Fairbanks - What to do while in Fairbanks
What to do in Fairbanks is always asked by people planning to visit Alaska. The vast Interior of the state is one that calls for you to have a vehicle to explore the region. There are very few, if any, tour companies that hit all the interesting spots to see and visit, as they tend to do in other parts of the state. For the most part, you have to find and provide your own entertainment while in this area. Fairbanks is still somewhat of a frontier town and proud of it. It is laid back, non-pretentious, as are most of the permanent residents. The military has a much smaller influence on Fairbanks than they have in Anchorage, just due to the smaller number of troops stationed there. Fairbanks is somewhat “unusual” but loveable, and the birthplace of some of the strange political movements in the state. LOL Most of the residents are of the “live and let live” mentality and are not trying to turn the town into being just like the place they previously lived, which you see in south central Alaska. You will see people living in log cabins, heating with wood, using out houses, hauling in their water to use, dressing somewhat casually, etc. In the winter time, their manner of dress coined the term “Alaska Tuxedo”. (snow pac boots, blue jeans or Carhart pants, a wool or flannel shirt with a string tie if they need to fancy up)
Fairbanks is a very intensely, Alaskan town, for it has those qualities that are so cherished by those, that think of themselves as Alaskans. (no matter where they live in the state)
Fairbanks was built along the banks of the Chena River, which flows into the Tanana River a few miles below town. While the Chena is a clear water river, once it joins the muddy Tanana and then the Yukon, it is muddy all the way to the mouth, 1,500 miles away.
The Rivers Edge Campground is located on the banks of the Chena. Many beautiful homes have been built along side the river as well. The Chena, in winter time, freezes enough that vehicles can be driven across it and many "impromptu" ice bridges appear each winter.
While Fairbanks has many old buildings, it also has the standard fast foods, big box stores, etc. The first of the big box stores that I remember being built was the Fred Meyer one on the north side of town. For those not familiar with Fred Meyer stores, they are a Pacific NW rival of Wal Mart, but a bit more upscale. They tend to have the best fuel prices in town with a store "loyalty" card. This is the store within walking distance of the Rivers Edge Campground.
Creamers Dairy was at one time the main dairy in the Fairbanks area. It has always attracted many migrating birds as they stop in for a few days on their flight. You can tell that spring has arrived when the geese come back to Creamers. With modern air transportation and low costs in the Lower 48, Creamers found it impossible to compete so it was acquired by the State of Alaska. Has great walking trails as well as the birds.
Things to do and see: Tanana Valley Fair in early August, Midnight Sun Baseball game and Midnight Sun Run both about June 21 (held without lights on the longest sunlight day of the year), visit the Fairbanks Ice Museum downtown, the U of A Museum on campus, Pioneer Park on Airport Way, (wander around the old paddle wheeler SS Nenana, Drive down to Nenana for half a day, walk the path at Creamer’s Dairy Wildlife area (north side of town)
Pioneer Park was formerly known as Alaska Land but for some reason, not known to me, it was changed. It is the home of the old paddle wheeler SS Nenana, which while in need of restoration, can be self toured.
There is also a large conference hall, seen in the background of the above photo. It is used for large group meeting by the community.
Not sure if it is the City of Fairbanks or the North Star Borough that is the owner/operator of the park. They have moved several of the older building from town to the park, there is a dinner theater in the evenings of summer and my favorite, the SS Nenana.
Visit and pan for gold at the El Dorado Gold Mine, tour Gold Dredge #8, Ride the Riverboat Discovery on the Chena River, rent a bike, a kayak or canoe for a day or so. Drive out to Chena Hot Springs, visit the Chena Lake Recreation Area east of town, drive out to North Pole, do some fishing in the Chena or sloughs in the area, the clear water streams flowing into the Tanana are normally good fishing. Drive out to the Fox area and see the Oil Pipeline, see some of the older buildings in the area and some of the rustic businesses still operating. For a longer trip drive out toward the villages of Minto and Manley Hot Springs. (over-nighting in Manley) Drive up the Haul Road to the Yukon River Bridge and spit in it. (guarantees you will return to Alaska someday IMHO)
While the Fairbanks name if applied to much of the area, most locals use the old names for areas around Fairbanks. To the west of town is Ester and the Malemute Saloon and Hotel, to the north of town is Fox, NW of town is known as Farmers Loop (the area north of the University of Alaska) and many other names for subdivisions, etc. Some places are tied to the major road in the area, such as the College area of town, some are of long gone places, such as Phillips Field (a former small airport, no longer there. It can be a bit confusing at times when getting directions from someone. LOL The Malemute Saloon is a combination of a tourist and a local hang out, a fun place to visit, peanuts shells on the floor, live music most evenings, been in business since 1936 as best I can find out.
The Hotel at the Malemute Saloon location. The building here are part of the old FE Mining Company, the largest of the Fairbanks mining companies. FE a acronym for Fairbanks Exploration which was a subsidiary of the USSR & M company. (United States, Smelting, Refining and Mining) Which was for many years headquartered in Nome. This area was where the mining company pumped water from the Chena River to pipe it to the mining operations in the area. From the north, the FE Company brought water to the "workings" via the Davidson Ditch, still visible north of town new Fox.
The downtown section of Fairbanks is a mix of old and modern buildings. Here are just a few. Second Avenue, known locally as 2 Street, became well known during the oil pipeline building days. (early 70s) It was wall to wall drinking establishments, LOL
The Regional Doyon Native Corporation Building. Again on the banks of the Chena.
The Federal Court Building
The Fairbanks Hotel. This was for many years the place where my wife and I stayed when we would fly in from the bush, to spend a few days. It was painted white in those days, one bathroom on each floor, but was reasonably priced and within walking distances of the downtown stores where we shopped. Before this we would stay at the Nordale Hotel, which burned in about 1971 or 72. The Hotel has been changed into somewhat of an art deco place by the two women that now own it. The road in front is being repaved at the time of this photo.
Our favorite eating places are: for breakfast is Sam's Sourdough Cafe on University Ave, for lunch is the Pump House Restaurant, for dinner it would be the Turtle Club, Fox Roadhouse (has a new name, is a micro brewery) again the Pump House for dinner or the Two Rivers Restaurant out a ways on the Chena Rd. There are many other good places in the Fairbanks area to eat, these are just some of our favorites. Here is the Turtle Club out at Fox.
The Pump House (historic as it is the building where the FE Company had their pumps located) This is the patio overlooking the Chena River. Inside or outside dining.
For a winter time visit, so some cross country skiing, take a dog sled ride, check out the down hill skiing, etc.
There are several nice campgrounds in the area, many hotels/motels and places to eat and socialize. Plus there are many good spots on the way to Chena Hot Springs to camp, both in campgrounds and to boondock. (if the spot isn’t marked with a “no camping” sign and you aren’t blocking road access, then normally not a problem)