Buried deep in Alaska's interior and perched on the Tanana River, it could be said that Fairbanks is a rugged adventurer's kind of town.
But if at this point you're thinking, "Wait, where is Fairbanks in the snowy expanse that is Alaska?", let us first get you up to speed.
Fairbanks North Star Borough is the state's largest inland outpost, home to about 100,000 hardy citizens -none of whom landed there by happenstance. Everyone here has a story, a reason for being drawn to this demanding landscape. And if Fairbanks is starting to sound chilly, you're right. Located some 193 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle, the climate is classified as subarctic. It's little wonder why Fairbanks' nickname is "coldest city in America." We happen to have a warmer take on the place though, considering it a great jump-off point for anyone who still has a wild Alaskan odyssey on their adventure bucketlist.
Be forewarned: if you travel in the depths of winter, temperatures can plummet to -50C°. But if your heart is the type that yearns for epic adventure—if your soul cries for untamed wilderness—and if your fingers aren't afraid of a little nippy air—then Fairbanks rewards in spades. After all, this is one of the most supernatural places on Earth and you won't have to stand in a single queue to enjoy it. Here are just a few ways to best experience Fairbanks:
Get Outdoorsy in Aurora Borealis Country
Unlike other northern locations where the Aurora Borealis only appears in fleeting periods deep in winter, Fairbanks is treated to stunning light shows for nine months of the year. Peak viewing season runs late August to late April.
Sherman Hogue/Explore Fairbanks
Trust us, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or travelling by dog sled is made all the more magical under the northern lights.
Click here to find a Fairbanks park and trail map.
Venture to America's Loneliest National Parks
This year marks the National Park Service’s 100th birthday. The centennial is being celebrated across the country and Alaska is no exception. The least densely populated state in the USA is home to a whopping 15 national parks, preserves, monuments and national historical parks. All warrant a visit but here are three you can reach through the Fairbanks gateway:
Denali National Park
Sherman Hogue/Explore Fairbanks
Denali is favoured for its hiking (Denali is the highest peak in North America), rafting, ziplining and wildlife spotting (grizzlies, caribou, moose and wolves all roam the 6 million-acre park). The park is a four-season destination offering cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and ski-joring in winter.
Gates of the Arctic National Park
National Park Service, Alaska Region
Welcome to one of America's least-visited national parks. That a visit necessitates self-sufficiency is a siren's call to backcountry trekkers. There are no roads, nor trails and most arrive by charter air taxi. That being said, the trip is well worth the reward for those willing to embrace the elements. The Brooks Range presents dramatic mountain terrain and the park is home to all manners of wildlife: bears (black, brown, polar, and grizzly), wolves, moose, coyotes, lynx, wolverine, muskoxen, beavers, owls, foxes, caribou, sheep and more.
Yukon – Charley National Rivers National Preserve
NPS Photo - Josh SpiceYukon – Charley National Rivers National Preserve is snuggled between Fairbanks and the Canadian border. Rustic cabins and heritage sites pepper the river banks, a nod to the gold rush days. The 160-km Charley River is considered to be the most scenic river in the state.
3 Ways to Embrace the Chill
Nothing says “rugged explorer” like having the guts to go to Fairbanks in the winter. This season is ideal for dog sledding, skiing, ice sculpting and taking a dip in the natural hot springs.
Warm up in the cool air
Courtesy of Chena Hot Springs Resort
Chena Hot Springs Resort is a year-round destination that is just as well known for its hot springs as it is for its near-guaranteed aurora viewing. The water is famed for its healing mineral properties and its warmth is welcomed amid the crisp northern air. Chena Hot Springs Resort is located 97 kilometres northeast of Fairbanks.
Go for a wild ride
Sherman Hogue/Explore Fairbanks
Go dog sledding: After all, it was one of the original methods of frontier transportation. Fairbanks has a long history of mushing and the city serves as the finish line for Yukon Quest, a 1,000-mile (1,600-km) international sled dog race. Luckily one need not be a professional musher to enjoy a sled ride pulled by a team of enthusiastic huskies.
We bet you've never heard of an event like this...
The Arctic Man Classic Race has been an annual event - or spectacle, depending how you see it - for over 30 years. It is an excruciatingly difficult race, in which a skier is pulled behind a snowmobile at speeds up to 138 km per hour. While you may want to refrain from participating, you can join the thousands of spectators who come to cheer on the athletes. Catch the next one in April 2017.
If you go:
- Flying from Vancouver or Calgary will require a layover in Seattle. Land in either Anchorage (ANC) or Fairbanks (FAI). Both final destinations are 5 and 6 hours flying time from Vancouver and Calgary, respectively. Flights can be surprisingly affordable with fall/winter 2016 tickets costing as little as $437 round-trip.
- Flying from Toronto to Anchorage will require a layover in Minneapolis and Fairbanks will likely require a two-stop combination. Land in Anchorage in 7.5 flying hours or in Fairbanks in 9. Itineraries with two layovers can get you to Alaska for as little as $469 while one-stop routes will be in the mid-$500+ range.
Note: Prices are reflected in Canadian dollars for fall and winter 2016. They are approximate and subject to change. Search performed on Google Flights. Trip duration does not include time spent on the ground during layovers.
The Alaska Railroad Aurora Winter route connects Anchorage with Fairbanks and runs from mid-September through mid-May. The journey takes 11.5 scenic hours and costs $190 USD each way.
Five companies offer car rentals from Fairbanks International Airport. FAI is also serviced by two airport shuttle companies, 13 taxi services and public transit.
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