Why March is the Best Time to Visit Fairbanks Alaska

Last Updated on November 9, 2022

But isn’t it cold?? But shouldn’t I visit in the summer? I might be the only person to tell you that March is the best time to visit Fairbanks Alaska but it’s absolutely true. Stay with me here and remember that I lived in Fairbanks for four years before you decide I’m nuts.

Fairbanks in winter is absolutely magical but the middle of winter (December, January, early February) can be bitterly cold and it’s harder to enjoy everything Fairbanks has to offer. Late February and March is absolutely perfect, with longer days and slightly less frigid temperatures

Disclaimer: this advice is NOT for Alaska in general! Generally speaking, March is not the best time to visit most of Alaska. Most of Alaska is better to visit in the warmer months. But March is an amazing time to visit Fairbanks!

People often ask me “when is the best time to visit….” and the answer is that it depends! Are you asking for when the best weather is? When are there the least crowds? When is the most popular time to go? When is something unique happening such as a local festival or stunning wildflowers? When can I see the Northern Lights? Depending on your answers to those questions I would change my answer about the best time to visit.

Fairbanks is such a unique place it makes sense to visit it when the things that make it unique are on display at their absolute finest and that time is NOT the peak summer tourist season!

The 5 reasons why March is the best time to visit Fairbanks, Alaska

  1. March is the BEST time of year to see the Northern Lights in Alaska and Fairbanks is the best place in Alaska to see them!
  2. March is the best month of the year to enjoy various winter activities – longer days, plenty of snow and it’s not as cold as the darker months just before. It’s still plenty cold to be real winter! Winter activities are a key part of the Fairbanks experience and you just can’t experience them during the summer. (See below for details)
  3. March is when the World Ice Art Competition happens. This is such a unique and incredible thing to see. If you’re there in early March, you might get to see some of the artists finishing up their carvings. In addition to the small (single block) and large (multi block, the size of a small house!) sculptures, there is also a play area with slides and other fun all made out of ice. Go at night and see the colorful lights on the sculptures.
  4. It’s much less expensive! Most hotels and vacation rentals are far less expensive in the winter than the peak summer tourist season, same for rental cars. Tours and food generally cost about the same as summer.
  5. NO BUGS!! Interior Alaska has epic mosquitoes and a great strategy for avoiding them is visiting when everything is frozen!

Related: 21 Unique things to do in Fairbanks, Alaska

You can visit the Ice museum at Chena Hot springs year round, but it's extra fun in winter. In the ice museum you can enjoy a drink in an ice martini glass in an ice bar!
Me enjoying my drink from an ice glass, sitting at an ice bar on an ice stool in the ice museum at Chena Hot Springs, a favorite March activity!

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Where to Stay in Fairbanks in March

Fairbanks is a mid sized town with lots of hotel options and vacation rentals. A couple of stand out hotels that are particularly good in March are Chena Hot Springs and Pike’s Landing.

Chena Hot Springs is expensive to stay at but makes for a wonderful place to stay out of the city. It also makes for a good day trip so you can visit here even if you stay in town. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Fairbanks. In addition to the outdoor hot springs, there is also an indoor pool. a year round ice museum with an ice bar where you can have a drink, and lots of tours for activities such as dog sledding, snowmobiling and northern lights viewing.

Pike’s Lodge is a convenient and beautiful location near the airport (they offer a shuttle) along the Chena River. They have good winter rates and a heated northern lights viewing deck with a cozy firepit! The restaurant serves good food too.

This map can help you find lodging through many different hotels and VRBO compared to where you want to be in town:

Where to Eat in Fairbanks in March

  • Turtle Club: On the edge of town, this is the Fairbanks restaurant institution! Widely believed to be the best prime rib ever, and the salad bar is super popular in winter! Note: if you don’t like prime rib, don’t go to the Turtle Club. It’s amazing, but that’s what they do.
  • Alaska Coffee Roasters: Wonderful coffee (and you can buy beans), pastries and (of course!) pizza
  • Sunrise Bagel and Espresso Three drive through shops in different parts of town with delicious coffee as well as amazing breakfast sandwiches!
  • Cookie Jar: A local favorite for soup and sandwiches and OF COURSE delicious cookies!
  • Thai House – all the Thai food in Fairbanks is incredible! Thai House is my personal favorite.
  • Lavelle’s Bistro – Popular fine dining with a strong focus on locally sourced and Alaskan ingredients
  • Ivory Jack’s: Classic old school Fairbanks location for Alaska roadhouse food.
  • Angel Creek Lodge: Almost all the way to Chena Hot Springs, good food in a classically Alaskan atmosphere.

Things to do in Fairbanks in March

The most important reason why March is the best time to visit Fairbanks, Alaska is because of all the unique winter things to do that you just can’t do in the summer!

Go Aurora Hunting

One of the reasons March is the best time to visit Fairbanks Alaska is it's the best time of year to look for the northern lights swirling and waving across the sky
March is an especially good time to see the northern lights in Fairbanks Alaska
Photo Credit: Jay Flaming

Fairbanks is the best place and March is the best time to see the Aurora so join the chase by watching the Aurora forecast and staying up late.

All you really need to do is look up, a lot, when it’s dark and clear. However, you can also take a tour and have your guide help you keep watch and do the driving. Another good option is Aurora Pointe Activity Center, where you stay in one spot (a spacious heated building with hot drinks and cookies!) and learn about the Aurora while waiting in the comfort of a heated room.

Visit Chena Hot Springs

March is the best time to visit Fairbanks Alaska to enjoy the wintry hot springs surrounded by icy and snowy rocks

I love to go to hot springs in winter! Chena is a developed hot spring resort with changing rooms and showers and you can go even if you’re not staying there. They also have an indoor pool but soaking in the outdoor pool on a winter day is amazing. There are also lots of winter activity tours offered here, including dog sledding, skiing and snowmobiling.

There’s nothing quite like sitting in the hot springs and being surrounded by snow. Sometimes at night you can even see the Aurora from the pool!

Related: Visiting Chena Hot Springs near Fairbanks

See the World Ice Art Competition

The ice art competition is one of the reasons why March is the best time to visit Fairbanks Alaska. For a few weeks the fairgrounds becomes a winter wonderland of intricate ice carvings large and small, as well as an ice playground!
One of the amazing ice carvings at the world ice art championship, a highlight of a late winter visit to Fairbanks

Every year in late February and March, Fairbanks is host to the World Ice Art Competition. Ice artists come from all over the world (mostly arctic countries) to carve ice blocks. If you get there in the early part of the competition, you can watch the carvers as they work on their ice art.

Once the art is completed and judged, you can walk around the park and see all the sculptures, ranging from smaller sculptures to ones as big as a garage! Every year they are different and they are especially magical at night when they are all lit up.

There is also an ice playground that is fun for kids and adults to check out from slides to teeter totters and more. The ice toys are also different every year.

Go Cross Country Skiing

One of the best March activities in Fairbanks is cross country skiing. This  is one of the parts of the University of Alaska Fairbanks groomed trail system
The groomed ski trails on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks

Cross country skiing is one of my favorite activities and Fairbanks is where I learned! There are so many world class trail systems in and near Fairbanks. The University of Alaska Fairbanks has 15 miles of groomed trails on campus and there are several other groomed and ungroomed trail systems too. You can rent skis at Beaver Sports, REI or Chena Hot Springs.

Go Ice Skating

The Big Dipper is a public ice rink with public skates and skate rental. In the winter they also have outdoor rinks available which are perfect for stretching your legs in the sun on a sunny winter day.

Try Dog Sledding

Photo Credit: Sherman Hogue/Explore Fairbanks

Dog sledding is exciting and super unique! You can take a tour and ride behind a dog team and learn more about the sport. You can also check the calendar of the Alaska dog mushers association to see if there are any races happening during your visit. Dog sledding is really fun to watch and super exciting to participate in.

Paws for Adventure is a great place to meet sled dogs, learn about the sport and take short tours or even long multi day tours!

Try Snomobiling

Try Ice fishing

If you’re a fisherperson, you might want to try ice fishing! You can find a guide or tour to set everything up for you. One of the best places for ice fishing near Fairbanks, and one most guides will take you to is Chena Lake. They even have the huts to keep you warm while you’re waiting for those fish to bite! This is another classic Fairbanks activity.

Take a winter day trip to Denali National Park

Denali in the distance with closer mountains in the foreground and a forest of small trees under a blanket of deep snow on a sunny day in Denali National Park in winter
Denali in winter

Take a winter day trip to Denali National Park – much of the park is under deep snow, but you can enjoy exploring the trails by snowshoe or skis, visit the sled dog kennels and see some great views of Denali. Drive yourself or let a guide to the driving – you can even return on the Alaska Railroad!

Take a hike to Castner Glacier and Castner ice caves

At the entrance to Castner Ice Cave

If you’re up for the (very scenic) 2.5-3 hour drive each way from Fairbanks and you enjoy hiking in the snow, don’t miss Castner Glacier! A 1.25 mile mostly flat hike takes you to the edge of the glacier and the entrance to the ice caves. The trip is short but there can be deep snow and it can be very cold and windy, so make sure to be prepared in this remote wilderness area. Ice caves are by nature dangerous to enter so this adventure is at your own risk. Learn all about how to get to there here.

What to Pack to Stay Warm

Related: Best boots for Alaska

My standard packing list for Alaska, is a good resource for this trip along with my tips for traveling to Alaska on a budget. Additionally, here are a few key items to keep you warm and happy. While it’s true that March is the best time to visit Fairbanks, Alaska, it’s also true that you need the right gear to stay warm, especially to enjoy winter activities. The temperature can vary a lot at this time of year, so pay close attention to the forecast as you approach your trip. In general expect the temperature to be around 0 degrees Fahrenheit (although it could be well into the negative temps or up to the teens Fahrenheit during the day).

  • The warmest boots you have – I wear these
  • The warmest socks you have – I wear these
  • Snow pants – the cheap bib kind will work great. I wore a pair that I bought for $20 at Fred Meyer for 20 years! These ones are my current pair and they’re not quite as warm, but they’re more comfortable and a bit less bulky.
  • The warmest coat you have -you can layer if you don’t have a really warm coat and don’t want to buy it but a big warm coat is easier to manage
  • Long underwear top and leggings to go under the snow pants and jacket – I am a huge fan of this top and these leggings for this purpose
  • A very warm wool hat – also a headband like this one can be really good for something active like cross country skiing since it keeps your ears warm but doesn’t get too hot
  • Mittens (which are warmer than gloves) and lightweight touchscreen gloves to go under them for when you need to use your fingers (especially if you’re doing aurora photography). If you already have warm mittens use them! I like this combination because you can put the right warmth gloves or mittens underneath the bigger shell mittens.
  • A buff (a balaclava works too) so you have something you can pull up over your nose and mouth
  • A headlamp with a red light setting, so your night vision doesn’t get ruined if you need a light. This is especially important if you’re doing photography.
  • Sunglasses – 12 hours of sun on snow requires sunglasses!
  • Lip balm and lotion – Fairbanks is REALLY dry in the winter
  • A super insulating mug for hot drinks – you’ll need this to keep a hot drink hot for more than 10 minutes if it’s zero degrees outside!
  • Swimsuit for hot springs!

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    The hot water of Chena Hot Springs and the cold winter air of Fairbanks create steam and frost on the rocks and trees surrounding the hot pools
    The hot springs pool and the cold air make for impressive snow and frost

    Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you! Your trip will be full of winter beauty and adventure of the kind that summer visitors miss out on.

    A hot springs pool is surrounded by rocks covered in snow. There is steam coming up from the pool. There are a few log buildings nearby and the area is surrounded by forested hills. Text reads 5 reasons why March is the best time to visit Fairbanks Alaska

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          Jennie Flaming
          Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years. I've been a tour guide in both Alaska and Washington and I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best low key adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!