From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
Alaska is considered by many to be America’s final frontier, and the city of Fairbanks is located deep in the heart of the interior. With a population of over 30,000 and an incredible diversity of outdoor adventure activities nearby, Fairbanks is well worth getting familiar with — and we’ve gathered some of our favorite to-dos in this article.
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
Alaska is nothing if not wild — and there are some incredible wild spaces to wander and explore in the Fairbanks area. Here are some of the state parks, preserves, and greenways to add to your itinerary in Fairbanks, AK.
Tucked along the lilypad covered waters of Birch Lake and backed up against unique forested wetlands, Birch Lake State Recreation Site offers visitors endless recreation opportunities: camping, jet skiing, fishing (both in the summer and the freezing-cold winter, when you’ll have to drill through the water), wildlife viewing and more. The park’s facilities are ADA accessible and there’s no RV size limit, making this a great spot for a nearby getaway!
Offering almost 400 square miles of forest, river, alpine tundra and truly boundless beauty, Chena River State Recreation Area is a perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts of all types. Whether you’re looking for a day hike or something longer and more challenging — like scaling a rock wall with your bare hands — the landscape brims with opportunities, and the park offers comfortable camping accommodations so you can keep at it all weekend (or week) long. The Chena River is also an attraction, with Class I-II sections for canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and fishing for arctic grayling.
With its rugged and beautiful landscape, it’s no surprise that the Fairbanks area is home to some of the best hiking trails in the state. Here are some not to miss, whether you’re looking for a relatively easy walk in the woods or a much more challenging venture.
Tucked into the nearby Creamers Field State Game Refuge, Boreal Forest and Seasonal Wetland Trail is a hike that’s easy enough for beginners but beautiful enough to intrigue even advanced adventurers. With plenty of shade and some sections that wander along a raised boardwalk, this two-mile, gently undulating hike is one that even the kids will be game for.
A loop running just over four and a half miles and seeing almost 1,400 feet in elevation gain, Table Top Mountain is a worthy project for those eager to scale something formidable, yet achievable — and the view from the top is spectacular. Popularly used by bird watchers as well, this trail is also well known for its great wildlife viewing opportunities.
The only thing better than a great hike is a great hike which leads to an incredible destination — which is exactly what you’ll get when you head to Chena Hot Springs via Angel Rocks Trail. At more than eight miles altogether and seeing over 2,500 feet in elevation gain, it’s considered moderately challenging by Alaskan standards, but will definitely put you through your paces. That said, it’ll all be worth it when you arrive at the beautiful, natural hot springs just waiting to be soaked in at the end.
Challenging but doable as a day hike, Summit Trail to Wickersham Dome runs about seven miles and sees a little more than 1,300 feet in elevation gain — so it’s an ascent you’ll feel, but nothing insurmountable for those in relatively good shape. The path to the namesake dome offers beautiful forest views and shade, but can get quite muddy, so be sure to wear a good pair of hiking boots.
At more than 14 miles altogether and seeing well over 3,000 feet in elevation gain, the Granite Tors Loop Trail is certainly a challenging one by any metric… but wow, what a reward. Meandering past beautiful subalpine lakes, hovering over delicate meadows, and ultimately leading to an incredible viewpoint of the surrounding mountains, hills, and valleys, this trail makes for a great overnight backpacking project and is also dog friendly, though Fido should be leashed the entire time. Be sure to bring plenty of water, though, as the trail is dry!
With so many adventures to tackle, one thing’s for sure: you’ve gotta eat! Here are some of the very best restaurants in Fairbanks, no matter what you’re craving.
Considered by many to be the best restaurant in Fairbanks, bar none, Aurora Restaurant dishes up authentic Mediterranean fare including wholesome bowls filled with fresh grains, house-made hummus, and bone-in chicken, as well as soups, salads, fresh pita bread, and so much more. With a variety of veggie and seafood options on the menu, this is a great please-all option for both carnivores and the plant-based set.
Whether you like it spicy or not so hot, Thai food is definitely some of the richest and most diverse Asian cuisine around, and Simply Thai is the Fairbanks go-to for those in the mood for something different. Along with their scrumptious meals, this spot is also known for its array of teas and coffee, and is available for both dine-in and takeout.
Sometimes, nothing satisfies quite the way a delicious plate of hot pasta, pizza, or another Italian favorite can. That’s doubly true at Geraldo’s Italian Restaurant, where all the sauces are made from scratch with love… and, of course, lots and lots of garlic. Whether you eat in or take out, this is a beloved local spot for a reason, so don’t miss it!
Tucked unassumingly into a local plaza, Miguel’s Authentic Mexican Cuisine could easily be mistaken for just another eatery… but those who skip it are missing out on what is largely considered the best Mexican restaurant in Fairbanks. From a heaping helping of queso as an appetizer to the main course of chimichangas, tacos, or burritos, this spot will certainly leave you satisfied, not least because of the large margaritas they serve to wash it all down with.
Described by one reviewer as the best Indian food not only in Fairbanks, but in the entire state of Alaska, Spice It Up is a go-to spot for those seeking something warm, authentic, and exotic. Offering both Indian and Mediterranean street foods made from scratch daily, this spot also offers an array of vegetarian options for those who are plant-based or living vegan lifestyles.
Great dining and the great outdoors aside, there are so many incredible things to do and places to explore in Fairbanks, no matter who you’re adventuring with or what you’re after. Here are some of our top local picks.
Fairbanks is full to the brim with family friendly fun. Here are just a few options the kids might go gaga for.
You might think you see enough ice in Fairbanks simply walking around in the world, but the Fairbanks Ice Museum is a whole ‘nother ballpark. Seasonally open during the summer months, this unique museum offers visitors of all ages the opportunity to check out unique ice sculptures, igloos, and other frosty creations crafted by a well-known local artist.
The promise of gold in the Alaskan countryside was one of the first things that brought settlers to this faraway land long ago. Gold Dredge 8 is the remains of a local Fairbanks machine that once brought riches to those lucky prospectors, scooping up pay dirt. You’ll also see the mining site and get to take a 35-minute ride on a replica of the Tanana Valley Railroad. Who knows? You might even find some gold of your own!
You don’t have to stay up all night on Christmas Eve to catch a glimpse of a reindeer — just visit Fairbanks’s Running Reindeer Ranch to get up close and personal with one of these sweet and majestic creatures, whether it’s interacting with a tiny foal or gazing into the eyes of a docile adult. There’s even reindeer yoga available, if you’re so inclined!
When the lights go down in Fairbanks, the party keeps going on! Here’s where to find the action once the daytime hours are over — that is, when the sun actually sets at all.
Along with its delicious menu of Latin and Cuban inspired tapas and entrees, Jazz Bistro on 4th is beloved amongst locals for its repertoire of live entertainment. Acts both local and global have graced the stage, and there’s never an off night! This place also serves up a mean cocktail and a cozy ambiance, making it a great pick for date night if you’re searching for things for couples to do in Fairbanks.
One of the best things about this town is that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to see it. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Fairbanks if you’re trying to get by on the cheap.
Even if you know and love Alaska now, you may be curious what it was like 100 years ago — and a trip to Pioneer Park will give you the opportunity to find out. Offering a wide range of attractions and activities, from a train running the perimeter to disc golf to canoe and kayak rentals, there’s no charge to enter Pioneer Park, though there are shops, restaurants, and museums on site that would love to get a few of your dollar bills. It’s also a great spot for families; large play areas give the kids room to stretch out their legs.
Even longer than 100 years ago, giant creatures roamed these lands — and you can learn all about them, and so much more, at the Museum of the North. Housed on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, this unique museum holds a wide range of both permanent and rotating exhibits, all of which will get you more familiar with this unique landscape. Admission starts at just $12 for Alaskan locals, with many discounts available for seniors, students, and others.
One thing’s for sure: Fairbanks is a long drive from anywhere in the lower 48. That said, it also happens to be home to one of the most incredible collections of antique automobiles in the world, let alone the country, which you can get a gander at when you visit Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum. With almost 100 pre-WWII vehicles and several models ranging all the way back to the early 1900s, the whole family will love this unique museum, and admission prices are very reasonable.
It’s true: there’s plenty to do in Fairbanks that doesn’t require a single dime.
Along with the beautiful yellow metal, Alaska was also known for its “black gold,” the crude oil that’s been pumped out from the state to millions of Americans to power cars and heat buildings. Get an up-close look at the pipeline itself at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Viewpoint, which also includes an example of a “pig,” the device they use to clean and inspect the interior of the pipe.
If you’re in Fairbanks between August and April, you may get lucky enough to see the Aurora Borealis, which is visible four out of five nights on average when the sky is clear and dark. All you have to do is head outside, get away from any local light pollution, and look up — no fees necessary. Of course, there are also many local tour outfitters happy to show you the best local spots… but that won’t be free!
Whether it’s recouping after a long hike or just treating yourself because hey, you deserve it, there are some great spas and salons to check out in Fairbanks. Here are some of the best.
Whether you’re in need of a relaxing Swedish massage or more therapeutic deep tissue version, whether you’re looking for a detoxifying body treatment or waxing, nail care, professional makeup and more, Elements Salon & Day Spa has you covered — and they also offer top-of-the-line hair care including cuts, color, and styling to boot!
Best known locally as a professional hair salon, S Salon and Studio is also so much more: one of the best local establishments offering realistic hair extensions and add-ons, this spot also offers makeup services. Plus, you can book online!
Staying in shape doesn’t just help you look better — it helps you feel like a million bucks, too. Although in Alaska, the great outdoors is your gym, here are the local spots worth checking out when the snow and ice keeps you bound for indoor adventures.
The largest gym in the whole network, The Alaska Club Fairbanks south is an all-inclusive fitness extravaganza offering guests access to cardio equipment, free weights, fitness machines and more, as well as hosting a wide range of classes, lessons, and even summer camps and special events. It’s easy to meet your goals when you feel supported by the community, which is exactly what this spot offers!
Whether you’re looking for personal training or fun and motivating group classes, 40 Below Fitness has you covered — from zumba to body sculpt to personalized regimens built specifically for your body and your goals. Fitness can be fun and friendly, and you’ll believe it once you experience it for yourself!
Yoga is about more than just the body: it’s about the heart and soul. Heart Stream Yoga is a great local studio offering many styles of yoga as well as pilates and other modalities to help you get strengthened, centered, and ready to meet the day. Community-based, this spot believes in yoga for everybody — and every body, regardless of age, ability, or creed,
While there’s certainly plenty to keep you occupied in Fairbanks proper, there are also some incredible spots not too far away that are worth exploring! Here are some of the best day trips and weekend getaways from Fairbanks.
About two hours southwest of Fairbanks, Denali National Park and Preserve is named for the massive mountain that is its centerpiece — but with more than 6 million acres of forest to explore, that majestic mount is just the beginning. With an average temperature of 53 degrees even in the summertime, Denali is a truly wild place, offering incredible outdoor adventures for both beginners and the extremely advanced explorers out there. (Psst: as awesome as the national park is, Denali State Park is well worth checking out, too!)
At more than six hours one way, a trip to Anchorage is a better weekend getaway than day trip — but it’s still well worth the effort to explore this totally different look at Alaskan life. A great place to stay nearby is Chugach State Park, a wilderness of almost half a million miles that’s directly adjacent to town. There are also plenty of urban adventures to get into while you’re there — check out our guide to Anchorage here.
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Fairbanks that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Fairbanks? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.