Fairbanks, Alaska is a fantastic place to visit if you’re heading to Alaska. Though it is less mountainous as the coastal towns in Alaska, it more than compensates with incredible northern light shows, hot springs, and fun activities.
After having visited Fairbanks at the beginning of September, I just knew I wanted to create a guide to Fairbanks! That way I could share the allure of this town with you in a way that encompasses all Fairbanks has to offer!
From nature to museums and everything in between, there are plenty of things to do in Fairbanks!
So without further ado, here’s your ultimate guide to Fairbanks, Alaska, complete with 27 things to do in and around Fairbanks!
Weather in Fairbanks
Sitting almost 500 feet (132m) above sea level, Fairbanks enjoys a temperate and cold climate.
That makes it the ideal destination regardless of the season since it offers plenty of fun activities year-round. Just keep in mind that the temperature can be pretty drastic.
July is the warmest month with temperatures averaging between 52°F and 73°F while January is the coldest with temperatures averaging between -15°F and 0°F.
(Did you know you can rent winter gear in Fairbanks? That way you don’t need to buy anything special for your trip!)
Fairbanks is one of the few places on earth where you can experience midnight sun thanks to its geographical location (far north).
But there is somewhat of a trade-off… sunshine all day might seem tempting, but you won’t get to see the northern lights!
I’ll cover more of that later, so just keep on reading!
Also, though summer temperatures are enticing, note that you’ll find the most rain occurs in July and August!
What’s the best time to visit Fairbanks?
Based on temperature alone, summer might be considered the best time to visit Fairbanks. During this time of the year, the temperatures are mild, daytimes are longer, and the vegetation is in bloom.
The peak season in Fairbanks is July and August. However, the shoulder season, August to September, and May through June are just as good.
While visiting Fairbanks in summer (the peak season) seems like the best idea especially because all summer activities and tours are in full swing, it is also the most expensive time to visit.
However, if your main goal is to see the Aurora Borealis (northern lights) the ideal time to visit is between September and March.
Due to the midnight sun in the summer, the peak time for northern light viewing in Fairbank is in fall and winter.
That all being said, I think that the shoulder season is ideal for visiting Fairbanks!
You can score some incredible discounts both on tours and accommodation if you visit during the shoulder season. (Ideally, shortly before and after the peak season.)
We visited at the beginning of September and experienced relatively mild temperatures, got to do fun tours, and best of all, saw the northern lights!
27 Things to Do in Fairbanks
Now that we’ve discussed the best time to visit, let’s cover what you’ll be able to do in Fairbanks (and around the town, too)!
Here are the 27 best things to do in Fairbanks, and I’ve included when you can expect to do each activity (winter/summer).
1. The Northern Lights (One of the most epic things to do in Fairbanks!)
I have to start this list with the northern lights since that’s pretty much the biggest draw for visitors to Fairbanks!
There is nothing quite like watching the northern lights on a clear sky. It’s one of the most incredible experiences anyone could ever have.
If you’re visiting Fairbanks in the fall or winter, you’ll have a chance to watch this natural phenomenon from one of the best places in the world.
In fact, Fairbanks is known as the best place for seeing the northern lights in the United States!
Fairbanks is believed to be under the Auroral Oval. This is a circular zone in the far north where there is a high concentration of Aurora activity.
In addition, Fairbanks experiences low precipitation and is miles from the coastal region. Due to these two things, you’ll notice lots of clear nights in this part of Alaska- more than you would almost anywhere else in the state!
These factors combined make Fairbanks one of the best places on the globe to chase the northern lights.
If you have at least three days to stay in Fairbanks during the fall or winter (and loads of patience!), you’re almost guaranteed to see the Aurora Borealis.
One thing to note is that the northern lights aren’t always bright green lights in the sky. We learned that if the sky was clear and the lights were shown to be overhead by an aurora tracker like this one, then you just need to take a photo!
With long exposures (or even “nighttime” settings on phones), your phone could capture the northern lights way more clearly than what you’d see with the naked eye.
That is exactly what happened to us!
Once I took a photo of the sky with my camera and saw vivid green on my camera screen, I realized the lights were right in front of me!
You can join a group tour like this one to get off the beaten path and see the northern lights in the remote Arctic Circle!
2. Borealis Basecamp
How about booking a lodging that gives an epic experience of seeing the northern lights and stars from your bed? This is one of the most captivating things to do in Fairbanks- well, technically 25 miles from Fairbanks! It’s really a magical experience!
As you might expect from my enthusiasm, Borealis Basecamp is my favorite thing in all of Fairbanks!
Borealis Basecamp is a collection of modern opulent bubble cabins with transparent domes.
And they’re actually the only glass-roofed igloos in Alaska!
What’s more, the igloos are strategically located in an excellent position. They’re on top of a cliff overlooking a vale which gives you incredible views of the surrounding areas and the valley below.
And if you visit in late summer and winter, you’ll see the northern lights appear across that very vale!
The camp is about 3 miles from the road which gives you a perfect balance between tranquillity and modernity. It also helps with spotting the northern lights.
Of course, such unique and incredible lodging comes at a price. Prices can range between $400 and $600, with winter being peak season.
If you’re a budget-conscious traveler, you can visit in summer or during the shoulder season when lodging prices drastically drop. We visited in early September and saw the northern lights, so you could definitely see them too!
Also, be sure to reserve your igloo ahead of time. They’re usually booked up weeks- and even months- in advance.
You can also book other activities such as dog-sledding and ATVing.
3. Latitude 65
My favorite restaurant in Fairbanks, hands down, is Latitude 65.
Located at Borealis Basecamp, Chef George serves up thoughtfully crafted meals for lunch and dinner.
He even integrates berries found on-property as much as possible! (Fun fact: he took my husband and me to a wild cranberry bush outside of the restaurant and picked off some berries for us to sample! This place serves up fresh fare, indeed!)
I loved the halibut chowder so much that I ordered it for lunch and dinner one day!
Also, you get to enjoy your meal in a seriously cool yurt with views of the Borealis Basecamp igloos and the surrounding nature. It is beautiful!
For snow thrill-seekers, snowmobiling in Fairbanks is unmissable. If you decide to stay at the aforementioned lodge, Borealis Basecamp, then you’ll be a step ahead. They offer snowmobiling tours and rentals on site.
Otherwise, there are other snowmobiling tour operators in Fairbanks and it will cost you between $80 and $150 for a 30 to 1-hour tour.
This is probably pretty obvious, but snowmobiling is a winter-only activity, since there is no snow in the summer!
5. ATV Tours
The summer version of snowmobiling is ATVing!
If you love the thrills of a speedy ride, coupled with a scenic trail plus astounding views along the way, an ATV tour is a must-do activity in Fairbanks.
The tours take you miles through unspoiled Alaskan wilderness and it’s one the best way to explore remote areas.
The Fairbanks terrain makes the experience unforgettable. Rocky in most places, mud puddles in some parts, steep in others and serves you with non-stop beauty all around.
Again, there are many tour options both within and just outside Fairbanks.
6. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline
Fairbanks is a great place to view and photograph the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. We happened to see it on our ATV tour, but there are multiple places where you’ll find it above ground.
What’s so special about a pipeline? you might ask.
Well, let me tell you!
Stretching from Prudhoe Bay in northern Alaska all the way to Valdez in the south, it carries almost 2 million barrels of oil… A DAY! And it carries it across three mountain ranges and even an earthquake fault line!
Some parts are buried underground, while others are above ground. This is largely due to the permafrost and animal migration patterns (source).
And oil is crucial to the Alaskan economy. Our ATV guide told us that locals appreciate the pipeline because it helps provide for them. One huge way it does that is by cutting Alaskan residents an annual check. Each eligible resident received $1,600 in 2019!
7. Dog Sledding
Dog sledding is one of the most popular activities to do in Alaska. It’s a quintessential Fairbanks winter experience and one of the best things to do in Fairbanks!
Besides bagging an enchanting encounter between man and animal, this activity brings you up close with the Alaskan wilderness.
Dog sledding was a crucial means of transport centuries ago, and now it’s a great pastime and sport!
Going on a dog sledding tour is a fun and educational adventure! Your musher will explain all about dog sledding.
In short, you’ll get a glimpse into the history of the dog sledding activity, the origin, the cultural significance plus how mushing and sledding works.
By the time you’re done with this tour, you might just be convinced to join the Iditarod! 😉
(Or, like me, you’ll realize it’s way more complicated than you might think, and leave it to the pros. )
Dog sledding tours typically run between November and April in Fairbanks, as long as there is snow on the ground. You’ll find lots of options both within and outside the town.
8. Dog Carting
Good news: there is a summer version of dog sledding, known as dog carting!
Mushers need to train their dogs all year round, not just when there’s snow on the ground! So instead of being pulled in a sled, you get to ride around in a cart!
Since we visited in September, this is the activity we did instead of dog sledding.
Our guide, Dave, and his championship team, Racing Chaos, ran us about four miles throughout the scenic grounds around Borealis Basecamp.
While we booked our tour through Borealis Basecamp, there are tours like this one that you can book on your own!
One thing we learned while dog carting is that the dogs really want to run! They will bark like crazy until they get to go! It’s their way of telling their musher that they’re ready to run; once they start running, they become silent and concentrated.
9. Running Reindeer Ranch
For a different animal encounter, how about meeting some reindeer?
This unique experience is fantastic for all ages. There’s something so special about coming up close with reindeer!
If a leaning about and interacting with these beautiful creatures sounds like a cool idea, you should take a tour around Running Reindeer Ranch.
In this family-run ranch, you can pet, take a stroll with, and snap some awesome photos with reindeer.
The staff and the owners share a wealth of information with their guests, making each visit unique.
The tour winds through a scenic forest with lots of stops. You’ll get to learn about how Running Reindeer Ranch started (trust me, it’s a precious story!)
(You can also do a cool yoga session with the reindeer wandering around your mat!)
Running Reindeer Ranch makes for a great daytime excursion option for families.
And to top it off, the tour at Running Reindeer Ranch ends with yummy homemade cookies and lemonade!
There’s a reason this experience is one of the most highly rated things to do in Fairbanks!
10. Chena Hot Springs
There is something magical about getting in your swimsuit when it’s freezing out and there’s snow on the ground. There’s really only one place to do that around Fairbanks: at Chena Hot Springs!
Situated approximately an hour away from Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs is a treasure trove with waters that stay around 106°F throughout the year.
These hot springs are the most easily accessible hot springs in Alaska- no hike required!
The hot spring is within a pretty huge resort. Chena Hot Springs Resort is famed for its ice museum, firm interest in geothermal energy, and, of course, its outdoor hot spring.
Although the resort is known for a huge array of fun activities, the hot springs are what draw in most guests.
You can actually (safely) freeze your hair in the coolest shapes while in the springs- they even give you instructions on how to do it if you ask!
Chena Hot Springs also offers incredible opportunities to spot the northern lights. (Hot springs + Northern lights = One of the coolest things to do in Fairbanks!)
If you’re lucky, you can stay until it’s dark out and hopefully spot some Aurora Borealis activity right overhead while you enjoy the hot spring!
If you’re not a guest in the resort, there is an admission fee of $13 – $15 per person depending on age. While the hot springs are only for ages 18 and up, there are pools/hot tubs that are open for all ages.
I recommend visiting the hot springs when it is cold out! It ended up being about 60 degrees when we visited and the heat of the springs was a bit stifling!
11. Geothermal Tours
Also at Chena Hot Springs, you can do a free geothermal tour!
If you find renewable energy, self-sustainable practices, and conservation interesting, you will love this tour. It goes through Chena’s geothermal power plant and discusses how they are exploring groundbreaking energy projects.
There are free tours at 2 and 4pm that you can join. Check in at least 15 minutes before to join one.
12. The Aurora Ice Museum
Right outside the Chena Hot Springs is the Aurora Ice Museum. This is a one-of-a-kind museum in the area. Designed to look like an igloo from the outside, and made from 1,000 tons of ice and snow on the inside, the Ice Museum displays ice art in various forms.
And good news- it’s open all year round!
This small museum is basically a collection of rooms adorned with awe-inspiring ice sculptures of all sizes – some colored, others sparkly clear.
To top off your visit here, be sure to hang at the ice bar and sip on a martini that’s in a glass made of ice!
You can book your Ice Museum visit through the Chena Hot Spring activity center. The entry fee is $15, and you can expect to spend about an hour here! Don’t worry- you can rent a parka, too!
13. The World Ice Art Championships
If you’re visiting Fairbanks between mid-February and March you should add The World Ice Art Championship to your itinerary!
Located at the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds, this annual competition draws hundreds of artists from across the globe! In fact, it’s the largest competition of its kind in the world!
There are different categories, but basically, the artists display their talents by carving epic sculptures from ice (as one might imagine from its name!).
Open from 10am-10pm each day that its operating, you can purchase tickets to stop by to marvel at all of the ice!
14. Visit the North Pole
North Pole is a magical town!
Just 20 minutes’ drive south of Fairbank, you can experience Christmas any time of the year.
Situated at the northernmost edge of the earth, North Pole is a small charming town where you’ll find the fabled house of Santa Claus.
It started roughly 5 decades ago when the Santa Claus House was established in the area.
Since then the town has completely adapted most Christmas lore to be one of a kind destination on earth.
Although the ‘real’ Father Christmas doesn’t really live here, this town is a kid’s paradise.
Buy a Christmas inspired souvenir, tour the Santa’s house or stand in awe as you stroll along the Santa Claus Lane where road signs are tinsel decorated throughout the year.
What’s more, you can surprise your family and friends back at home with a letter from the Santa – complete with an authentic North Pole’s postmark!
And while you’re there, be sure to stop by North Pole Crepery for some scrumptious crepes! We opted for sweet crepes- the strawberry and whipped cream crepe was delicious!
15. Riverboat Discovery Tour
This is not your ordinary riverboat tour. It’s a Fairbanks experience that you’ll remember forever.
The boat cruises for about three hours on the Tanana and Chena Rivers. You’ll enjoy the views and get plenty of information about the area.
Along the way, there is a sled dog training ground where the owner, and husband to Iditarod race legend, Susan Butcher, briefs the cruisers on sled dog training. You even get to see him show off some well-trained puppies. It’s adorable!
Further up the river, the boats stop at an Eskimo (Alaskan Native) village for about 45 minutes. Here, you’ll get a brief yet realistic insight into the Eskimo lifestyle. You’ll get to walk around the Chena Indian village and interact with the locals.
And if you’ve never seen a seaplane up close before, you get the chance to witness one skilfully take off and land right next to the sternwheeler.
16. Gold Panning
Gold is a huge part of Alaska’s history which makes it one of the best destinations in the world for recreational mining.
Fairbanks hosts some of the most famed mining attractions in the state. As such, you’ll come across lots of private and public areas designated for gold panning- especially in the northern part of Fairbanks.
While you can’t pan without permits, it’s easy to join a tour and pan for gold while learning the significant role gold played in Alaska’s economy.
17. Denali National Park
Fairbanks is one of the biggest towns closest to Denali National Park and Preserve. (The other is Talkeetna). That makes it the perfect place to stay if you want to venture into this famous national park.
(Even though Denali is a two-hour drive or four-hour train ride from Fairbanks, it still remains one of the closest towns!)
If you want a truly epic Denali experience, take an air taxi to Denali Basecamp! Located on Kahiltna Glacier, the Denali Basecamp is the launching point for those who want to climb up Denali.
If you’re not eager to climb up the highest peak in North America, you can enjoy the views from a distance.
Try a flightseeing tour over the Kahiltna glacier and witness a line of climbers attempt to conquer the summit of Denali. Take the Denali shuttle bus in the park, which is the only way to access roads deeper in the park, since cars are only permitted in a portion of the park. Go on a hike and hope to see some wildlife!
Keep in mind that you’ll want to prepare for all weather conditions when you’re hiking! Layers are your friend!
18. The Alaska Railroad
You can climb aboard the Alaska Railroad if you want to see Denali in a day or connect to other popular destinations from Fairbanks!
Other than Denali, the railroad takes you to Anchorage, Talkeetna, Whittier, Seward, and more! You’ll get to see stunning views along the way.
Splurge for GoldStar Service if you want the next level train experience!
It goes without saying that Alaska is a world-renowned fishing destination!
The Chena Lakes Recreational Area is a great spot if you want to cast a line and see what bites! You can also fish on the Chena River, Nenana River, and Yukon River (though those last two rivers are a bit further away).
You’ll find salmon, rainbow trout, grayling, northern pike, and more.
In the winter, you can try your hand at ice fishing! This tour includes a fish cookout and a heated cabin, which sounds like it would be very much necessary for ice fishing!
20. University of Alaska Museum of the North
There are plenty of fun, educational things to do in Fairbanks!
At the UAMN (University of Alaska Museum of the North), you can learn all about Alaskan history and traditions. It covers basically any topic of interest related to Alaska!
Whether you want to learn about Alaskan wildlife, contemporary Alaskan native art, or the gold rush- you’ll find it all here!
Fun fact: The UAMN has the world’s only Ice Age steppe bison mummy!
Get more information about hours and pricing here!
21. Pioneer Park
This 44-acre park showcases Fairbank’s history!
On its expansive grounds, you’ll find museums, family-friendly activities, historical artifacts, shopping, dining, and more.
You can see actual buildings and cabins from the beginning of Fairbanks since they’ve been relocated to Pioneer Park.
Entrance to the park is free, though some of its museums and exhibits charge a fee. The park is open year-round, though some of its concession stands have limited hours/openings. Learn more here!
22. Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center
The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center is free to enter. Here you can learn all about Alaskan history and culture- specifically relating to the Interior and Arctic Alaska.
You can also talk to one of the helpful staff to gather ideas for what you want to do while in Fairbanks (though I hope this post helps with that!).
Fly north from Fairbanks with Arctic Circle Air Adventure to see the stunning Alaskan Interior.
You’ll catch glimpses of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the Yukon River, the Brooks Mountains, and even the Gates of the Arctic National Park.
This is a great way of exploring the Arctic Circle in a few hours!
(PS. I got the photo above of the float plane above while in Seward, not Fairbanks!)
24. The Arctic Circle
If you want to drive into the Arctic Circle yourself, I provide plenty of information on that in the last item on this list! Be sure to read because there are a lot of helpful things to know about the Dalton Highway! There’s a reason this could potentially be one of the more dangerous- yet visually rewarding- things to do in Fairbanks.
(Pictured above is Atigun Pass in the Brooks Mountain Range).
25. Winter Sports
Come wintertime, Fairbanks is a great destination for winter activities like skiing and snowboarding!
The Moose Mountain Ski Resort is a great place to hit the slopes.
Hiking is a great way to explore Fairbanks!
You can get some incredible views of the surrounding nature. Just be sure to carry bear spray with you and make a lot of noise!
27. Scenic Drives
Boy are there a lot of scenic drives in Alaska!
And Fairbanks has its share of them!
From Dalton Highway and the road to Chena Hot Springs (pictured above) to the Steese Highway and the drive up to Denali, there are incredible roads to take in Fairbanks!
If you have enough time, the Dalton Highway in particular is especially magnificent! It stretches 414 miles, taking you all the way up to the Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields (though you probably won’t want to drive that far)!
The thing is, most rental car places don’t permit you to drive on most of the Dalton Highway since it can be a tough and rough drive. Trucks that use the highway for the pipeline can fling gravel onto your windshield, so if you do choose to drive this road, keep your distance!
You can also rent a car specifically for the Dalton Highway here, or join a tour.
The highway runs parallel to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and you’ll rarely see another soul in sight! There’s a reason it’s referred to as a very lonely road. Only three tiny towns reside along the Dalton Highway.
My recommendation: only travel when there’s no snow on the ground. There’s no cell phone service if you get caught in a bind! And if you’re risking it with a rental, only go far enough into the Arctic Circle that you see Sukakpak Mountain near Coldfoot.
And please be sure to load up on gas every chance you get! For 240 miles from the town of Coldfoot to the end of the road in Deadhorse, you won’t see any gas stations!
Places to Stay in Fairbanks
Fairbanks has plenty of accommodation options. If you’re looking for a luxurious stay, Borealis Basecamp is the best. You can also stay at Chena Hot Springs Resort, River’s Edge, and Best Western Plus.
For a mid-budget accommodation, you can stay in Hampton Inn & Suites, Sophie Station Suites, or Pike’s Waterfront Lodge.
Alternatively, you can opt for an Airbnb such as The Chena River House River Suite or Alaska Range and Northern Lights View. These options are perfect for large groups (and booking one house as a group can help conserve your travel budget!).
The standard accommodation prices in Fairbanks typically range from $80 to $120 per night.
Fairbanks definitely has plenty of fun to offer!
There are so many things to do in Fairbanks, I hope you get to experience as many of these things as possible!
Have you been to Fairbanks? If you know of more things to do in and around Fairbanks, comment them below!
And if you’re looking for more posts about Alaska, here are several for you:
- The Ultimate Alaska Itinerary
- 50 Best Places to Visit in Alaska
- 36 Things to Do On the Kenai Peninsula
- Guide to Valdez: 21 Things to Do in Valdez
- Guide to Seward: The 18 Best Things to Do in Seward
- 17 Beautiful Glaciers to Visit in Alaska