Should you go to Fairbanks Alaska…in the winter? The answer is a resounding yes! Sure, it’s cold, but there are amazing winter activities in Fairbanks that are worth bundling up for! Be prepared with the proper clothing for sub zero temperatures and experience winter fun in Fairbanks Alaska! Check here if you want to learn some tips for finding cheap flights to get to Fairbanks.
Things to do in Fairbanks Alaska in Winter
We visited Fairbanks in February with friends. The main purpose of our visit was to see the Northern Lights. We succeeded! Best of all, despite the cold we found many more winter activities in Fairbanks than we could have imagined. In fact, this ended up being one of our most memorable trips ever! Don’t let the cold stop you from planning a winter adventure in Fairbanks AK.
View the Northern Lights in Fairbanks
Like us, many people come to Fairbanks in winter to see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. This is one of the best places in the world to see this amazing display.
Tips for seeing the aurora borealis in Fairbank, AK:
- Be aware that the Northern Lights are unpredictable.
- They say that if you stay in Fairbanks, Alaska for 4 nights during the dark season you will have an 80 percent chance of seeing the northern lights. We stayed in Fairbanks 4 nights. They appeared on the first night we arrived and we stayed up until 2:00 AM watching them. We also saw them briefly the second night and then not again.
- Did you know that it doesn’t have to be cold for you to see the Aurora Borealis? It just has to be dark. Dark nights just happen to coincide with cold in the latitudes in which the lights can be seen.
- Get away from ambient light. We stayed in an Airbnb outside of Fairbanks and could see the Aurora perfectly from the back porch of our house. In town they were much fainter. Consider staying in an Airbnb outside of town like this pretty chalet or this nice apartment with views only about 10 minutes out of town. This igloo might be a super interesting place to stay to see the lights. You might also want to take a look at the Borealis Basecamp.
- Check the weather forecast. Cloud cover will obscure the lights
- Check the Aurora forecast. Yes, there are forecasts that show the chance that the lights will appear! Here is a forecast from the University of Alaska.
- Avoid the full moon. You can sometimes see the lights with a full moon, but it can make it harder. A quarter moon or less is said to be the best.
- The lights often show up late in the night so be prepared to stay up well into the night!
- If you are staying in a hotel in Fairbanks some of them will provide an aurora wake up call!
- Dress warmly! You don’t want to be too cold to enjoy seeing the lights!
- Consider taking a tour. You will have several options if you are leaving from Fairbanks. Look into the Arctic Circle and Northern Lights Tour.
- The Northern Lights can be tricky to photograph. If you like photography and want to learn how to photograph the northern lights check out Aurora Bear for their aurora photography classes. I was a complete beginner at photographing the lights and I’m sure my photos would have been a lot better had I taken a class!
For some reason I was hesitant to do this quintessential Alaskan activity.
Perhaps I was thinking that it was mean to ride on a sled pulled by dogs. I was so wrong! The sled dogs are born to run. They are feisty and high energy and they need a job to be happy. It was obvious how excited they were to take off through the snow. If anything, it was hard for the trainers to STOP them from running.
Dog sledding, also known as mushing, was an incredible experience. This is not just for tourists, it is a form of transportation that many Alaskans still use to get around in the winter. You can find many opportunities to go mushing in and around Fairbanks. There are rides of various lengths and with some companies you will even get to try your hand at driving the sled.
Check out Bill Cotter’s Dog Sledding. Cotter is a former Iditarod racer and this is a small family owned business just outside of Fairbanks.
Snowmobiling may have been the most exciting winter activity that we tried in Fairbanks. It was exhilarating to zoom along the snow covered trails through gorgeous forests and thrilling to race around frozen, snow covered ponds. Just a great experience!
You will need some really, really warm and protective clothing for this activity so consider renting the right gear or choose a guide that will help you to get properly attired for both warmth and safety.
Check out Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service!
Chena Hot Springs
A dip in the hot springs when the weather is in the negative digits is something not to be missed.
Chena Hot Springs is about an hour and a half drive from Fairbanks and it is definitely worth the trip. You will want to visit the Aurora ice museum which is inside the resort, soak in the springs, or even plan to stay onsite for a night or two.
Wouldn’t it be lovely to watch the aurora from the warmth of the springs? You can do that too!
If you are coming in for a day trip you will be able to purchase a day pass for the springs. Chena provides nice changing rooms and an enclosed walkway that takes you right into the warm water. It is an incredible experience to soak in the warmth while surrounded by ice and snow.
The “North Pole”
The North Pole is a small town that is only about a 15 minute drive from Fairbanks. Yes, It is a bit of a tourist trap in that they have fully embraced their name and are decorated for Christmas year round. We still enjoyed our visit here! There is a sprawling store called Santa Claus House which features all things Christmas! This includes aisle after aisle of ornaments and a great selection of toys.
The North Pole post office receives over 400,000 pieces of mail each year addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole, Alaska.” Volunteers work to respond to each letter.
The North Pole is surprisingly known for having some good restaurants. We ate at the Pagoda Restaurant and I can definitely recommend it.
Running Reindeer Ranch
Do you want to learn more about reindeer and the forests of Alaska? Take a look at the Running Reindeer Ranch. This is one of the most unique and highly rated experiences in the Fairbanks area. Visitors will actually get to walk with the reindeer as they learn all about them.
Snowshoe Tours and Ice Fishing
Snowshoeing and Ice Fishing were two things that we did not have time to do while we were in Alaska! But if these are winter activities that you would like to try out I recommend that you check out the Alaska Wildlife Guide. They offer both of these activities!
Ice Art Championships
If you are in Fairbanks in late February then you will want to attend the Ice Art Championships! This is a serious competition. There are typically over 80 ice sculptures created by carvers from all over the world.
These carvings tend to be more like art installations and they are truly exquisite.
Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center
Definitely stop by the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center while you are visiting Fairbanks! I would suggest visiting here shortly after your arrival. This is the place to pick up brochures and get ideas for things to do in and around the city. The folks at the Visitor Center were very helpful with ideas for our trip.
In addition to getting help and ideas you can explore the exhibits at the center. These are very nice and well done. You will learn about what life is like in all the four seasons of Alaska as well as see some Alaskan Native Art.
Don’t forget to walk around the grounds to see the iconic antler arch!
There is a viewing point for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline just outside of Fairbanks called the Aleyeska Pipeline Viewing Point. This is a free attraction where you can get a close up look of one of the world’s great engineering feats! You will find informational displays to help you learn more about this marvel . Did you know that 420 miles of the pipeline are elevated through the Alaskan wilderness?
Fountainhead Auto Museum
I know, it seems a little weird for there to be an Auto Museum in Fairbanks. However, there may be moments during a winter visit to Fairbanks when you want to get out of the cold and The Fountainhead Auto Museum is an extraordinary place! They describe themselves on their website as an “immersive celebration of our love of the road and the magnificent machines that once transported us there.”
This is a car museum and more. There are 80 vintage vehicles that are showcased here along with multi media presentations and displays of period fashion to match the era of the car.
University of Alaska Museum of the North
The Museum of the North is a modern museum where you can discover the stories of the Alaskan people, places, and wildlife. The museum is a great introduction to this fascinating state. The building itself is a must see. It was designed by a nationally renowned architect and was created in such a way that its lines and spaces are meant to evoke the aurora, the glaciers, and the mountains of the state. It is subtle but you can see it if you know what you are looking for.
Definitely take some time to look at the Alaska Art Gallery which showcases Alaskan art from ancient Eskimo carvings to contemporary paintings.
Pioneer Park is a historic village that features original buildings moved from downtown Fairbanks. In the summer there are shops and rides and a train that runs around the perimeter of the park. Even in the winter you can still walk around. The shops and restaurants might be closed but you can still get a feel for Alaskas early years.
Fairbanks has some excellent breweries! We really liked Silver Gulch Brewery which is also a restaurant and is housed in an old road house. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, the food and the beer were really enjoyable. It has the distinction of being America’s most northern brewery.
We also really enjoyed HooDoo Brewing Company. You can stop by their taproom to sample a class of their locally brewed beer.
Enjoy Your Visit to Fairbanks in the Winter!
We loved our trip to Fairbanks Alaska in the winter. From the Northern Lights to unexpected museums to hot springs to enjoying a cold glass of beer with friends…it was a wonderful trip.
Yes, it is cold. You will definitely need to be prepared for that. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying all that Fairbanks has to offer even when the nights are long and the temperatures are low.
Thanks so much for stopping by.