of ice and snow that’s open year-round.
- Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum: Step back in time to the pre-World War II era and admire the remarkable collection of restored vintage automobiles of the early 20th century.
- Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center: Engage with exhibits and educational programs focused on the history, traditions and contemporary life of Alaska’s rich communities.
- UAF Museum of the North: Explore the natural and cultural history of Alaska, ranging from Alaska wildlife and ecosystems to indigenous art and artifacts.
Best Things to do near Fairbanks
Fairbanks is close to multiple bucket list destinations in the interior of Alaska. Visitors can explore the tallest mountain in North America at Denali National Park or one of the two polar circles at the Arctic Circle. Read more about nearby attractions below.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park, located approximately 120 miles south of Fairbanks, is an iconic destination in Alaska. Visitors are encouraged to journey to Denali National Park for its unparalleled views of Mount Denali, North America’s highest peak. The park offers multiple wildlife viewing opportunities, including grizzly bears, wolves, foxes and more, amidst a tundra landscape and glaciers. To reach Denali National Park from Fairbanks, travelers can opt for a train ride on the Alaska Railroad or a drive along the George Parks Highway. There are plenty of things to do in Denali National Park, with activities ranging from bus tours into the heart of the park to numerous hiking trails, providing a once in a lifetime experience in one of America’s most magnificent natural settings.
The Arctic Circle is approximately 200 miles north of Fairbanks. Journeying to the Arctic Circle by car involves a six to seven hour long scenic drive along the Dalton Highway, traversing remote landscapes and providing opportunities to witness the remarkable Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Visitors should note that this expedition requires careful preparation, including a reliable vehicle, provisions and awareness of the challenging road conditions. If short on time, many flight tours explore the Arctic Circle and often include other excursions such as northern lights hunting, dog sledding and more. At the Arctic Circle, travelers can revel in the unmatched beauty of the Arctic tundra, witness the midnight sun or northern lights, depending on the season and gain a profound appreciation for the remote landscapes that define this region.
Delta Junction, located approximately 98 miles southeast of Fairbanks, is renowned as the official end of the Alaska Highway and the beginning of the historic Richardson Highway. Once there, visitors can explore the Sullivan Roadhouse Historical Museum to learn more about life in 1900s Alaska. This junction marked the completion of the transcontinental highway during World War II, facilitating the movement of military personnel and supplies to defend Alaska against potential threats.
Stay at the Westmark Fairbanks
In downtown Fairbanks, the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel offers proximity to key attractions, making your stay in Fairbanks comfortable and convenient. Our commitment to hospitality and central location makes us an ideal choice for visitors seeking an accessible and welcoming retreat during their stay in Fairbanks.