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Winter is an absolutely BEAUTIFUL time to visit Alaska. In fact, growing up, I thought Alaska was just winter vibes all year round and it was always covered in snow. Of course, that is far from the truth, but still – I WAS PUMPED to visit during the winter anyway. I mean, I was kind of a baby and picked the end tail of winter (March) to visit Fairbanks, Alaska, but there was still snow so it counts. Visiting during the winter satisfied that image I carried of Alaska for so long. But…what are things to do in Fairbanks in winter? Is everything…frozen?
DON’T WORRY FOLKS. I gotcha covered!
From romantic couple-y activities to set the mood, to silly fun adventures for the kiddos, to even events to meet new people for solo travelers, this list has ideas for everyone! So without further ado, here are my top 10 things to do in Fairbanks in winter!
1. Chena Hot Springs Resort
Okay, this one will probably show up first on TripAdvisor anyway, so let me talk about it right off the bat. Chena Hot Springs Resort is…well, a resort. And because it is a resort, you can actually stay here if you choose, though it is a bit on the pricey side ($200-$300 a night). I didn’t personally stay here, but it looks cozy, especially the cabins.
But enough about the stay, what is there TO DO??? Surprisingly, a lot! For one, there is a hot spring! It’s what the resort is named for after all. About an hour outside of downtown Fairbanks, the hot springs and pool are open 7am-midnight, with prices (in USD) as follows:
|under 6||free (but not allowed in hot springs)|
While lockers and changing stalls are free to use, towels cost $5.00 to rent if you aren’t staying at the lodge. Other things to include in your Chena Hot Springs packing guide: swimsuit (like, duh, but I forgot mine and had to buy one onsite *cry emoji*), water shoes, and hair ties!
You can also book massage services at the hot spring!
There are also a few other winter activities at Chena Hot Springs, but I’ll mention them below since it’s not exclusive to the resort.
2. Dog Sledding
DOGGIESSSSSS!!! Dog sledding and mushing is an important fabric of Alaskan culture. In fact, it’s the state sport! If you haven’t heard of the Iditarod, then I suggest you look it up right now. Even with the invention of cars and modern transportation, sledding is the only way to reach some parts of Alaska. And – if I do say so myself – dog sledding is one of the best things to do in Fairbanks in winter!
But don’t worry. You’ll be completely fine driving in Fairbanks. The roads are expertly paved and cleared.
If you want to experience dog sledding on your trip and learn more about the practice, there are dozens of places to go. However, my recommendation is to visit the Chena Kennel at the Chena Hot Springs! I recommend them over most other kennels because they do not bred dogs just for tourism, and most of them are actually rescues! Either from bad kennels, abandoned, or retired mush dogs. All of the dogs have their own lovable personalities and the staff knows each one by name and face – as well as their partner capabilities.
When I visited, their “mush school” (where you learn how to mush a team of dogs yourself) was completely booked, so I opted for the kennel tour which included the origin about the activity, it’s current role in Alaska, basic information about sled dogs and how sledding/mushing works, anddd finally a ride in the sled! I learned a lot, but my favorite part was the downtime before the ride when I could interact with the dogs! They have a TON of energy, which can be intimidating at first!
3. Sleep Under the Stars
One of the most epic things to do in the area, you can actually book lodging that gives you amazing views of the night sky. And, since you’ll be visiting in the winter, you’ll have a great shot at catching the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), right from your bed!
Trust me, it gets cold out there. It’s much nicer to view from inside, haha.
The most popular hotel for this is Borealis Basecamp, with each room actually a separate luxury bubble cabin with a transparent ceiling. It is absolutely breath-taking. Buuut, that said, prices can run $450-$600 a night in winter, depending on the weekend. They also usually book up months in advance.
So if it happens to be booked, or it’s not in your price range, here are a few other cozy accommodations to consider!
Super romantic for couples, or a more comfortable viewing experience for the kiddos!
4. Northern Lights
And on that note – of course one of the best things to do in Fairbanks in winter is actually the reason MOST people visit during winter. To view the Aurora Borealis, or more colloquially know, the Northern Lights. If you’ve never seen them before, you may be expecting to look up and see streams of greens and yellows dancing above your head.
Sorry to break it to you, buuuut ehhhh.
That’s not how it works, unfortunately.
The dazzling bright colors are only visible through the lens of a camera. What you will see with your naked eye will be…a little different. You will see something similar to a shiny, glossy, thin cloud. Like a vague shape in the sky that looks…different, but easily missed if you aren’t looking for it. When in doubt, take a picture. It might just be a cloud, but if your picture turns green, you know you’re in a good viewing space!
When I visited, I saw the Northern Lights three nights in a row, but often people can go for a week and not see any. So be prepared for either scenario.
In terms of aurora forecasting, I will link two great sites that essentially tell you the same information (aurora strength, visibility, etc), but in slightly different formats. Use whichever is more helpful and digestible for you.
Thankfully though, if the conditions are right, there are plenty of places to stake out to see them! I will eventually put together an entire list of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, but for now I’ll just give my top recommendations: Creamer’s Field and Cleary Summit, about 30 minutes from downtown.
For more adventurous activity, you should go snowmobiling! If you’re already staying at Borealis Basecamp, then you’re in luck! They have snowmobiles for rent (and tours!) right on site. But if not, you can still reserve a snowmobile. Or, for something a little closer to town, check out Fairbanks Snowmobile Tour, only 10 minutes outside of town. Half hour tours are $80, and 1 hour rides are $120. If you mention their website, you can get $5 USD off!
6. Reindeer Walks
Annnddd back to the relaxed activities. So, don’t laugh, but I totally thought deer and reindeer were the same thing. Don’t ask me exactly what the differences are, but basically reindeer are the ones where they all have antlers and live in the cold.
Point is, as one of the chillest things to do in Fairbanks in winter, you can actually hang out with reindeer and go on a walk with them! Again, like the snowmobile and dog sledding, there are multiple farms and ranches to choose from. My suggestion, Running Reindeer Ranch.
Running Reindeer Ranch is a family-owned farm that offers reindeer walks, reindeer yoga, and sometimes even unique reindeer milk soap. Seriously, you can’t get reindeer milk soap ANYWHERE else, and it isn’t always available. Jane, one of the owners, only makes the soap when one of the reindeer moms has leftover milk after she has finished nursing her young calf. They don’t breed the reindeer or keep them pregnant just to milk them. And I respect that!
However, I’m also very scared of animals – SOOO I didn’t do the reindeer walk and instead opted to view from afar. You should definitely do it though and tell me how it goes. Y’all are way braver than me hahah.
7. North Pole
Fun fact. Santa lives here. Well, okay, not TECHNICALLY in Fairbanks, but in a small town 20 minutes away called North Pole. Fitting, right? It’s a super cute half-day trip, and as you drive into town, you will notice that all of the lamp posts look like candy canes and the signs are decorated in tinsel year-round. Though, in the winter, there is a little extra magic in the air, especially in December. You can visit Santa’s Workshop, which is really just a very big gift shop for all things Christmas, as well as the world’s largest Santa in the parking lot. It is…very big.
On some days, usually weekends, Santa will come by the building and take pictures with the kiddos! I visited on a weekday though so I missed that, but honestly, I don’t want to sit on an old man’s lap anyway. Outside of the building, there were also a few little ice sculptures for Christmas in Ice and a reindeer petting zoo (looked a bit cramped though so I wouldn’t recommend that one).
Christmas in Ice happens during the Christmas season (December-early January). This “ice park” takes place outside of Santa’s Workshop in North Pole, Alaska. It includes Christmas-themed ice sculptures, ice slides, mazes, a skating rink, and even fireworks on Christmas and New Years!
8. Ice Fishing
Another activity for the adventurous! I, unsurprisingly, am scared of fish. So I avoided this activity like the plague. But apparently it’s one of the best things to do in Fairbanks in winter. My friends all loved it soooo looking back I regret my hesitation. But alas – I can only learn from my past mistakes. If you haven’t ice fished before, I STRONGLYYYYYYYYYY recommend going with a guide. My friends went with Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service and had a great experience!
First, his fishing cabins are heated. Second, the tour is all inclusive! So Rod provides the mandatory fishing license (well, you technically buy one from him -cash only), fishing poles, bait, snacks, hot cocoa, and water. Even if you don’t do a tour and ice fish alone, you still need a fishing license. Either way, you can buy licenses online (1 day, $25 USD non-resident). Licenses must be physically present and signed to fish. No electronic copies.
Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service also practices sustainable fishing methods. That means each participant can keep 1 fish, and the rest are released back into the lake. There is a two person minimum, however, so solo travelers might want to call ahead to be added to an already scheduled tour.
Yess, visiting a city during a festival or celebration can definitely change the atmosphere of your entire trip. Sometimes, I specfically plan to visit certain destinations around when a festival will be taking place (like when I visited Palm Springs during Desert X 2019). I didn’t do that for this trip, but I just so happened that my time actually did line up with an event! So, if you’re looking for things to do in Fairbanks in winter, check out some of the festivals below and see if any of them overlap!
Fairbank Festival Winter Calendar
- Festival of Native Arts (March): It is a cultural event that highlights the major Native Indigenous groups of Alaska, as well as First Nation, Russian, and Japanese heritage in the state. The Festival of Native Arts is student-led (University of Alaska Fairbanks) and brings together local together artists, dancers, vendors, and performance groups in a celebration of Native cultures for an entire weekend! Check their event page for the exact dates every year!
- World Ice Sculpting Championships (February-March): I actually had the opportunity to experience the World Ice Sculpting Championships! Incredible ice sculptures from all over the WORLD compete, and they make some truly amazing works of art. I went on the backend of the even (in March), and Fairbanks was having a warm winter, so pieces were actually starting to melt off, so I’d recommend visiting in February.
- Winter Solstice (on the winter solstice – December): Every year, the city has a huge winter solstice celebration! So if you happen to visit on that day, there are tons of family-friendly activities like pictures with Santa gifts from local museums and shops. Then there’s a big fireworks celebration at night!
- Iditarod (March): Okay okay…it’s not REALLYYY in Fairbanks. Fairbanks is not traditionally on the route, buuut -occasionally- if the weather alters the route, then it has been known to kick off in Fairbanks instead. But again, it’s not the plan. So why should you visit during the Iditarod then? Because of the atmosphere! Everyone is hyped and talking about the race!
Ahhh…learning. Everyone’s favorite part of a vacation. There are a handful of museums to go to, and can be a great chance to escape the cold and warm up a bit!
- Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center: Learn about Athabascan history and culture (the Indigenous people of what we now call “Fairbanks” and Alaska’s Interior).
- University of Alaska Museum of the North: Closer to what you would expect in a natural history museum. Lots of background on the geology, archeology, and earth science of Alaska. There is also exhibits on fine art (majority Alaskan art), film, and even sensory exhibits.
- Fairbanks Community Museum: Has a lot of history of the “founding/settlement” of Fairbanks by settlers and it’s evolution to the city it is today.
- Aurora Ice Museum: Located at the Chena Hot Springs, it’s more of a year-round ice bar and not really a museum at all. You should try their signature cocktail (it’s strong lol), and it’s made in an ice glass! At the end, you get to break it on the floor.
- Trans-Alaska Pipeline: Also, not really a museum, but still cool to look at! I don’t really have a strong perspective on the social, economic, and environmental impacts of this project on the local and statewide communities (especially the Indigenous communities), but objectively…it’s shocking to see it in person. It’s…massive. And right outside of Fairbanks.
Things to do in Fairbanks in Winter: Conclusion
So, did I convince you to visit during the snow-y season? Basically, there’s a butt-ton of things to do in Fairbanks in winter. I mean, HOW COULD YOU SAY NO TO SLED DOGS??? I’m currently working on a more complete Fairbanks travel guide, but in the meantime, hopefully this will help get you started on your trip – well, if it’s during the winter haha.
If you’re obsessed with reading like I am, I would recommend picking up the book “My Name is Not Easy” by Debby Dahl Edwardson. The author retells the story of her Inuit husband’s childhood experiences growing up in a Catholic boarding school. I included it in the “shortlist” section of my Books by Native American Authors, solely because she herself is not Native, but it is an incredible piece of work.
Is Fairbanks now on your radar for a winter getaway? Let me know in the comments below!