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Spotlight: Fairbanks

Discover vacation gold in this shimmering city

Alaska’s wild, rugged weather and rocky mountain landscapes are on full display in the hardy northern city of Fairbanks, where echoes of the Gold Rush and pioneering Arctic expeditions still feature prominently in city’s cultural ethos.

Located deep in the Alaskan interior, the state’s second-largest city is known mostly for its proximity to Denali National Park (home to Mount McKinley), its surreal northern light displays and its somewhat extreme climate. Summers are defined by long arctic days that burn brightly with up to 22 hours of sunlight, while winters play witness to temperatures that can drop to an exhilarating -60 and beyond.

But there’s more to Fairbanks than meets the eye, and there’s a reason more than 100,000 people call this unique and pleasantly remote northern gem home.

© State of Alaska/Kristen Kemmerling

© State of Alaska/Kristen Kemmerling

City on the Frontier

The city center is situated between the picturesque banks of the Tanana River and the Chena River. This pair of meandering navigable waterways once funneled early gold prospecting traffic and supplies into the region. In those days, it was little more than a turn-of-the-century trading post.

Today, visitors arrive by way of the George Parks Highway (Interstate A-4, Alaska Route 3) to find a surprisingly frenetic cityscape that is home to an eclectic mix of local shops and restaurants.

History buffs will be in their element here, as a diverse collection of museums is scattered throughout the area. The Museum of the North at the centrally located University of Alaska is widely regarded as one of the finest in the entire state, but a variety of other collections also warrant considerable exploration, including the Ice Museum, the Pioneer Air Museum, the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and the Fairbanks Children’s Museum. Pioneer Park in the center of Fairbanks is a must-visit for families, as it blends the town’s Golf Rush history with theme rides.

The real appeal up here, though, is found outside the city limits and under a clear blue sky. Hiking even a few minutes from the city center finds you in rugged, wild backcountry that’s teeming with moose, caribou, Dall sheep and, of course, grizzly bears—so keep your eyes peeled.

Lace up your hiking boots, make sure your camera is charged and don’t forget your binoculars—you never know what you’ll see or find on a day spent exploring the area’s vast network of trails and nearby state parks.

Adrenaline junkies have their pick of the activity litter: opportunities to go kayaking, river rafting, snowmobiling and alpine skiing are in vast supply. Those looking for a more laid-back experience can soak in natural hot springs, hit the links in one of three golf courses, or cast their lures on a chartered fishing trip.

© State of Alaska/Frank Flavin

© State of Alaska/Frank Flavin

Delightful Day Trips

The Chena River State Recreation Area (30 minutes to the east of Fairbanks) and Denali National Park and Preserve (2 hours to the southwest) are the most popular destinations for day-trips and wilderness escapes.

The latter is home to iconic Mount McKinley, which towers over the entire region at a height of 20,322 feet, making it the tallest peak in North America. Partially restricted to various types of traffic, Denali is best explored by way of a guided tour or shuttle bus service. These can be found at the park’s main visitor entrance, which also features a wide range of shopping, dining and camping options. Expect to spend some time here—the park spans more than six million acres and includes some of the most breathtaking trails, rivers, lakes and sweeping alpine vistas in the state.

By contrast, the Chena River State Recreation Area is the perfect place for a quick getaway, given its proximity to the city. Short, scenic hikes and bubbling public hot springs are visitor favorites, and the park’s bounty of regularly stocked fishing ponds are a major draw for anglers with a taste for fresh rainbow trout or Arctic grayling.

In July, the city celebrates itself with a weeklong event called Fairbanks Golden Days. Live music, antique cars and special activities fill the historic downtown core before culminating in the annual Golden Days Parade.

For More Information

Fairbanks Convention and Visitor’s Bureau
Alaska Travel Industry Association