A cool city for more reasons than the weather.
[by Michelle Theall]
While Fairbanks earned its nickname as the “Golden Heart City” from the glory days of the gold-rush era, the moniker could easily represent the friendliness and generosity of its residents—even amid the harsh winters. The coldest months offer plenty of mushing, including the finish of the famed Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, along with the World Ice Art Championship, the Iron Dog snow machine competition, a Parka Parade, and nearby, the raising of the tripod on the Tanana River during the Nenana Ice Classic, an event promising riches to the person able to guess the exact moment the tripod will fall during the ice breakup. Not visiting in winter? Plan your trip now to enjoy the 70-plus days of sunshine from May until August, when it never gets darker than twilight.
- Trail Breaker Kennels The legacy of four-time Iditarod champion Susan Butcher lives on at the kennel she started with her husband, David Monson, at their home along the Chena River. Guests tour the grounds while learning about the Great Race and the canine athletes on site. Memorabilia from Susan’s racing days highlight her growth as a musher and groundbreaking pioneer in the sport. Cuddling puppies is optional, but highly encouraged. Trailbreakerkennel.com
- Riverboat Discovery The Riverboat Discovery always makes our list of things to do in Fairbanks. Beyond the scenic drift down the Chena River on a sternwheel vessel, travelers stop for a walking tour of an Athabascan village, watch a float plane take off and land, experience temps of 40 below in a specially designed subzero chamber, and tour the aforementioned Trail Breaker Kennels. riverboatdiscovery.com
- Pioneer Park: Alaska Salmon Bake Ran by the Winther family—fourth-generation Alaskans—the Alaska Salmon Bake cooks up traditional recipes for indoor or outdoor enjoyment by guests and locals alike in historic Pioneer Park. From early May through September, diners can feast on unlimited amounts of wood-grilled salmon, beer-battered cod, and slow-roasted prime rib, along with a variety of homemade side dishes (like Tundra Potato Salad), with the option to add Alaskan snow crab to the mix for an extra fee. After dinner, stroll the 44-acre Pioneer Park for its numerous attractions including the Alaska Native Museum, the permanently moored Riverboat Nenana, and the Palace Theater, where nightly showings of the hilarious Golden Heart Review take place. Shuttles are available to and from area hotels. akvisit.com
- Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge More than 2,200 acres of prime forests, wetlands, and fields draw thousands of birds to Creamer’s where food, shelter, rest during migration, and nesting sites are plentiful. Sandhill cranes remain favorites for birders, especially during the Sandhill Crane Festival in August. Recreation and education opportunities also abound. Take a hike on one of the nature trails, visit the historic dairy farm, or visit the Alaska Songbird Institute as they work on banding and capturing data on more than 4,500 birds during the spring and fall migrations. creamersfield.org
- Gold Panning Gold miners still pan for gold in and around Fairbanks, but visitors can get in on the action too. Northeast of Fairbanks, the Bureau of Land Management has set aside four miles for nugget hunting at Nome Creek Valley. No luck there? You can still see the largest public display of gold in the state at the University of Alaska Museum of the North—you just won’t get to take it home with you. uaf.edu
Aurora Ice Museum
Ice sculptures represent a true art form in Alaska, and you’ll find some of the most intricate pieces at the Aurora Ice Museum at Chena Hot Springs Resort just outside of Fairbanks. Don a parka as you enter the building and see carvers at work and ice creations lit up in bright, colorful arrays mirroring those of the aurora outside. When you’re done with your tour, sample an Appletini at the ice bar, while sitting on an icy barstool, before warming back up with a soak in the Chena Hot Springs beneath the northern lights. chenahotsprings.com
- The Aurora Ice Museum is the largest year-round ice environment in the world and is set at 25 degrees, even in the summer months.
- More than 1,000 tons of ice and snow from the resort grounds were used to build the museum, which opened its doors in 2005.
- Steve and Heather Brice, multiple-time world champion ice carvers, created the ice sculptures inside the museum.
- The resort offers ice-carving classes and workshops for a hands-on opportunity to make something uniquely your own out of frozen water.
- Chena Hot Springs remains committed to being a self-sustaining community leading the world in low-temperature geothermal power. Its onsite geothermal plant cools the ice museum through a specially patented absorption chiller.
- Sculptures inside the ice museum include a bedroom, jousting knights on horseback, and an altar for wedding ceremonies. Yes, you can get married inside the Ice Museum.
- All Appletini drinks are served in glasses made from ice. Carvers create more than 10,000 of them each year in order to keep up with the demand.