Winter in Alaska is a special time, and Fairbanks has a lot to offer. The Iditarod, the famous dog-mushing race, begins here. It’s also one of the best places in the US to view the northern lights. Then there’s the deliciously relaxing Chena Hot Springs. But spend a weekend in the city and also check out these other cool (occasionally frozen) attractions.
World Ice Art Championships
Ice sculptures are truly an ephemeral and amazing kind of art. Every year in March, Fairbanks hosts the World Ice Art Championships. You can see these wonderful, delicate creations and even try your hand at it, if you’re brave enough. Youngsters will also love the Kids Park, an area with slides, spinning bowls, tunnels, and a small hockey rink. All of it made of ice!
Besides the Kids Park, there are two parts to the area: single-block and multi-block sculptures. It’s fun to go during the day, but I strongly recommend going in late afternoon so you can see the sculptures both in daylight and at night. They turn magical after sunset, when colored lights cause the ice to sparkle and shine in otherworldly ways. You can vote for your favorite sculpture, so take note of the names. It’ll be hard to decide which one you like best, because quite a few of them are breathtaking!
There’s a lodge to hang out in if you get too cold. They serve coffee, hot chocolate, and apple cider, along with some snacks like hotdogs and pizza.
Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center
A lot of places in Fairbanks close in the winter, but a few stay open. Morris Thompson Center is a free museum that offers insights into Fairbanks and Alaskan history. There is an exhibit on how Alaskans live off and with their land, with three life-size dioramas and some pretty cool sound effects. There is also a series of photos featuring the dogs and mushers of the Iditarod. They also show a couple of documentaries.
The lifeblood of Alaska, the trans-Alaska pipeline runs 800 miles through the entire state. There’s a viewing point 10 miles outside of Fairbanks, where you can walk under the pipe, learn about how it was built, and even touch it. We were told it would be warm — not true, it was so cold we broke icicles off the pipe and had sword fights, so keep your gloves on!
If you’re going to Chena Hot Springs, this is a good side trip along the way from Fairbanks.
Fountainhead Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary
Winter is a strange time to go on a hike, but the Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary isn’t too strenuous. This area is owned by Wedgewood Resort. The one-mile Isabella Trail is a flat, easy, well-maintained walk that skirts one side of Wander Lake, and connects to another longer trail that allows you to circle the lake.
One mile was enough for us; even with snow boots, walking in snow for 20 minutes got uncomfortably cold. There weren’t a lot of animals, but there were a few birds just beginning to prepare their nests for spring, and we enjoyed the soft beauty of snow-covered trees and a frozen creek.
Right next to the wildlife sanctuary is the Fountainhead Auto Museum, which also stays open during winter and is worth checking out if you like cars.