Gateway to Alaska's Interior
Things to See &
Do | Where to Stay
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
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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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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.