Population: Fairbanks city, 31,957. Located in the heart of Alaska’s Interior, Fairbanks is at the junction of the Parks, Steese and Richardson highways.
Fairbanks Visitor Information Center is in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center located at 101 Dunkel St.; phone 907-456-5774. Alaska Public Lands Information Center, also at 101 Dunkel St., offers free films, interpretive programs, exhibits and trip-planning assistance; phone 907-459-3730 or 1-866-869-6887.
Fairbanks started as a trading post that went awry. The ship that was supposed to take Captain E.T. Barnette to the Tanana Crossing could not navigate the shallow river so he was dropped at the present-day site of Fairbanks in 1901. A year later gold was discovered only 16 miles away and Barnette never left. The town is named after Charles W. Fairbanks, Indiana senator and vice president of the United States under Thedore Roosevelt. Judge Wickersham moved the Third Judicial District Court here from Eagle in 1903, helping the town grow.
Known as the “Golden Heart City” (Golden Heart Park at city center is home to the “Unknown First Family” statue), modern-day Fairbanks is a major service and supply point for Interior and Arctic industrial activities and is also the location of Fort Wainwright (formerly Ladd Field, the first Army airfield in Alaska) and Eielson Air Force Base.
Alaska’s third largest city and the administrative center of the Interior, Fairbanks is a blend of old and new: Modern full-service hotels, shopping centers and malls stand beside log cabins and historic wooden buildings. Located on the banks of the Chena River, it is bounded on the north, east and west by low rolling hills topped with birch and white spruce. To the south are the Alaska Range and Denali National Park, about a 2 1⁄2-hour drive via the Parks Highway. The Steese and Elliott highways lead north to the White Mountains.
Lodging & Services:
Fairbanks has all visitor services. Reservations are suggested for accommodations during summer. Shopping ranges from unique Northern art galleries to major chain stores like Walmart, Fred Meyer and Bed, Bath & Beyond. There is a Regal 16/IMAX Theater at Airport Way and Lathrop. There are more than 100 restaurants, including favorites like The Cookie Jar and The Turtle Club. Several hotels and motels also offer fine dining experiences, like Bear Lodge, Chena’s Alaskan Grill at River’s Edge, Zach’s at Sophie Station and the Red Lantern at the Westmark. Several campgrounds are available both in town and near town. Vehicle/RV services available in various locations. Noel Wien Public Library at 1215 Cowles St. has many services and lots of parking.
Maps: Click on maps below for detailed PDFs.
- Visit the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum at Wedgewood Resort, with its impressive collection of historically significant automobiles produced in the U.S. prior to WWII.
- Enjoy summer celebrations, like the annual World Midnight Sun Baseball Game on summer solstice (June 21st); World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (July); Golden Days (in July); Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival (July); and the Tanana Valley State Fair (in August).
- Tour the University of Alaska Museum of the North, a world-class facility featuring art and artifacts from across Alaska, from a 50,000-year-old radiocarbon dated steepe bison mummy (“Blue Babe”), to the state’s largest display of gold.
- Also on the UAF campus is the Georgeson Botanical Garden, a popular photo stop for visitors in summer with its showy flowers in bloom. A short drive from the main campus is the university’s Robert G. White Large Animal Research Station, which features caribou, musk oxen and reindeer.
- Take a sightseeing cruise on the Chena River aboard the sternwheeler Discovery, or rent a canoe or kayak at Paddler’s Cove (behind Pioneer Park) and paddle the river yourself.
- Go golfing at the North Star Golf Club and golf in the land of the midnight sun.
- Enjoy bird watching. Check out the thousands of sandhill cranes and other waterfowl at Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge; take the 2-mile self-guided nature trail and explore the historic farmhouse that houses the visitor center.
- Visit Pioneer Park with its historic buildings, small shops, food, entertainment, picnicking, playgrounds, miniature golf and train rides. Don’t miss the Pioneer Air Museum, the railroad museum or the renovated SS Nenana, the largest stern-wheeler ever built west of the Mississippi and the second largest wooden vessel in existence.
- Learn about Fairbanks’ mining history and go gold panning at Historic Gold Dredge 8 or at Gold Daughters
- Take a day trip to see the trans-Alaska pipeline and visit the Arctic Circle. The 280-mile round trip will also take you across the Yukon River on a route that parallels the pipeline much of the way. For a quick jaunt, the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. viewpoint 8 miles north of Fairbanks on the Steese Expressway is a great photo opportunity and a chance to walk along a section of the pipeline.
- Visit with Santa year-round at Santa Claus House in North Pole, 14 miles southeast of Fairbanks.
- Visit Chena Hot Springs Resort (125 miles round trip), a private resort offering indoor and outdoor natural mineral hot springs pools and the Aurora Ice Museum, the world’s only year-round ice museum and ice bar.