Fairbanks, Alaska: A Winter Wonderland

In Alaska Travelgram by scott

Ice Alaska exhibition.


Things to do in Fairbanks in Winter 

Special Correspondent Juno Kim goes down the list of why you should visit the Golden Heart City of Fairbanks, Alaska. Follow along to check off the boxes–and make your plans!

We love Fairbanks, especially in winter. It’s the gateway to the Arctic and you can catch the winter-long northern lights display. The way we travel has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic, and in some way it has provided us more opportunities to visit in-state destinations. We (safely) visited Fairbanks several times over the last couple of years and we have compiled suggested activities for your winter trip to Fairbanks. 

Cozy up in your hotel 

Don’t you love a staycation? Especially during this pandemic, the way we travel has drastically changed. Don’t be discouraged because overseas travel is so complicated or even impossible right now. A short trip in our country’s biggest state will cure your cabin fever! 

Fairbanks has great accommodation options such as the Fountainhead Hotels. Sophie Station and Wedgewood Resort are open year-round. I love these hotels because the rooms are so big it’s like staying at an apartment. There are proper bedrooms, a kitchen and dining area, and a living room. I loved making a cup of hot tea after a night of northern lights hunting or while watching the orange glow of the morning slowly illuminate. 

Drinking tea at my hotel in Fairbanks
Working remotely at Sophie Station Hotel.

Ice Alaska 

Ice Alaska might be the biggest reason to visit Fairbanks in winter. Forget the ordinary ice sculptures you see in weddings. The artistic expression, size, and scope of these ice sculptures are hard to explain without seeing them in person. Ice Alaska is normally a huge international event but it has been downsized the last couple years due to the pandemic. We’re hoping to see international artists return again soon. 

This year’s Ice Alaska exhibition is open this week at the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds.

Make sure to visit the sculptures at night! The lighting really enhances the experience. Your tickets are valid all day, so you can return in the evening if you visited during the day.

Ice Alaska

Museums 

Museums are a go-to option for extra cold days. When the temperature plummets to -40, it’s a good idea to stay indoors. Although the museums in Fairbanks are so good, I would recommend visiting even on good weather days. There are a few of our favorites: perhaps the most unique museum in Fairbanks: Fairbanks Antique Auto Museum, Museum of the North with their cool new whale skeleton exhibit, and Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center (free of charge).   

Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Local cafes and eateries 

Who would’ve thought there’s a whole array of international dining choices in the far north city of Fairbanks, Alaska? In between visiting museums, running around to see ice sculptures, shopping local goods, and hunting northern lights, I was busy tasting my way around the different restaurants and cafes in Fairbanks. One of the best bagels in the state, an award-winning tea blender, gluten-free bake goods, and some of the best Thai food in the country are all found in Fairbanks. 

Morning coffee at The Crepery

Winter outdoor activities 

There’s no bad weather if you’re properly prepared. Don’t be afraid to head outside in Fairbanks! The temperature might be too low for you (-40 is, in fact, really cold) but you can layer and bundle up. Because the temperatures are so low and winter is long, the landscape around Fairbanks is magical. The snow-covered downtown, hoarfrost shining like diamonds, the  frozen Chena River, it’s really beautiful. There are many bike trails (and fat tire rentals) in and around town. Hop on a dog sled to feel the history of Alaska. 

Mush, you huskies!
Riding tandem in the dogsled (Photo: Stephen Bugno, the Bohemian Traveler)

Northern Lights 

Of course, northern lights are the jewel of Fairbanks. Bundle up and head outside to catch one of the most wonderful natural phenomena. Fairbanks is located in the interior of Alaska, far away from coastal areas. Weather is one of the most important factors of northern lights viewing and Fairbanks is a good place to try because of potential clear skies. It’s also further north than Anchorage and the Aurora will be visible on nights when it’s too low in Anchorage or other locations south. I was lucky to see the northern lights every visit and I can’t wait to return to see the dancing lights. 

The “dancing lights” of the aurora borealis in Fairbanks.

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