Why I Went to Fairbanks in Winter

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Why I Went to Fairbanks in Winter

I said I would never go to Fairbanks, Alaska in the winter. But I did. 

In what seemed like a reasonable compromise, I went in mid-March. At this time, the long, dark days of December and January are long gone and the average January temperatures of -7.9°F [-22°C] are hopefully long past. 

I live in Alaska (in comparably warmer Anchorage) and it still took me the summoning up of courage to go to Fairbanks. While I love winter sports, and winter in general, I don’t really like being cold. I enjoy the outdoors when temperatures are in the teens and twenties (Fahrenheit). Fairbanks is a whole different animal.

Fairbanks in Winter

A few months ago, Juno started a new digital content and marketing company. The Fountainhead Group in Fairbanks invited her up to help with some marketing. In five days we did almost everything a visitor in winter would want to do.

Here’s the guide I wrote:  Guide to Fairbanks Alaska in Winter

While Fairbanks is a great place to visit, it is certainly not a place I will be relocating to anytime soon. But 35,000 people do live there and many of them love it.  

Anyhow, I encourage you to visit Fairbanks in Winter!

What we did in Fairbanks in Winter

Northern Lights Chasing

Fairbanks is one of the world’s best Aurora-viewing destinations. This is a huge draw. In recent years, visitors from around the world have flown in to see the northern lights. Fairbanks is at the perfect latitude to maximize your chances of seeing this natural phenomenon. For the best viewing experience, you’ll typically want to find the darkest, clearest skies. But after a busy day of sightseeing, we were perfectly content viewing the aurora from our back balcony at Wedgewood Resort, right in Fairbanks. It was a great show and the photos came out well.

Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

I was surprised how much I enjoyed the auto museum. When a niche subject (cars) is made accessible and interesting for all people, that is a successful museum. The Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum takes us through the history of automobiles coming to Alaska and the development of interior Alaska while also displaying some brilliant clothing highlighting 20s and 30s fashion. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that all but only a couple of these cars are in working order. 

Museum of the North

Museums are great for inclement weather days, but both the auto museum and the Museum of the North should be enjoyed regardless. Located inside a stunning building at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks atop a hill overlooking the city, the Museum of the North dives into the natural, anthropological, historic, and artistic highlights of Alaska. You’ll learn about everything from the flora and fauna to the cultures that have called Alaska home for thousands of years.

Fairbanks in Winter

Fat Biking

The best way to beat the cold is to stay active. Fat bikes are like mountain bikes but with extra-wide tires that are capable of biking across snow. It’s become a very Alaskan thing to do in the winter. I hit the mushing trails behind Beaver Sports, where they rent out bikes at very reasonable prices. Dress properly and you’ll have fun exploring the wintery world of spruce trees and snow-covered meadows while admiring a passing dog team. I made a video about fat biking in Fairbanks.

Fairbanks in Winter

Dog Mushing

Nothing is synonymous with winter in Alaska like dog mushing. It is an incredible way to experience one of the oldest pastimes on the planet and Alaska’s favorite. We went mushing at Trail Breaker Kennel, which is situated along the scenic Chena River, north of the airport. Family-owned and operated since 1976, Trail Breaker Kennel is one of the longest operating kennels in Alaska. The kennel was founded by the late Susan Butcher, a four-time Iditarod champion, and David Monson, her husband and Yukon Quest champion. Today it’s run by their daughters. I even got a chance to take control of the dogs myself near the end of our ride. What a thrill!

Food from around the World

People are often shocked by the diversity of a city as remote as Fairbanks. There are 24 Thai restaurants alone. After you’ve had your fill of Thai there is a delicious Japanese bakery called Oishi, and a tea shop called Sipping Streams with an outstanding variety of imported teas (and very knowledgeable staff). Believe it or not, there is also a Moldovan Restaurant in Fairbanks. Soba is an excellent restaurant serving up home-cooked favorites. I have been to Moldova and this place is legit!

For more info, check out Juno’s Traveling Around the World in Fairbanks

Fairbanks in Winter

Where to Stay

We stayed at Sophie Station Suites the first two nights before moving to Wedgewood Resort. Both are great options at good price points. Sophie Station Suites is more on the edge of town, closer to the university, good for both long and short-term stays, business or pleasure. Always great to have the kitchen in the suite when traveling.

Wedgewood is a resort closer to downtown surrounded by a 75-acre wildlife sanctuary and a 2,000-acre migratory waterfowl refuge. I would love to come back and see the birds in the summer! But in March we saw the northern lights right from our balcony. It’s always best to get outside of the city for aurora, but great to know the closer-to-home option is available if the lights are strong enough. Wedgewood has super-spacious suits and we easily made ourselves at home there.

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Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno has been traveling the world and writing about it for the better part of 20 years. His articles and essays have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. He blogs at Bohemian Traveler and edits the independent travel magazine GoMadNomad.com. He most recently set up a tour company offering authentic, small group tours at Unquote Travel. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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