12 Unique Things to Do in and around Fairbanks

by Paul Joseph  |  Published August 4, 2023

Alaska’s second largest city, Fairbanks is brimming with all-year-round attractions, including some great museums and  outdoor pursuits – not to mention the famous northern lights.

Exhibits at the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum (Photo: Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad)

Known as the “Golden Heart City,” this bustling destination attracts large numbers of visitors every year, who come to explore Fairbanks’ rich cultural history, indulge in outdoor adventure, and marvel at the shimmering green and red of the northern lights. If you’re coming to Fairbanks and would like to build a comprehensive itinerary before you travel, we’ve picked out 12 of the most unique things to see and do during your stay.

Learn about Fairbanks’ early gold rush era

The gold rush that led to the founding of Fairbanks relied heavily on an early railroad to quickly and efficiently move people and valuable goods along a string of mines and supporting communities. Through a wide assortment of historical exhibits, interpretive train rides, and on-site restoration projects, the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum celebrates the crucial role the track played in creating the city of Fairbanks we see today. Among the most impressive displays is the original steam locomotive that was shipped to the area in 1905 by steamboat and barge to pioneer the first track in the state for the Tanana Valley Railroad.

2300 Airport Way / Visit website

Along with the railroad, the city of Fairbanks and the wider region were also shaped by Alaska’s early aviators. Situated in Pioneer Park, the Pioneer Air Museum showcases Alaska’s rich aviation history and the ground-breaking spirit of the early military, commercial, and bush pilots whose endeavours did so much to enable Alaska – and cities like Fairbanks – to flourish during the 19th century. The museum boasts an impressive collection of vintage aircraft, along with memorabilia such as logbooks, clothing, maps, and early flight instruments, and visitors can also explore the museum’s Gold Dome where they can see the aircraft up close, and learn about the history and technology behind each one.

2300 Airport Way / Weds-Sun 12pm-8pm Closed Mon-Tues

Up close to a propeller at the Pioneer Air Museum (Photo: Pioneer Air Museum)

Tour a disused gold mine

If you’ve visited the museums and are still left wanting more, this immersive and evocative 2-hour tour of the disused Gold Dredge 8 gold mining site, located about 10 miles north of Fairbanks, will surely satisfy your gold rush era cravings. During the tour, you’ll travel back to the time when the area’s gold fields were first discovered,  enjoying a scenic ride on the narrow-gauge Tanana Valley Railroad as it transports you to the historic mining site, accompanied by live on-board commentary. During the tour, there’ll even be a chance to try your hand at gold panning – the method of extracting gold using a pan – and feel the thrill of uncovering hidden treasures for yourself.

You can check available starting times and book a tour at GetYourguide

Admire a stunning collection of frosted sculptures

Created from over 1,000 tons of ice and snow, the Aurora Ice Museum is one of the most popular excursions with Fairbanks visitors. Located around 60 miles from the city in the Chena Hot Springs Resort, the museum is operational all year round thanks to the use of a state-of-the-art absorption chiller that ensures its breath-taking collection of ice sculptures remain frozen even when temperatures rise. As well as the eye-catching sculptures on display, there’s also an ice bar where you can try  a cocktail served in a frosted glass. The museum can be explored either independently or as part of a guided tour and parkas are also available free of charge to help keep the chills at bay.

Chena Hot Springs Resort, 17600 Chena Hot Springs Road / Mon-Sun 11am-7pm

Ice sculptures at the Aurora Ice Museum (Photo: Channel City Camera Club via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Visit a wildlife ranch

The R.G. White Large Animal Research Station (LARS) has a broad mission to support research, education, and outreach on Alaskan animals. They support the interests and activities of University of Alaska scientists but also serve scientists from other institutions and organisations in the US and from around the world. Educational tours are available to the public year round, where visitors can learn about the life history and Arctic adaptations of muskoxen and reindeer. A gift shop featuring Alaskan artwork and qiviut (the underwool of the muskox) is also on-site.

2220 Yankovich Road / Mon-Sun 9.30am-4.30pm

Baby musk ox and reindeer at the R.G. White Large Animal Research Station (Photo: R.G. White Large Animal Research Station)

Sink into some natural hot springs

Situated around 60 miles east of Fairbanks is Chena Hot Springs, home to an eponymous resort and natural hot springs where travellers can soak their weary limbs in its rejuvenating mineral waters. While resort guests have unlimited access to the hot springs, the attraction can also be visited as part of a guided day tour from Fairbanks. After collection from your hotel, you’ll be driven to the resort where you can either soak in the outside rock pool, enjoy a swim in the inside pool, or recline in the resort’s hot tub while enjoying views of the surrounding forested mountains. Before returning to Fairbanks, you’ll also get to enjoy a guided tour of the Aurora Ice Museum (see above) at the resort.

17600 Chena Hot Springs Road 

Book at Viator

Bathers in the Chena Hot Springs (Photo: Alaska Wildlife Guide LLC / Courtesy Viator)

Discover 2,000 years of Alaskan art and culture

Hand-carved Alaska Native art and artefacts, the state’s largest gold display, and an Ice Age bison mummy are just some of the striking exhibits that greet visitors to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North. The museum’s collections represent millions of years of biological diversity and thousands of years of cultural traditions in the state, allowing visitors the chance to discover fascinating stories about Alaska’s people, places, wildlife, and art. For souvenirs, there’s also a museum store selling a wide variety of Alaska Native art, books, and jewellery.

University of Alaska, 1962 Yukon Drive / Mon-Sun 9am-7pm / More info

Step back in time on a riverboat and village tour

The Alaskan way of life has changed drastically over the centuries, but you can still experience some of its time-honoured traditions for yourself on this 3-hour riverboat and village excursion. Over the course of the trip, you’ll enjoy a boat cruise along the Chena river, stopping off to explore a local Athabascan village on a guided walking tour, watch a bush pilot take off and land in front of your eyes, observe a dog mushing demonstration, and visit a famous local dog sledding kennel. Along the way, your guide will explain how the wolf, fox, martin, and beaver were used to provide food and protection in the harsh Arctic climate, how the Athabascans skillfully survived for over 10,000 years, and how they adapted to village life and Western culture in the past century.

Book at GetYourGuide

A tourist boat cruises along the Chena river (Photo: Riverboat Discovery / Courtesy GetYourGuide)

Try your hand at dog mushing

The exhilarating sport of dog sledding, or “dog mushing”, is more than just a recreational pastime in Alaska – it’s a veritable way of life. And it’s also one of the best ways to explore the state’s scenic backcountry, with a number of companies offering all-year-round dog sledding tours ranging from short half-hour trips to overnight adventures that include lodging in roadhouses or remote backcountry camps. Throughout the trip, your expert guides will share stories about the history of dog mushing history as well as offer insights into everyday Alaskan life.

Attend a fun-packed summer festival

One of the most eagerly awaited events on the city’s cultural calendar, the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival sees thousands of revellers come together each July to enjoy music and dance performances, visual arts, theatre and more. The event also hosts hundreds of workshops that offer festival-goers the opportunity to learn new artistic techniques. Other highlights include Lunch Bites, a series of free concerts that take place during what is traditionally office lunch hours in locations around the city including Co-Op Plaza, Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center, and Golden Heart Plaza.

 600 University Avenue / Each July

A stage show at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival (Photo: Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival)

Each year during the summer solstice, Alaska experiences a full day of sunshine. Never ones to miss the chance for a good party, the occasion is celebrated with the all-day Midnight Sun Festival which sees the streets of downtown Fairbanks burst into life with live music, performances and hundreds of booths selling food, crafts, official festival t-shirts, and handmade souvenirs. Routinely welcoming more than 30,000 revellers, the event also features a huge choice of family-friendly activities including face painting, gold panning, break dancing, a climbing wall, pony rides, an annual BBQ cook-off, sled dog puppies, and a skate park.

Downtown Fairbanks / June each year

Marvel at a true natural phenomenon

Also known as the aurora borealis, the northern lights are a natural Alaskan phenomenon caused by collisions of electrically charged particles, resulting in vibrant colours dancing across the dark skies. Because of the city’s location under an auroral oval, Fairbanks is one of the world’s best places to watch the spectacle, and due to peak viewing times changing with the season, many people chose to visit them on a guided tour. This 5-hour small-group trip includes an evening pick-up from your Fairbanks hotel before a drive to a prime observation spot. On arrival, you’ll warm up around a campfire as your guide offers insights about the aurora and tips on how to capture them on your camera. As you sit around the fire, peer up into the sky and wait for the magic to begin. The tour ends with a hotel drop-off.

Book at Viator

Eye-catching auroras over Fairbanks (Photo: Brady Riemenschneider via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)