Fairbanks, the Winter Wonderland!
The largest city in the Interior region is the most populous city (after Anchorage) of Alaska. The metropolitan area is located 196 miles south of the Arctic Circle. North of Fairbanks is a chain of hills that rises gradually that rises gradually until it reaches the white Mountains and the Yukon River. To the south of the river is the Tanana River. South of the river is the Tanana Flats, an area of marsh and bog that stretches for more than 100 miles (160km) until it rises into the Alaska Range, which is visible from Fairbanks on clear days. To the east and the west are low valleys separated by ridges of hills up to 3000 feet (910 m) above sea level.
Fairbanks is known as America’s coldest city. Normal monthly daily temperatures range from -7.9°F (-22.2°C) in January to 62.5°F (16.9°C) in July. On average there are 7.3 days with -40°F (40°C) and there are 13 days with 80°F (27°C).
Tourists mainly visit in winter to see the northern lights, ice carvings or do winter sports.
Downtown is fairly small and there is not really a lot to do or to see but just to see the city it is worth a trip. There is the Golden Heart Plaza that is a riverfront gathering place. The Chena River, as it flows through downtown Fairbanks, is lined with six community parks. Golden Heart Plaza is considered the center of the system, located between the Chena River and 1st Avenue at Cushman Street. Other than that I would say the best way to explore the city is to just stroll around the streets or stop at some cafes and restaurants.
Pioneer Park is probably the biggest park I have ever seen. Located on 2300 Airport Way, this park will outmatch all your expectations. It is a museum, amusement park, dining area and a place for shopping.
The park opened in 1967 as the Alaska 67 Centennial Exposition. It celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the purchase of Alaska from Russia. It is open year-round, 24 hours a day. Admission to the park is free but many museums and activities charge a fee.
These are some of the museums that teach you about Fairbanks’ past: SS Nenana, Kitty Hensley House, Pioneer Museum, Judge Wickersham House, Pioneer Air Museum, Native Museum or Tanana Valley Railroad Museum. Also there are many gift store inside the historical cabins. For dinner you can enjoy sweet treats, specialities, hand-made lunches or fresh-from-the-sea Alaska salmon. There are numerous of activities for kids to be found. There’s a carousel with horses painted by local artists and tons of playgrounds. Furthermore you can rent a kayak or a canoe to float the Chena River, play miniature gold, challenge your friends to volleyball, bocce ball and horseshoes (you can borrow equipment from the information booth), visit the Bear Gallery to look at local art that changes monthly, go to the Palace Theatre to listen to the nightly comedy reviews of early Fairbanks or watch the performances under the midnight sun in the Gazebo last but not least there is the Crooked Creek & Whiskey Island Railroad which offers a unique view of the Park.
All in all this is a great park to spend some spare time in.
Chena Hot Springs
Chena Hot Springs is a resort 56.5 miles northeast of Fairbanks near the Chena River State Recreation Area. The resort makes use of the first low-temperature binary geothermal power plant build in Alaska, and is working on several alternative energy projects, including production and use of hydrogen and vegetable oil for fuel.
The hot springs were founded over 100 years ago by two mining brothers, Robert and Thomas Swan. In 1905, Robert Swan was suffering from rheumatism and needed a place to calm his pain and be comfortable. The two brothers set out to find the springs. They started searching for it in Interior Alaska when they found the springs where they are today after a little over a month. In 1911 they build 12 small cabins to accommodate visitors. After a while those cabins were developed and they became one of the most famous resorts in the interior of Alaska. It became so famous that the United States Department of Agriculture sent chemists to analyze the water which let to the result that the characteristics of the water are very different from other American hot springs.
I would recommend to visit the hot springs in winter and not necessarily in summer. The average yearly temperature for the area is -4.9°C (23.3°F) with the highest temperature being in July at 20.4°C (68.7°F) and the lowest temperature in January at -31.2°C (-24.2°F). The average snowfall amount in Chena Hot Springs is 161.8 centimetres (63.7in) annually. This snow makes the hot springs look so idyllic and you can actually see the steam coming up in the air. The mountains in the background are covered in snow and your wet hair is going to freeze a bit. This place will make Alaska look like how you imagined it!
In summer the area around the hot springs is beautiful too but it is not as impressive as in winter I would say. It is a pool that looks like a manmade pool with a huge fountain in the middle and you cannot see any steam in the air. There is no feeling of any natural hot spring. Around the pool are gift shop, many other houses, tourist attractions and indoor pool. If you really want to go for a swim in the outdoors this is a place you should visit. The area around the pool is very nature rich and there are great hikes.
Additionally to the pool you can visit the Aurora Ice Museum. The only intention for the museum is to boost the tourism of the resort and showcase the artwork of resident ice artists Steve and Heather Brice, The museum looks like an igloo from the outside but is made out of a steel framework with hollow walls and consists of a great hall and a lounge. The exhibition consists out of many ice sculptures. You can only go into the museum with a tour for $15. If you want an Appletini beverage served in an ice glass (only for ages 21+) are an extra $15 and you can keep the ice glass as long as you keep it cold obviously. The tours are scheduled for 11am, 1pm, 3pm, 5pm and 7pm. In my opinion it is only worth visiting the ice museum in winter. For me it was kind of ironic to visit the museum in winter. When we were there it was really warm on the outside, while the inside of the museum is really cold to keep the ice sculptures how the are. It was just not the right atmosphere to go in there but I am sure that it will be worth visiting in winter and also (if you are really interested in it) in summer. For those that want to try ice sculpting themselves can book a class for 2 hours for $180 per person with a group of maximum 3 students.
North Pole is a city close to Fairbanks. Do not get fooled by the name because this is North Pole and not “the” North Pole. Actually, this city is about 1,700 miles (2.700km) south of Earth’s geographic North Pole and 125 miles (200km) south of the Arctic Circle. I would definitely recommend visiting when you are leaving Fairbanks and want to drive the eastern route on Richardson Highway. North Pole is the perfect way to actually visit Santa Claus. There is a gift shop named Santa Claus House. It is especially known for the world’s largest fiberglass statue of Santa Claus on the outside. The store plays christmas songs all year-long and sells artificial christmas tress as well as ornaments and everything you need for Christmas season or…apparently…even before that. Even street names such as Santa Claus Lane, St. Nicholaus Drive, Snowman Lane and Kris Kringle Drive are Christmas themed. The street lights are decorated in a candy cane motif. The city’s firetrucks and ambulances are all red, while the police cars are green and white.
A little fun fact on the site: the actual pole that used to mark the north pole geographically was replaced in 2017. The old north pole is now located in North Pole, AK. And FYI it got its name only to attract tourists and companies that want to advertise their products being produced in North Pole.
As you can tell: North Pole takes Christmas very serious. So if you are as Christmas crazy as everybody else here this is your place to go! But as you can imagine it would probably be a little more authentic and picturous in winter so I’d recommend going then instead of summer if you can. But even in summer it is cool to visit because it is kind of ironic. All in all it is a fun place to visit!
Delta State Recreation Site Campground
Since we wanted to drive back to Anchorage on the eastern side along Richardson Highway we set up our tent on the Delta State Recreation Site Campground which I really liked. In the beginning of June we were the only people there which made us worry a bit because on our drive here we saw many moose just casually eating next to the road but we survived the night and all was good. This campground makes you feel like you are really in nature but it is actually located really close to stores and the it is right off the highway. But since we didn’t come in the most touristy time and Alaska is not really the most populous state, we could not hear any cars during the night. There are bathrooms available that do not have running water. There are 25 site available and you have to pay cash coming into the park, putting it with a form that needs to be filled out into an envelope which you will both find there into a mailbox that is not accessable by anybody who does not have a key.
The campground is located on mile 267 on Delta Junction of the Richardson Highway.