Best Things To Do in Fairbanks
Whether you feel like playing golf at midnight during Fairbanks' long, light-filled summer nights or prefer taking a walk in the woods with reindeer, there's plenty to do in this interior Alaskan city. Although peak season falls during the midnight sun months of July and August, many adventurous travelers also visit Fairbanks in the winter months to catch a glimpse of the northern lights. Start your city tour by visiting the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center for an overview of the region and to pick up maps and information on things to do. History buffs will enjoy the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and the University of Alaska Museum of the North, while outdoor lovers will revel in hiking with reindeer at the Running Reindeer Ranch or meeting musk oxen at the Robert G. White Large Animal Research Station.
Updated August 4, 2017
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The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is a great first stop to pick up maps and information on things to do in Fairbanks. In addition to exhibits on the natural history of the region and the cultural history of Alaska natives, the center offers a free film on Alaska's history and nature. What's more, on the first Friday of every month, the center hosts a free reception featuring the work of an Alaskan artist from the interior region. This is also where you'll find the city's famous Antler Arch, a piece constructed with more than 100 moose and caribou antlers collected from all over interior Alaska.
Most recent visitors said this free museum was an ideal first stop for learning about Alaskan life, with a good mix of history and culture. Many found the central downtown location convenient, and families particularly enjoyed the interactive displays for kids. Some visitors were disappointed that the informative movie only runs once per day, but all travelers complimented the friendly and knowledgeable staff.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Fairbanks17.5 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, ToursTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND17.5 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, ToursTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The aurora borealis – commonly called the northern lights – are one of the most popular attractions in Fairbanks. The region is situated under the "aurora oval", and from late September to early April, visitors flock to the region to view the spectacular light show. The city lights of Fairbanks tend to wash out the northern lights, so most tours head north on the Dalton Highway into the countryside for optimal viewing.
A number of tour companies, including Ben Boyd's Alaskan Northern Lights Tour and Northern Alaska Tour Company, offer a variety of experiences, from an eight-hour evening viewing tour to a flightseeing and driving tour package that heads to the Arctic Circle. Those who prefer to plan their own trip can drive north to the Aurora Borealis Lodge to take a self-guided driving tour or even book a room for several nights of viewing.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Fairbanks42.9 miles to city centerRecreation, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND42.9 miles to city centerRecreation, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The Chena River State Recreation Area, which sits just east of Fairbanks, is a popular spot in the summer for hiking, kayaking, fishing and camping. In the winter months, locals head to this area for ski touring and snow machining – the local term for snowmobiling. The 254,080-acre preserve also offers several developed campgrounds and public-use cabins, as well as picnic areas and pavilions for family gatherings.
Although recent visitors said this recreation area is a little off-the-beaten-path, most agreed this park is designed for family fun, with beaches, pavilions and a safely enclosed swimming lake perfect for children. Reviewers also appreciated the well-marked trails for hiking and biking (you'll need to bring your own bike as there are no bike rentals on-site), while others touted the water activities like kayaking and paddle boating (paddle boats, row boats, canoes and kayaks can be rented at Lake Park, which sits within the recreation area). To see a list of available trails, consult this brochure created by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Fairbanks4.5 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND4.5 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
The Georgeson Botanical Garden is part of the School of Natural Resources and Extension at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The nationally recognized garden was created by Christian Georgeson in the early 20th century – one of several experimental agricultural stations in the state – to learn what crops would grow best in the Alaskan climate and to share information and techniques with local residents. The garden continues this work today through plant trials and research, but it also contributes to the community with creative annual events like the Dead End Poets Society. The garden boasts a giant hedge maze and at one of the many dead ends, visitors will find poems written by local students.
Although many visitors noted that recent budget cuts resulted in many overgrown beds, most still said it was worth a visit for a peaceful walk among the native Alaskan plants. Some families also complimented the childrens garden and outdoor labyrinth, as well as the raised viewing area facing the Alaska Range.
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Located on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, this museum is the state's only research and teaching museum. Housing more than 1.4 million artifacts and specimens, the collections include Alaskan art spanning more than 2,000 years, featuring paintings, sculpture and ancient ivory carvings. Specimens include a 36,000-year-old mummified bison named Blue Babe and the state's largest public display of Alaskan gold. A special exhibit, "The Place Where You Go to Listen," features a sound and light installation controlled by the real-time positions of the sun and moon. Special lectures and family programs are also offered throughout the year, and the museum store features an array of artwork, jewelry and crafts.
Locals and visitors alike said this facility offered a wealth of information on the inhabitants, animals and history of the northern parts of Alaska, along with a second floor devoted to Alaskan art. Most were impressed with the unique building, the friendly staff and the small cafe, and some noted that local hotels offer shuttle service to the museum. Others recommended adding the "Dynamic Aurora" movie experience, saying it was worth the extra $5.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Fairbanks2 miles to city centerTours, Wineries/Breweries, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2 miles to city centerTours, Wineries/Breweries, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
You won't find unusual flavors at this local Fairbanks brewery. Bobby Milken, born and raised in Fairbanks, started HooDoo Brewing Company to offer beers in classic English, German, Belgian and American styles. The open-concept taproom allows visitors to see the process while enjoying a glass or growler of their favorite brew. The brewery – the first in Alaska to harness solar power for its operation – offers free tours on Saturdays. Known for its Kölsch and American IPA, the brewery also features a variety of seasonal releases on tap.
Locals and visitors alike call this brewery a hidden gem and complimented the outstanding beer, lively atmosphere and rotation of food trucks. Some visitors said that its location is a bit off-the-beaten-path in an industrial area near a railyard, while others noted that the service was fast and friendly even though the brewery is always busy. Most recommended the beer flight in the tasting room.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Fairbanks9.7 miles to city centerHiking, Recreation, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND9.7 miles to city centerHiking, Recreation, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
This family-owned farm sits just north of Fairbanks in the boreal forest of the Goldstream Valley. Here, visitors are invited to take a guided nature walk through the forest with the family's reindeer and learn about the natural history of the forest, as well as the animal's habits and personality. After your tour, head to the farmhouse to continue your reindeer education over homemade cookies and lemonade.
Recent travelers who walked with the reindeer called it an amazing experience and described it as a fun and informative excursion for the whole family. Many commented on the friendliness of the reindeer, adding that children not only get to pet the reindeer, but also had the chance to interact with the owner's chickens and dogs. Reviews for the length of the tour were a bit more mixed: Some said the nearly three-hour tour was too long, but most found the reindeer lesson and interaction to be the highlight of their vacation. Also, keep in mind that you'll need to wear appropriate clothing and shoes, as most of this experience occurs outside.
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Part-theme park and part-historic park, the 44-acre Pioneer Park – built in honor of the 100th-anniversary celebration of Alaska's purchase from Russia – showcases the history of Fairbanks through several museums, including the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum, the Alaska Native Museum and the Pioneer Museum. A replica steamboat and two historic houses also give a glimpse of life in past eras. The park features several restaurants and shops, as well as kid-friendly activities, including a train ride, mini-golf and a playground area. Although many attractions and concessions close during the winter, RV parking is available year-round.
Families who visited recently called Pioneer Park a "gem" for kids and complimented the playground area, train ride, train museum and shops. Other reviewers enjoyed the replica steamboat, original historic homes and museums, and some were surprised to find affordable overnight RV parking for only $12 per night. However, some travelers noted that the grounds – particularly the mini-golf area –were in need of some maintenance.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Fairbanks2.6 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2.6 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
You don't have to be an automobile buff to enjoy the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum. The museum showcases more than 85 cars made prior to World War II, each showcasing a historical significance or technological innovations of the day. What make this museum unique are the accompanying displays of period clothing that present a slice-of-life view of the era.
According to recent visitors, the museum deftly appeals to a wide audience. Many were impressed with the displays of period clothing that accompanied the classic cars, saying the clothing gave the museum a unique quality. Others enjoyed the films and photos of Alaska in the early 20th century, while automobile enthusiasts were impressed with some of the rare exhibits of early vehicles.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Fairbanks5.6 miles to city centerSightseeing, Tours, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND5.6 miles to city centerSightseeing, Tours, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Looking for a place to buy some qiviut? Prounounced kin-ee-ut, qiviut is the Inuit word for the soft underwool produced by musk oxen, prized for its insulating warmth. The Robert G. White Large Animal Research Station, located at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, maintains reindeer and musk oxen for research purposes, and the sale of qiviut to weavers helps fund the station. The station also offers guided walking tours throughout the year, but reservations are required if you want to tour the property during the winter season (Labor Day to Memorial Day).
Recent travelers called the research farm well worth a visit and a fun family outing. Several commented on the experience of meeting musk ox, reindeer and caribou, and many loved seeing the center's baby musk ox, Kiwi, saying it was a great experience for their kids.
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