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Fairbanks, land of the aurora borealis and the midnight sun

Fairbanks – the Golden Heart of Alaska – is located in Alaska’s Interior, north of Denali National Park and Preserve and south of the Arctic Circle. As Alaska’s second-largest city, Fairbanks offers all of the modern amenities of a modern day city, set within the scenic backdrop that is the natural beauty of the great state of Alaska. Fairbanks is a year-round visitor destination, notable for the midnight sun shining nearly 24 hours a day in the summer, and the majestic beauty of the aurora borealis during the “Aurora Season” from August 21 to April 21. No matter what time of year, visitors find Fairbanks inviting, engaging and awe-inspiring – the heart of the last frontier.

The midnight sun near Fairbanks. Photo: Karen Wilken / Exlore Fairbanks

The Aurora Capital of the World!

Fairbanks lures people from all over the world during the Aurora Season from August 21 to April 21. The city’s location under the “Auroral Oval” – a ring-shaped region hovering over the far north – combined with a good balance of clear nights, occurrence frequency and activity allows for excellent aurora viewing opportunities. Aurora will be visible an average of four out of five nights when the sky is clear and dark enough.

Throughout history, the aurora borealis has mesmerized and intrigued people. There is no perfect word to describe how they move across the sky – they float, glide, weave and swirl in a fluid fashion. Beautiful and mysterious, they range in color from yellow to red to purple but the most common color is vibrant green. The intensity varies, with the best displays from late evening to early morning hours. See the northern lights during a midnight dog sled adventure, from the comfort of an aurora viewing lodge, during an ice fishing expedition, or on a tour above the Arctic Circle.

If you stay a minimum of three nights and are actively out during the evening hours, your chances of seeing the aurora increase to more than 90%. No guarantees, but the longer you’re here, the better your chances of seeing a great display of the magical aurora borealis.

Midnight Sun Season

Fairbanks has long been known as “the Land of the Midnight Sun.” During the Midnight Sun Season which runs from April 22 to August 20 the sun never seems to set. Wake up in the middle of the night to find the sun shining brightly, people out biking and gardening and walking the dog. The Midnight Sun Season comes to a peak on summer solstice either June 20th or 21st. The town celebrates the sun with a variety of events during this period including the Midnight Sun Festival which takes place downtown.

The endless sunshine transforms life in the far north in pleasing and wondrous ways. This far north phenomenon is a cool consequence of living on top of the world where 100-pound cabbages aren’t outlandish and golfing in the wee hours of the morning is commonplace. Flowers, vegetables and all things green and growing often dwarf their lower 48 cousins. The sun energizes people to be on the go at all hours.

Favorite middle-of-the-night activities include hiking, running, golfing and even baseball. In fact, the Alaska Goldpanners start their historic solstice game at 10:30 pm and never have to use electric lights. The Midnight Sun Season is teeming with activity as people are energized by the everlasting sunshine.

The Sternwheeler Tanana Chief cruises the Chena River past diners at Pike's Landing restaurant. Photo: Pike's Landing

Not Far from Fairbanks

Fairbanks is the ideal location for exploring Alaska’s Interior and Arctic – areas that offer adventures many people only dream about. Denali National Park and the Arctic Circle are two of the most popular destinations for visitors to take extra days to explore.

Denali National Park

Denali National Park and Preserve covers six million acres of pristine wilderness, and is accessible by an easy two-and-a-half-hour drive or four-hour train trip aboard the scenic Alaska Railroad from Fairbanks. The park is home to the legendary crown jewel of the Alaska Range, Denali, which is North America’s highest mountain.

Tours are available in the summer to take visitors deep inside the park where they might be able to see moose, caribou, bears, wolves or any of the hundreds of other species that call the park home. Most tours and accommodations in Denali are open only during the summer months.

Arctic Circle

The Arctic Circle is 257 kilometers north of Fairbanks. Visitors can go by plane or take a ground tour along the Dalton Highway to cross over the invisible geographic line. Along the way visitors can see the majestic Yukon River and for those taking ground tours, can have their picture taken in front of the iconic Arctic Circle sign.

There are also tours that fly across the Arctic Circle and into one of Interior Alaska’s rural communities. During the aurora season, there are evening Arctic Circle tours that focus on viewing the northern lights. Visitors who cross the Arctic Circle can receive an official Arctic Circle Certificate to show their friends and family back home.

Winter Activities and Events

With the light of the aurora borealis overhead, wide-open spaces and lots to see and do, winter in Fairbanks is simply spectacular. Winter activities, celebrations and sporting events include skiing, ice skating, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice fishing, walking with reindeer, curling and more! Journey above the Arctic Circle, visit Santa Claus in North Pole, or discover the incredible warmth of an Alaskan hot springs at the end of and adventure-filled day.

Skiing, Snowboarding & Snowmobiling

Fairbanks has alpine (downhill) skiing and snowboarding areas that have beginner to advanced trails and slopes. Nordic (cross country) skiing is quite popular, with many kilometers of groomed trails in the Fairbanks area. Amenities vary in each location from simple warm-up huts to full service lodges with snack bars, equipment and gear rental.

You can also climb aboard a snowmobile and make your way across a blanket of snow on a guided tour. There is no need for a license so even those without experience can drive.

Dog Sledding

Dog mushing is the official state sport of Alaska, and there are many different ways to experience it yourself. Try a 30-minute ride or learn to drive you own team at a half-day mushing school. You can even go for a ride late at night with the aurora borealis in the skies above you! There are also tours of working kennels where you can meet the dogs and hear stories from local mushers. Spectators can choose from a wide array of races, from smaller sprint-races to the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, an epic 1,000-mile race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada.

Ice Art

As soon as winter comes to Fairbanks, ice artists begin creating beautiful works of art. In Fairbanks, ice art is not only remarkable, but commonplace during winter months with sculptures found all over town.

The city of North Pole, just a short 20-minute drive from Fairbanks, hosts the annual Christmas in Ice during the month of December. Christmas in Ice has fireworks, festivities and many beautiful holiday-themed ice sculptures.

Ice Fishing

Fairbanks hosts some of the best ice fishing in the state, with fish to include rainbow trout, arctic char, salmon, arctic grayling, burbot, and lake trout. Guided tours can take you out to a nearby lake where you can sit inside a heated “ice hut” and fish through holes that are cut in the ice. Most of the guides will provide you with the gear and license and may even cook the fish for you right there in the hut!

A time lapse image of the aurora and stars outside Fairbanks. Photo: Sherman Hogue / Explore Fairbanks

Summer Activities and Events

In summer, the sun shines all night long. This phenomenon is known as the midnight sun and provides that perfect backdrop for adventure. The summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year with a total of 21 hours and 49 minutes of daylight, occurs the third week of June. Even though the sun sets, it doesn’t get very far below the horizon, so for much of the summer it never gets dark. With that much daylight, there are no shortage of activities and events to enjoy!

Gold Panning

Fairbanks was founded when gold was discovered in the surrounding hills and our gold rush history is still prevalent today. Try your hand at gold panning on a tour, learn about the history at a local museum or enjoy the festivities during the annual Golden Days celebration in July.

River Excursions

The Chena River that flows through Fairbanks provides ample opportunity for river excursions in the area. Take a sternwheeler paddle boat tour to a replica Athabascan Indian village and learn about their lifestyle and crafts. Take a leisurely float in a rented canoe or paddleboard, or take a guided fishing trip and catch your own dinner.

Year-Round Activities and Attractions

Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center

Make the beautiful and informative Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center your first stop in Fairbanks. The center is the regional visitor facility, where friendly and knowledgeable staff will answer all of your questions. The facility has free brochures, maps, daily vacancy listings, walking and driving tours, telephone, and Wi-Fi and Internet access. The outstanding exhibit hall features 2,743 square meters of museum displays and dioramas and is free of charge. Daily films on Alaska’s natural and cultural history are also free. The center also has authentic Alaska Native cultural programs and a gift shop.


Downtown Fairbanks is located on the banks of the Chena River. Fairbanks is a modern city that offers fine jewelry, unique gifts, local entertainment, museums, and gourmet restaurants. It is very easy and safe to walk around downtown Fairbanks, and there are a number of hotels and bed and breakfasts in the area.


Find special treasures to bring home with you and help you remember your trip of a lifetime. There are many specialty shops as well as larger department stores. Beautiful authentic Alaska Native items, Made in Alaska merchandise and more are available for purchase, but please be careful of restricted or prohibited merchandise.


From natural history to modern art, Fairbanks museums are outstanding. The wide array of museums include award-winning antique automobiles, display’s on Alaska nature and wildlife, dog mushing memorabilia, ancient Alaska Native masks, fleeting ice art sculptures, and more. Some museums have self-guided audio tours available in Mandarin.

Native Culture

There are three major Alaska Native peoples that live in Fairbanks and the Far North: the Athabascan Indians, who traditionally lived in Interior Alaska, and the Inupiaq and Yupik Eskimos of the Arctic. Most gift shops and art galleries have authentic handmade Alaska Native arts and crafts made from animal skins, ivory, bone, bark and other natural resources.

Alaska Native gatherings occur throughout the year. Come celebrate Alaska Native cultures and be educated and entertained through dance, music, sports, cultural programs and other traditional arts and activities.

Hot Springs

Special, healing, mineral-rich hot springs in beautiful outdoor settings are highly accessible in Fairbanks. Visitors can vacation at a rustic resort or stay in a rugged cabin while enjoying Interior Alaska’s marvelous and rejuvenating hot springs.

North Pole

Visit North Pole, Alaska – where the spirit of Christmas lives year-round! Look for Santa Claus inspired gifts at local shops. Embrace the season with a letter from Santa to friends and family back home that are postmarked from North Pole. Just a short 20-minute drive from Fairbanks, North Pole is a wonderful and fun place for visitors of all ages.

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