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Fairbanks Alaska

Gateway to Alaska's Interior

Things to See & Do | Where to Stay

Born of the 1898 gold rush, Fairbanks is Alaska's second largest city, the home of the main campus of the University of Alaska. Downtown Fairbanks is situated on the banks of the Chena River. To the south of the city is the Alaska Mountain Range. Denali National Park is a 3-hour drive to the south.

Fairbanks is well equipped with visitor services, including hotels, motels, good restaurants, shopping, and several museums. The University of Alaska is worth a lengthy visit. The museum there features displays on prehistoric Alaska. The Riverboat "Discovery" provides an excellent day trip along the Chena and Tanana rivers, twice each day.

The fall scenes outside of Fairbanks are amazing, as the birch forests that cover the region turn to gold in September. Summer temperatures average 63 degrees F. In June and July, the sunlight averages 21 hours, and golf is played 24 hours a day.

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Fairbanks History

The founding of Fairbanks is a classic gold rush story. In August 1901, merchant E.T. Barnette was riding up the Tanana River aboard the Lavelle Young. He had a boatload of supplies bound for a gold rush trail near Tanacross. Capt. Charles Adams, unable to get the riverboat past the rapids, turned into the Chena River and ran aground on sand bars. Adams lightened the boat by dumping all of Barnette's merchandise on the riverbank. Barnette was furious and his wife was in tears, but it turned out to be a lucky break.

Prospector Felix Pedro had recently found flecks of gold in several of the nearby creeks and desperately needed supplies for the winter to continue prospecting. He convinced Barnette to sell him the needed supplies. Shortly after, Felix Pedro hit pay dirt and the merchant set up shop in what is now downtown Fairbanks. Miners headed to the Chena from the Klondike and Nome. Barnette founded the Washington-Alaska Bank, but it failed in 1911

Hounded by the bankruptcy, Barnette left Fairbanks and never re turned. Several books, available in Fairbanks bookstores, tell his fascinating story. The city was named by Barnette's friend, Judge James Wickersham, to honor Indiana Senator Charles Fairbanks, who later became Theodore Roosevelt's vice-president.

In 1923, the Alaska Railroad reached Fairbanks from Seward and Anchorage, promoting large-scale mechanized mining. Huge dredges were used to pull the gold from the depths of the permafrost. Over the years, more than $ 200 million was taken from the frozen muck. The building of the Alaska Highway in 1942 brought new income and prosperity to the city. Fort Wainright (formerly Ladd Field) was established during the war and remains today as an important part of the city's economy.

The 1968 Prudhoe Bay oil strike propelled Fairbanks into a new era. A boom developed for three years as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was built. 22,000 pipeline workers were hired and, at one point, so many job seekers arrived in Fairbanks that the city fathers took out ads in southern newspapers urging people to stay away.

Fairbanks now has a stable economy, with the University of Alaska campus, Air Force and Army bases, and its role as the communications and transportation center for the Alaskan interior. It's a modern city with shopping plazas, excellent restaurants, and a busy cultural scene.

Fairbanks lies in the wooded Tanana River valley, surrounded by low-lying hills covered with white spruce and birch. Majestic Denali (Mt. McKinley) can be seen from a distance. The best views of the area are from the campus of the University of Alaska.

Visitor Information

The city's travel information center is in the Visitors Bureau Log Cabin, at 550-Q 1st Avenue, in the downtown area, (907) 456-5774). Free one-hour walking tours of the city start here.

The Alaska Public Lands Information Center is at 201 1st Avenue, for maps and information on remote areas including Alaska's parks.

Local Transit is based at 6th Avenue and Cushman Streets (907) 456-3279. Routes run through downtown and outlying areas, including a bus to North Pole. Schedules are available here and at the Visitors Bureau cabin.

The Alaska Railroad is located at 280 Cushman Street, with service to Denali National Park and Anchorage, (907) 456-4155. Fairbanks International Airport is located 6 miles (9.6 km) southwest of downtown, via Airport Road. Service is provided by Mark Air, Alaska Airlines, Air North & 40 Mile Air.

Things to See & Do

The University of Alaska Campus is worth visiting, particularly the UOA Museum at 907 Yukon Drive. There is an eclectic range of exhibits such as Russian era artifacts and Native crafts. Another interesting activity at the university is visiting the Agricultural Research Station to gaze at the gigantic vegetables that grow in the 20-hour sunlight. There are free public tours of the campus during summer months. Call (907) 474-7581 for information and schedules.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline: The Trans-Alaska Pipeline may be seen on the Steese Highway, north of Fairbanks. This elevated pipeline is insulated from the ground to protect the tender permafrost.

Alaskaland, the city's frontier-style theme park, features authentic pioneer homes, replicas of Native dwellings, an amusement park with rides, the sternwheeler "Nenana," cancan dancers, a salmon bake, and gift shops. It's open daily, with no general admission charge.

The Dog Musher's Museum, 4 miles down Farmer's Loop Road, offers live dog sled demonstrations, narrated slide-audio programs, and exhibits. It's located in a picturesque log building. Call (907) 457-MUSH. The museum stages several special event days during the summer season.

Riverboat Discovery offers three and one-half-hour cruises, with a one-hour stop to visit the Chena Indian Village, which includes the home and kennels of the late four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher, and an authentic Indian village where native guides take visitors on a tour of buildings and other artifacts. the cruise sails by an Athabaskan fish camp. For more information and reservations, go here.

One of the most unusual sports events in the world takes place in Fairbanks each summer. The Midnight Sun Baseball Game is played late at night on the June solstice, when perpetual light (at least for a few days) enables people to play ball, and golf, throughout the nighttime hours.

Golden Days are held in mid-July, as Fairbanks residents dress in turn-of-the century costumes and celebrate the gold rush with pancake breakfasts, canoe and raft races, and the Felix Pedro Parade. The Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival is held in late July, with classical and jazz music, dance, theater, and visual art exhibitions.

Fairbanks is either the starting or ending point (alternate years) of the Yukon Quest race, a noted dogsled race. Whitehorse is at the other end. The race started in Fairbanks in 1990. For information on the race, call (907) 457-MUSH.

For a guided Arctic Circle tour, leave your car behind and ride on a tour company bus up the Dalton Highway to the Yukon River crossing and the Arctic Circle. For information on area tours, call the Northern Alaska Tour Company, at (907) 474-8600, Nature Alaska Tours at (907) 488-3746, or Trans-Arctic Circle Tours (907) 479-5451.

Camping

River's Edge RV Park & Campground
4140 Boat Street, Fairbanks AK 99709
(907)474-0286 or 800-770-3343 (Alaska)
This large RV park has full and partial hookups, tenting sites, free showers, laundry, dump station, and gift shop, and also provides a free shuttle to Alaskaland. The management also arranges tours to Denali Park, Barrow, and the Arctic Circle.

Where to Stay

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Fairbanks is full of modern motel-type accommodations, and also motor hotels -- most belonging and looking like chain motels in the lower 48. Two downtown hotels are owned by cruise lines, the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel and The Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge.

A very different kind of lodgings is found 15 miles from downtown Fairbanks, on a working farm in the Tanana Valley: A Taste of Alaska Lodge. It's a 7,000 square foot log buiulding built by Walter and Dorothy Eberhart as a large farmhouse. The lodge is located off Chena Hot Springs Road, on Eberhart Road.

The Seven Gables Inn and Suites is a bed and breakfast, located at 4312 Birch Lane. A studio apartment and a deluxe queen room are available.

 

 

 

 

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