***Book Hotels in Fairbanks, AK by comparative pricing
FAIRBANKS , 358 miles north of Anchorage, is at the end of the Alaska Highway from Canada and
definitely at the end of the road for most tourists. Though flat and somewhat bland, its central location
makes a great base for exploring a hinterland of gold mines and hot springs, and a staging point for
both the tiny villages scattered around the surrounding wilderness, and for journeys along the Dalton
Highway (aka the "Haul Road") to the Arctic Ocean oil community of Prudhoe Bay .
Alaska's second most populous town was founded accidentally, in 1901, when a steamship carrying
E.T. Barnette, a merchant with all his wares on board, ran aground in the shallows of the Chena River.
Unable to transport the supplies he was carrying, Barnette set up shop in the wilderness and catered to
the few trappers and prospectors trying their luck in the area. The following year, with the beginnings of
the Gold Rush , a tent city sprang up on the site, and Barnette made a mint. In 1908, at the height of the
gold stampede, Fairbanks had a population of 18,500, but by 1920 the population had dwindled to only
1100. To thwart possible Japanese attacks during World War II, several huge military bases were built
and the population rebounded, getting a further boost in the mid-1970s when it became the transportation
center for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline project: construction and other oil-related activities brought a rush
of workers seeking wages of up to $1500 per week and the popu lation reached an all-time high. The city's
economy dropped dramatically with the oil crash, and unemployment hit twenty percent before government
spending put the city back on track.
The spectacular aurora borealis is a major winter attraction, as is the Ice Festival in mid-March, with its ice
sculpting competition and open sled dog race on the frozen downtown streets. Summer visitors should try to
catch the three-day World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in mid-July when contestants from around the state
compete in the standard dance, art and sports competitions, as well as some unusual ones like ear-pulling,
knuckle hop, high kick and the blanket toss, where age and wisdom often defeat youth and strength.
Fairbanks suffers remarkable extremes of climate, with winter temperatures dropping to -70°F and summer
highs topping 90°F. Proximity to the Arctic Circle means over 21 hours of sunlight in midsummer, when midnight
baseball games take place under natural light, and 2am bar evacuees are confronted by bright sunshine
Besides the visitor centers, the only point of interest downtown is the small Fairbanks Community Museum ,
450 Cushman St at 5th Avenue (summer Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; donation requested), containing locally donated
trapping and mining and dogsled racing equipment. The museum also acts as the public face of the Yukon Quest
dogsled race - a grueling thousand-mile marathon between Fairbanks and Whitehorse - selling related books,
videos and T-shirts. A similarly wintry theme is pursued at the Ice Museum , 500 2nd Ave at Lacey Street
(summer daily 10am-6pm; $8), a year-round chance to get a taste of the annual Ice Sculpting competition by way of
a slide show and walk-in refrigerators housing some small ice carvings.
A couple of miles west on the banks of the Chena River, the Alaskaland complex celebrates Alaskan history in a
very touristy, but not unpleasant way; admission is free, though different attractions charge small fees. Two
reasonable museums cover the early pioneering days, and a miniature railway encircles the entire park; there's
plenty here for the kids to do.
From the downtown area, College Road heads west past Creamer's Field , thick with sandhill cranes and Canada
geese, especially in spring and fall. Further out, the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Museum (summer daily
9am-5pm, closing times vary; tel 907/474-7505), occupies a corner of the attractive campus on the northeastern
edge of town and houses some of the state's best examples of Native Alaskan artifacts and pioneer relics, as well
as natural and human history displays.
Unashamedly touristy but great fun and very popular is a four-hour cruise down the Chena River on the
"Riverboat Discovery" ($40; tel 907/479-6673), which includes a visit to a mock Native village.
OTHER POPULAR DESTINATIONS IN ALASKA
All available cities in Alaska
Denali National Park