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Did You Know … ?
- When ice sculpting was revived in Fairbanks (1988), sculptors used commercial ice from Seattle.
- The 1,523-mile Alaska Highway, ending in Fairbanks, was built in eight months as a World War II supply route.
- North America’s largest gold mill, Fort Knox Gold Mine, grinds 40,000 tons of ore daily to extract gold.
- The University of Alaska Fairbanks is America’s northernmost university.
- Fairbanks founder E.T. Barnette meant for this trading post on the Chena River to be temporary.
Of gold and oil
Fairbanks is a small city with a big story. It appeals to tourists for its Gold Rush history, Native Alaskan culture, the great outdoors and those other gifts of nature — the Northern Lights in winter and very, very long days in summer.
The city celebrates its seasons with vigor. Guests are invited to play outdoors — even in the depths of winter — at a variety of festivities including an ice-sculpting competition, the Festival of Native Arts, plus the Arctic Winter Games showcasing sports and cultures of the North.
The calendar also lists competitions that border on the extreme for most of us — dogsled races, the “world’s toughest” snowmobile race, cross-country skiing (not extreme, but cold) and even outhouse races in nearby Chatanika. The summer calendar boasts of the “world’s toughest” speedboat race.
At summer solstice, Fairbanks stages its Midnight Sun Festival, the state’s largest one-day event celebrating sunshine. Other events, including a powwow, are tagged as Midnight Sun celebrations, too. Visitors enjoy the bonus summer hours for walking, sightseeing, shopping — or shooting the rapids on a churning river.
The city offers museums and activities that highlight the uniqueness of Fairbanks and life in the far north. The University of Alaska Museum of the North and the Pioneer Museum are good starting points. Themes at other museums include dog mushing and ice.
Gold Dredge 8, outside of town, is a former mining site, now open for tourists who pan for gold, stroll a mining camp and travel by train to see gold fields.
A model Native Alaskan village is on display in the city’s Pioneer Park. Visitors also may see demonstrations of singing, dancing and storytelling by the first inhabitants — and visitors can shop for authentic crafts.
Most Fairbanks tourists also visit Denali National Park, which gives access to wildlife, a range of outdoor activities and North America’s tallest mountain. Visitors have access to wildlife viewing in town, too, and to outdoor spaces for cycling, dogsledding, hiking, kayaking, skiing and more.
Finally, seeing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline focuses the mind on modern realities and the importance of the oil industry here. Gold mining is alive and well, too.
Things to do for Venturers
- Compete in the late-winter World Ice Art Championships where you’ll chip away at a small bit of the 1,500-plus tons of ice that are used annually. There are a few slots for amateur competitors.
- Or, brave Fairbanks’ winter to compete in or simply crack up at the outhouse races and snowmobile tug-of-war during Chatanika Days. Chatanika is a gold mining town 30 miles north of Fairbanks.
- Go horseback riding. Join a multiday pack trip.
- Attend the Midnight Sun Intertribal Powwow in midsummer, or if traveling in autumn, plan for the Athabascan Fiddlers Festival, during which Alaska Native musicians celebrate their music.
- Make a date with a Golden Heart Greeter, meaning a local who volunteers as a greeter for out-of-town visitors to help those visitors get the most out of their stay in Fairbanks. Greeters and visitors are matched based on common interests.
- Go skiing or dogsledding in Denali National Park. Or, also at the park, raft the Nenana River’s Class V rapids.
Things to do for Centrics
- Make a day excursion to Denali National Park if it is not already on your itinerary.
- And, if you won’t be seeing these animals elsewhere, get a look at caribou, musk oxen and reindeer at the Robert G. White Large Animal Research Station.
- Come to Fairbanks for the Midnight Sun Festival, an excuse for music, food and fun. Make time for, or even run in, the 10K Midnight Sun Run.
- Pack a day with the entertainment and enlightenment offered at the 44-acre Pioneer Park, a historic theme park. Features include an aviation museum, a railroad museum, a Native Alaskan village, a recreated Gold Rush town, a riverboat, shows in a couple of theaters and an art gallery.
- There are several sled dog races in and around Fairbanks in winter. Schedule your trip to observe one.
- Rent equipment and paddle a canoe or kayak on the Chena River. Or, if it’s winter, turn to cross-country skiing at Birch Hill Recreation Area or on the University of Alaska Fairbanks Skarland Trail System.
Things to do for Authentics
- Between late August and April see the light of the aurora borealis, aka Northern Lights.
- Get a look at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
- See museums with specialties unique to the area, such as the University of Alaska Museum of the North (for the ethnographic artifacts); the Pioneer Museum (for insights into the Gold Rush era), and the Alaska Native Museum.
- Pan for gold at a former mining site, Gold Dredge 8. Ride a replica Tanana Valley Railroad car on a tour through gold mining fields, stroll through a mining camp and watch miners demonstrate a sluice box.
- Shop for Native Alaskan artifacts. Also, look for items made of qiviut (musk ox hair).
- Visit a nearby town called North Pole, for the Christmas spirit — more effective in winter. You can get fun photos and postmarked cards anytime of year.
For more information, consult the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.explorefairbanks.com