Outdoor Recreation Shines in Interior Alaska’s Playground
The sub-Arctic swimming hole looks cool and inviting. Lapping against golden sand just outside Fairbanks, Alaska, the waters of Tanana Lakes beckon dozens of swimmers on this summer afternoon—gamboling kids, relaxed parents, paddleboarders and teens. The linen water is refreshing and calm; afterward, I dry off in the angled amber rays of Interior Alaska’s strong sun. Yes, the Arctic Circle is only about 100 miles to the north, but it can get warm here. Late spring through fall brings an infinite variety of things to do, with June and July offering the benefits of nearly round-the-clock recreation under midnight sun. Paddleboard through the city center on the Chena River (above); ride bikes on birch-lined paths; hike to blueberry patches atop nearby mountains; catch grayling, salmon and trout in uncrowded rivers; pan for gold; and even play golf at midnight.
By car, Fairbanks is nearly 2,200 miles north of Bellingham, via the Alaska Highway (aka Alcan).
Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines are among the carriers serving Fairbanks International Airport. The city is also served by the Alaska Railroad, and many cruise lines offer extensions to Fairbanks on their Alaska sailings.
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Hotels and Lodging
Essential Alaskan Activities
I carefully tapped the golf ball its last 3 feet into the cup for a birdie at exactly midnight, on hole 11 at North Star Golf Course, the most northerly golf course in America. If midnight golf isn’t exotic enough, the moose and foxes that regularly stride across the fairways add even more northland flavor.
Dozens of other warm-weather activities beckon here in summer. Alaska Paddle Board Adventures (1255 Airport Way, 907-750-8288) pioneered the northland version of a tropical activity, offering paddle board tours on the Chena River, past beaver lodges, waterfowl havens and through downtown Fairbanks. In winter, the same waterway, frozen solid, provides a path for snowmobiles and adventurous pickup drivers. The portion of the Chena northeast of town is a great canoe and kayak path that holds healthy populations of grayling and rainbow trout for anglers. Farther north, along the Dalton Highway, numerous hiking trails lead into the mountains where bushes are laden with blueberries, huckleberries and other delights in August.
Dogsled tours are especially popular for those who come to view the northern lights in the cooler time of year (peak viewing season runs from September through mid-April). In summer, kennels such as Just Short of Magic and Paws for Adventure continue to welcome visitors, combining education on mushing techniques and animal care with tours on wheeled sleds, except when it’s too hot for the dogs to run. Summer or winter, you’ll learn that the friendly dogs truly love to run; that Alaska sled dogs fuel their wiry frames with regular helpings of fat-rich salmon, the traditional sled dog food for thousands of years; and that meeting people is their second-favorite activity.
Attractions and Family Fun
For those traveling with kids, Gold Daughters, about 14 miles north of Fairbanks, offers interactive gold-panning demonstrations using pay dirt from a local mine, and Santa Claus House, about 13 miles south of town, in North Pole, is a must-visit attraction because, well, it’s “Santa.” The Gallery of Alaska at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Museum of the North (above) showcases the natural and cultural history of the state’s five ecological regions; make sure to pause at the museum’s entrance to take in a distant view of nature’s greatest work of art: the snowy immensity of Denali.
—Written by Eric Lucas