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Overview

Alaska's second-largest city, Fairbanks is home to 31,000 people, many of whom work at the University of Alaska and two large military bases. Fairbanksians take pride in their toughness, and anyone not accustomed to cold and darkness will find winters here very challenging. Days are briefest around the winter solstice (December 21), when the sun pokes over the horizon for less than four hours, leaving the other 20 hours in darkness. Temperatures are often well below zero, sometimes plummeting to -40 degrees (or lower) in mid-winter. Despite these extremes, you'll see folks working and playing outside under even the harshest conditions. Dog ...

Alaska's second-largest city, Fairbanks is home to 31,000 people, many of whom work at the University of Alaska and two large military bases. Fairbanksians take pride in their toughness, and anyone not accustomed to cold and darkness will find winters here very challenging. Days are briefest around the winter solstice (December 21), when the sun pokes over the horizon for less than four hours, leaving the other 20 hours in darkness. Temperatures are often well below zero, sometimes plummeting to -40 degrees (or lower) in mid-winter. Despite these extremes, you'll see folks working and playing outside under even the harshest conditions. Dog mushing and snowmobiling are popular, and two downhill ski areas lie just a few miles from downtown Fairbanks. The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in February and the World Ice Art Championships in March are the biggest winter events. Outstanding cross-country ski trails (lighted of course) crisscross the University of Alaska campus and the Birch Hill area north of town. Indoor activities provide an escape from the cold and dark. The city has a number of fine restaurants and shops, plus the impressive University of Alaska Museum of the North, along with additional exhibits at the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitor Center. It's an hour's drive to Chena Hot Springs, where you can luxuriate in an outdoor pool with 110-degree waters as ice crystals form in your hair from the bitterly cold air. Chena is an excellent spot for northern lights viewing, and several other lodges in the area specialize in aurora tours. Hardcore enthusiasts fly north from Fairbanks to Bettles for unparalleled northern lights and clear skies. The nearby town of North Pole hosts the year-round Santa Claus House, where kids can meet Santa and adults can buy a square inch of North Pole land.

Don Pitcher
About the Expert

Don Pitcher has written or photographed 10 travel guidebooks to Alaska, Wyoming, Yellowstone-Grand Teton, and the San Juan Islands for Avalon Travel Publishing, Random House, and Sasquatch Books.

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Don Pitcher for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    Longer and milder days in March for the World Ice Art Championships