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Is seeing the Northern Lights on your bucket list? Then visiting Alaska in winter may be the right move. Although visiting Alaska in the summer is more popluar, a winter visit to Fairbanks can be an unforgettable experience.
Juneau is the capital and Anchorage is another popular destination, but don’t miss Fairbanks when you visit Alaska. Here, adventure is top priority. If seeing Aurora Borealis or taking a Northern Lights tour is high on your list, Fairbanks is the better choice. Fairbanks is said to be the best place to see the Nothern Lights in the U.S.
Fairbanks is a little town in the heart of Alaska with a population of just over 30,000. It is also the second largest town in Alaska, located within the Fairbanks North Star Borough. The city was largely built due to Gold Rush fever at the turn of the 20th century.
What is the Temperature in Fairbanks, Alaska?
The average summer temperatures in Fairbanks range from 40°F to 60°F (4° – 15°C), and from November to March, winter temperatures range from 0°F / -18°C to -30°F / -35°C. So, yes, winter in Alaska can be brutally cold. At the same time, winter here is stunningly beautiful.
Besides, winter in Fairbanks offers many different ways to play outside and see the best of Mother Nature.
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Something for Everyone in Fairbanks
While waiting for the Northern Lights to appear, you can explore Fairbanks. There are plenty of fun winter activities to enjoy, such as dog sledding, ice fishing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. It’s the perfect destination for those eager to see a true winter wonderland.
Downtown Fairbanks has many unique shops and restaurants, so plan some time to explore the town itself. If you want to learn more about Fairbanks, visit the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center.
You can also take a photo of the antler arch made up of over a hundred caribou and moose antlers. The UAF temperature sign is an excellent photo location as well.
Beyond Fairbanks, you can explore the natural beauty of Denali National Park or take a day trip to Chena Hot Springs. Don’t forget to book a ride on the Aurora winter train that travels between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Relax in the cozy railcar and let the winter wonderland of Alaska’s backcountry charm you.
Winter in Fairbanks is a beautiful, unforgettable experience.
Top 10 Things to Do in Fairbanks, Alaska in the Winter.
View the Northern Lights in Fairbanks
One of the top reasons to visit Fairbanks, Alaska in the winter is to see the Northern Lights. During Alaska’s long summer days, the state doesn’t see much full darkness. So people are deprived of enjoying the dancing lights in the sky during the summer.
However, by late August, it can get dark enough to see Aurora Borealis. During the winter, there are many hours of possible viewing. There are no guarantees, but the longer you stay in Fairbanks, the greater your chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
Fairbanks is under the zone called the Auroral Oval. This is a ring-shaped zone over the far north where the activity of the Northern Lights is concentrated.
In fact, the Northern Lights dance across the sky all year long, but the skies must be dark enough to make the dance visible. The Aurora season is from August 21 to April 21. During this time the lights can be visible on average for four out of five nights.
There are many ways to experience Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks. Options include driving to a vantage point and waiting, taking a Northern Lights tour, or going to a heated aurora-viewing cabin or a lodge to wait for them to appear. Many accommodations offer a wake-up call to their guests when the lights are out.
Dog mushing or dog sledding is probably the second most popular reason to come to Fairbanks. If you would like to go dog sledding, there are different tours. You can choose from a short ride or an overnight tour where you travel through the wilderness on a dog sled.
Fairbanks also hosts the North American Championship of sled dog races every year which is an interesting race to watch. There is also the Yukon Quest, a long-distance sled dog race from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Canada. The race switches direction each year. On odd-numbered years, the race starts in Fairbanks.
In addition to dogsledding, animal lovers can get up close with reindeer at Running Reindeer Ranch. You can take guided walking tours with reindeer through a birch forest.
You’ll watch them graze or stroll lazily with the group, as well as learn what makes them ideal for Arctic living. There may even be the chance to pet them or at least get some awesome photo opportunities with reindeer.
Pike’s Waterfront Lodge just might be the most interesting and fun place to stay in Fairbanks. It’s more of an experience than just a hotel. They offer a full schedule of fun activities, a welcoming staff and an excellent location on the Chena River. Pikes Waterfront Lodge is a great place for families with kids, with family-friendly activities for kids of all ages.
Pike’s Landing is a historic spot on the Chena River, named after Lloyd Pike. He homesteaded the area under the U.S. Homestead Act after the Second World War. He later sold it to assist in making the Fairbanks International airport.
The structure that has developed over the years goes back to the time Alaska obtained statehood. The current owner bought the property in 1999 and named it Pike’s Waterfront Lodge.
Soak in Chena Hot Springs
When in Fairbanks, visiting Chena Hot Springs and dipping in the hot thermal springs is a must. The water circulates deep underground, picking up the earth’s natural heat and many different minerals.
Although these minerals can be “blamed” for the smell of the water, it is also believed these waters are beneficial for skin, bronchial and circulatory issues.
The average temperature of the indoor heated pool is around 30 degrees Celsius (90 degrees F), so you can warm up for a bit in Alaska’s winter months. The water temperature of the outdoor natural Hot Springs Lake can be even warmer. Its depth varies daily, and it’s recommended only for those older than 18.
If you want to make the most of your time, booking the night at the Chena Hot Springs Resort can be a great experience. In addition to the hot springs, you can relax and experience different massages.
You can also visit the resort’s Aurora Ice Museum and have a drink at the ice bar from a glass made of ice. Then finish your day with a delicious meal next to the fireplace.
Visit the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
Fairbanks also offers something for auto enthusiasts. The Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum is often named one of the top attractions in Fairbanks.
The museum’s owner and his wife combined their passions – his love for cars and herlove for fashion. Together, they have created a fascinating museum collection.
The museum houses over 95 rare cars from the early 20th century – along with clothing pieces from these times in history. You can admire the horseless carriages, electric cars, steamers and other vehicles. You’ll come away with some amazing photos.
If you are interested in Alaska’s cultural and natural history don’t miss the University of Alaska Museum of the North. In addition to learning something new, you can stroll around the gallery and admire Alaskan art covering the last 2,000 years.
The museum’s collection includes specimens representing millions of years of biological diversity. You’ll also view artifacts that illustrate years of cultural traditions.
Spend your afternoon learning about native cultures in Alaska, Arctic animals and the diverse wildlife. Plus, the museum is home to the state’s largest public display of gold and natural wonders.
If you’ve ever wanted to visit the Arctic Circle, Fairbanks is the place to make that happen. Northern Alaska Tour Company offers worry-free tours to the Arctic Circle from Fairbanks.
Their Arctic tours include a ride to Coldfoot Camp along the Dalton Highway, overnight lodging in Coldfoot and a plane ride back to Fairbanks. They offer several different tour options.
Their expert guides will drive you along the Dalton Highway to Coldfoot Camp, the northern-most truck stop in the world. Coldfoot Camp was built to house workers on the Alaska Pipeline. Today, it offers basic accommodations and a restaurant.
The drive from Fairbanks to Alaska is not a short one. It can take up to 12 hours but the scenery and experience are amazing.
You’ll see the icy wilderness of the Arctic tundra and will see the impressive Trans-Alaska Pipeline along the Dalton Highway. This is the road made famous in the reality TV show called Ice Road Truckers.
The rooms at Coldfoot Camp are very basic but comfortable. Hopefully, you’ll get to see the Northern Lights dance above the trucks at Coldfoot Camp. The restaurant offers quite a few options, including dishes for vegans and vegetarians.
To return to Fairbanks, you’ll board a 9-seater plane which makes the trip much shorter. Seeing the region from the air is another amazing experience.
It is believed that Coldfoot got its name from gold seekers who got this far, got cold feet, and turned around. It is one of the few Alaska communities north of the Arctic Circle that is accessible by road.
Coldfoot is often used as a base camp for those exploring wilderness areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.
Both parks offer many opportunities for wildlife viewing and admiring winter landscapes. However, due to their remoteness, having experienced guides by your side is recommended.
If you are visiting in mid-February or March, don’t miss the World Ice Art Championship in Fairbanks. The competition is inspired by spring’s early celebrations, which date back to the thirties when residents emerged from their houses to have fun after a long winter.
This month-long, annual event attracts ice sculptors and artists from all over the world. It typically hosts more than 100 ice sculpting artists from different countries. Many of these massive ice structures rise more than six meters (20 feet) in height.
In Fairbanks, Alaska, Santa has been putting smiles on visitors’ faces for over 70 years. You can often see the jolly fellow when you are browsing for the perfect gift inside the Santa Claus House, where you can also have a cup of coffee and enjoy a delicious cake from The Sweet Shop.
Take photos with the jolly man next to the 50-foot tall (more than 15 meters) Santa statue or in Santa’s sleigh in front of the house.
You can meet Santa’s reindeer team – they are in the red barn next to Santa’s House, so you can feed them through the fence. Relax, feel the Christmas spirit, and don’t forget to ask about the Original Letter from Santa.
If You Go to Fairbanks
Start planning your exciting adventure to Fairbanks today. Get prepared with insider tips on how to get around, hotel and VRBO accommodations, local restaurant reviews and more through TripAdvisor and Travelocity.
Learn more about Fairbanks at ExploreFairbanks.com