Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Fairbanks
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline is a 48-inch oil pipeline that traverses 800 miles (1,300 kilometers). It was built by the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company in 1977 to transport crude oil from Prudhoe Bay’s oil fields to a port in Valdez to be loaded onto tankers and shipped to U.S. refiners. The cost to construct the pipeline was $8 billion, making it one of the largest privately-funded construction projects in Alaska. Moreover, it’s one of the largest pipeline systems in the world, and because much of the ground that it is laid on is frozen sections of the pipeline are either built above ground or buried and insulated.
It’s astonishing that the pipe has withstood the harsh Alaska weather for so long. Today, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline is a popular tourist attraction, especially for those who want to get a photograph of themselves touching it.
The Dalton Highway runs for 414 miles to Alaska’s northernmost mountains in the Brooks Range and nearly all the way out to the Arctic Ocean. Running through valleys surrounded by jagged peaks, the highway connects Interior Alaska to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and is technically part of the northernmost highway in the U.S. Also one of the most remote, the Dalton Highway parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Visitors who take the drive themselves will need to note that much of the road is still mostly gravel. Unless you’ve appeared on Ice Road Truckers, you might want to skip the ride in winter. Public access ends at the small town of Deadhorse, just before the Arctic Ocean, and if you want to reach those last 8 miles of private road out to the coast, it’s possible to join private tours from Deadhorse.
This top-rated visitor attraction at the University of Alaska Fairbanks boasts being the only research and teaching museum in Alaska. With a goal of acquiring, interpreting and showcasing collections relating to Alaska’s natural, cultural and artistic heritage, the University of Alaska Museum of the North currently houses 1.4 million artifacts and specimens. Visitors can peruse the collections and exhibits to gain a true understanding of the development and culture of Native Alaskans. These are separated into 10 different categories: Archaeology, birds, documentary film, earth sciences, ethnology/history, fine arts, fishes/marine invertebrates, insects, mammals, and plants.
Visitors can also see ancient artwork spanning from 2,000 years ago to present, like ancient ivory carvings; contemporary sculptures; Alaska’s most comprehensive public display of gold and Blue Babe; a light installation that changes with the position of the moon and sun.
For those interested in learning about Interior and Arctic Alaska as well as Native culture, the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is a must-have experience when visiting Fairbanks. The mission of the attraction is to celebrate the people and culture of Interior Alaska while also promoting the local economy and acting as a community gathering place to exchange cultural ideas, and they do this in a number of ways.
First, the center showcases a number of free exhibits on Interior Alaska and its people, providing insight to the heritage of the area. For example, their main exhibit, “How We Live: The People and the Land”, features life-sized dioramas depicting the seasons of Interior Alaska. You can also shop for Native Alaskan artwork in their Alaska Geographic store; dress up in traditional Athabaskan attire for a photo; see a traditional performance of music, art and storytelling; create your own traditional Athabascan moose skin bags or sun catcher.
This 44-acre (109-hectare) city park is located along the Chena River and is Alaska’s only historic theme park. It was opened in 1967 as Alaska 67 Centennial Exposition in order to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Alaska Purchase. Today, the park is home to a number of restaurants, museums, attractions, shops and art spaces, with over 30 places of interest in total.
While the Alaska Native Museum teaches visitors about Eskimos and Native Alaska cultures, the Pioneer Air Museum displays aviation memorabilia and aircrafts. Hungry? Enjoy fresh local fish from Salmon Bake or stroll around while savoring a refreshing treat from the Gold Rush Ice Cream Parlour. If you’re interested in the arts the Palace Theatre puts on a lighthearted performance about Fairbanks from history to present day, while Bear Gallery allows you to view works created by local artists.
Sixty miles from Fairbanks, the Aurora Ice Museum draws more than 10,000 visitors every summer. A chilly -7° Celsius inside, it’s the largest year-round ice structure in the world. Designed in 2005 and carved from 1,000 tons of ice and snow by 15-time world ice art champion Steve Brice and his wife Heather Brice, on a visit you can hang out in the ice bar, check out the grand chandeliers made of individually-carved ice crystals (they change color every six seconds to mimic the Aurora Borealis), and walk around ice sculptures including a huge chess set and life-sized jousting knights.
How is the Aurora Ice Museum prevented from melting during the hot summer days? Geothermal energy powers absorption refrigeration systems that cool the ice year round!
Encompassing 254,080 acres (102,823 hectares), the Chena River Recreation Area is located about 30 minutes east of Fairbanks, with the Chena River being the central focus of the park. As the name implies, the park is full of opportunities for outdoor recreation and is popular with hikers, backpackers, climbers, anglers, kayakers, skiers, snowmobilers, canoers, wildlife photographers and adventure enthusiasts.
The Chena River Recreation Area is abundant with wildlife, home to black bears, brown bears, beavers, red fox, caribou, wolves, hoary marmots, pika, rock ptarmigan and, most predominantly, moose, which you’ll see many of around the lakes. In the Chena River, catch-and-release fishing for Arctic grayling is possible, but grayling and rainbow trout caught in the park’s stocked ponds -- located at mileposts 30, 42.8, 45.5 and 47.9 on the Chena Hot Springs Road -- may be kept.
More Things to Do in Fairbanks
An hours’ drive from Fairbanks, Alaska’s Chena Hot Springs Resort includes an indoor chlorinated pool for families and a natural-rock outdoor lake filled with pure hot spring mineral water for adults.
The site was first discovered by gold miners in 1905 and sits at the center of a 40-square-mile geothermal area. The spring waters have to be cooled before bathing; otherwise you’d be dipping into scolding 156° F waters. In winter, Chena is known for its Aurora Borealis displays, and the resort is also home to the Aurora Ice Museum and Ice Bar. The resort has 80 rooms for guests, a restaurant, lounge bar and an onsite cafe. In summer, the site is also a popular base for mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riding, and it’s also possible to go grayling fishing in the local streams.
Starting in the Yukon-Tanana Upland, 57 miles from the town of Fox, the Tolovana River is known for its grayling and northern pike fishing and flows southwest for 116 miles through the Tolovana Valley and its abundance of birch and spruce trees.
With little to no light pollution, the area surrounding the Tolovana River is a particularly good place to see the Aurora Borealis, and while you’re in the area, look out for typical Alaskan wildlife, including moose, bears, eagles, and martens. Tucked into the mountains near the river, you can also visit Tolovana Hot Springs. The most remote of the region’s “big four” hot springs, the site is only accessible via cross-country skiing, hiking, dog-sledding or helicopter.