21 Unique Things to do in Fairbanks in Summer

Last Updated on June 19, 2024

Fairbanks is a unique community that is quite different from other places that visitors generally go in Alaska. It is in Alaska’s interior, giving it a very different climate and weather than many other parts of Alaska. Far from the coast, interior Alaska is dominated by it’s rivers, spruce forests and tundra as well as it’s midnight sun and unending daylight of summer and it’s frigid, dark and Aurora lighted winters.

As a former Fairbanksan, I love to share all the amazing and unique things to do in Fairbanks. I worked in tourism when I lived in Fairbanks and I still visit frequently. I love to share it with visitors. Come along and I’ll share beautiful and unique Fairbanks with you!

A white Love Alaska sign seen across the Chena River in Fairbanks with green trees on a sunny day
The Love Alaska sign across the river from Pike’s Landing on the Chena River

March is my favorite time to visit Fairbanks, but if you’re not a fan of winter my second choice is September (when the fall colors are perfect and night returns and with it the Northern Lights). May and June are best for seeing the midnight sun. This article is focused on summer visitors, if you’re planning a winter trip to Fairbanks, check out my Fairbanks winter guide.

Is it worth visiting Fairbanks?

Absolutely! Fairbanks is one of the more underrated places in Alaska which means there are many unique things to do for those willing to dig a little deeper for travel experiences.

Fairbanks is worth a visit simply for it’s uniqueness in Alaska and in the world. You’ll never see another place quite like it. All of these things to do in Fairbanks in summer are unusual and things you won’t find anywhere else.

Can I see the Northern Lights during the summer in Fairbanks?


I doesn’t get dark at night from mid April through August, so even if they’re out, you won’t get to see them.

You do have a chance to see them at the very end of August and in September when it does get dark at night. It is cloudier and rainier in Fairbanks at that time than it is in the winter and early spring, but you still have a chance if it’s dark.

Listen to born and raised Fairbanksan Kasey Gillam share her favorite things to do in Fairbanks in Summer

See the Midnight Sun

The Chena River in Fairbanks at sunset.
11pm in Late July along the Chena River

On the summer solstice (June 21) the sun sets after midnight and comes up again a couple hours later. The novelty of having it never get dark all night if fun and gives you the opportunity to go outside and play or read a book all night long! If you’re visiting Fairbanks from late April through mid August, it won’t get dark at all.

It’s a bummer not not be able to see the Northern Lights under the Midnight Sun, but the midnight sun is also a really unique and mind blowing experience.

Morris Thompson Cultural Center

The Morris Thompson Cultural Center is the modern building behind the log cabin.

The Morris Thompson Cultural Center should be your first stop and is a wonderful place to learn even more ideas about things to do in Fairbanks. It’s free and provides a ton of information about Fairbanks and it’s history as well as indigenous people of the Tanana Valley both today and in the past.

In addition to learning a lot about Fairbanks, you can also get lots of information for the Public Lands Information Center and Explore Fairbanks which are both housed in the same building. You can get maps and information about absolutely everything both in town and in the surrounding public lands.

Walk along the Chena River

Most cities that have a river have a river trail alongside them and Fairbanks is no exception. There is a trail along the south side of the Chena River that starts at Pioneer park and winds along the river for several miles.

The Chena River in Fairbanks. There are green trees, bushes and houses on its banks
The Chena River between Pioneer Park and downtown Fairbanks.

You can continue through downtown all the way to the Morris Thompson Cultural Center (a walk is an excellent activity after visiting the center). Make sure to check out the Antler Arch when you’re there, it’s right behind the Visitor Center near the river.

An arch over a walking path with many moose antlers.
The Antler Arch in Fairbanks

Just behind the antler arch is a pedestrian bridge over the Chena River. The bridge is a lovely addition to the river trail on its own, however I highly recommend going to see the Walter Harper Project at the Tanana Chiefs Conference right near the north side of the bridge (opposite side of the river from the visitor center and antler arch).

A bronze and rock statue of a young man dressed for mountaineering in the early 20th century, reaching his hand down to help other climbers. There is snow around the statue.
Walter Harper was known for helping others, whether it was reaching the summit of Denali or more everyday needs

The Walter Harper Project is a memorial to Walter Harper, the first person to reach the summit of Denali in 1913. In addition to leading the party to the summit, Walter was known for supporting his Dena’ Athabascan community. He died tragically just a few years later in a ship wreck in Southeast Alaska.

In addition to the memorial, there are interesting interpretive signs about Walter as well as other members of the team that first reached the summit of Denali.

Step back in time at Pioneer Park

Two small, wooden cabins from the early 20th century in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks. One is brown and one is green and a wooden sidewalk connects them.

Pioneer Park is a collection of historic buildings and recreations to celebrate the history of Fairbanks situated on the south bank of the Chena River. It’s a great place for kids with a playground, a train around the perimeter and a carousel. There’s also food, an art gallery and other shops located in the historic cabins that have been moved from other parts of town to be preserved here.

See migrating birds at Creamer’s Field

Creamer’s Field is a gem and a wonderful year round thing to do in Fairbanks. A former dairy farm protected as a migratory bird refuge, Creamer’s field is home to many migratory and summer birds from spring through early fall.

This is a must do for bird lovers!

A green field with a wooden fence and more trees in the background on an overcast day
Creamer’s field on a fall day

Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

The Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum houses lots of perfectly restored antique cars along with period fashion and other details throughout the history of cars. Even if you’re not that interested in antique cars, you will still be impressed by the immaculate restoration and the story of cars through time.

The period women’s dresses on historic mannequins add another touch of interest to this excellent museum besides just cars.

A 1917 Ford tracked car with skis that looks like a car for going over the snow
The Alaska section of the Fountainhead Museum includes several vehicles unique to Alaska, like this 1917 preamble to the modern snowmobile.

University of Alaska Museum of the North

The Museum of the North is home to galleries telling the natural and cultural history of the distinct regions of Alaska. There is also a gorgeous gallery of diverse Alaskan art from the last 2000 years as well as a massive whale skeleton. The bus from “Into the Wild” is being restored here and hopefully will be visible to the public in the next few years.

There’s a great view from this hillside south towards the Alaska Range and the entire Tanana Valley.

University of Alaska Fairbanks Large Animal Research Station

A yearling musk ox calf near a fence in the snow.
A yearling Musk Ox calf on a winter visit to LARS.

The musk oxen and reindeer at the farm are one of my absolute favorite things about Fairbanks.

Both of these highly adapted arctic animals are fascinating to learn about and quit frankly adorable. If you are interested in animals at all, you do not want to miss the tour offered at the farm.

The tour is offered daily in summer. You’ll get up close with the animals and learn about their fascinating adaptations as well as how the researchers are caring for the animals and learning more about them.

Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline Viewpoint

A silver colored oil pipeline on above ground supports going through a forest in early Spring near Fairbanks Alaska.
The Trans-Alaska oil pipeline viewpoint near Fairbanks in early May.

If you’re thinking, “an oil pipeline? how can that be interesting?” let me tell you that if you use any oil, ever (like we all do) it’s interesting and worthwhile to learn just a bit about where it comes from and this is a low key way to do that. This is one of my favorite places to take visitors because it’s so fascinating and unique.

This viewpoint is a large pullout with interpretive signs in a place where the oil pipeline passes very close to the road. The Trans-Alaska Oil pipeline was built in the 1970s to move oil from the oil fields in Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to the marine terminal in Valdez. This 800 mile pipeline is a remarkable feat of engineering. The pipeline and associated oil revenue make up the bulk of Alaska’s state budget today and the construction of the pipeline led to explosive growth in the town of Fairbanks during the 1970s.

Here you can learn about the construction of the pipeline, how it’s cleaned and how it was built in such a harsh environment with all the additional challenges that created for engineers.

To get here, travel north out of Fairbanks on the Steese Highway. After you pass the turn for Chena Hot Springs road, the pullout is about 4 miles further on the right side. If you miss it and arrive at Goldstream Road, or the community of Fox, then you’ve gone past it.

Go for a hike

Hikers at the top of Angel Rocks
Photo Credit: Jim Wolverton

There are lots of wonderful hikes around Fairbanks to enjoy in the summer! My favorite hike close to Fairbanks is Angel Rocks along Chena Hot Springs road. You can do a 4 mile loop with 900 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead at mile 48.9 Chena Hot Springs Road. If you have more than one vehicle and a group, you can make it an 8 mile one way hike with 1900 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead to Chena Hot Springs! There are some amazing views up there and hiking into the hot springs is pretty great.

Another option is Wickersham Dome, about 40 miles from Fairbanks to the northeast. Wickersham Dome is a 7 mile hike with 1400 feet of elevation gain and big views of the surrounding hills and distant mountains.

If you’re looking for more distance and climbing (and more amazing views) strong hikers can check out Granite Tors, which is about 14 miles round trip with 3400 feet of elevation gain. The Granite Tors trailhead is about 45 miles from Fairbanks on Chena Hot Springs road (before you get to Angel Rocks).

With a bit more driving, you can access the many trailheads in the Eastern Alaska range along the Richardson Highway, or in the White Mountains north of Fairbanks or around Denali National Park.

Float the Chena River

Three kayakers in a river on an overcast day going by trees and bushes

A favorite local activity is to float the Chena River from somewhere downtown to one of the restaurants with outside decks. If you’re a visitor, you can rent kayaks or canoes at Pioneer Park and float down to the Pumphouse and they’ll pick you up at the other end. If you like local experiences when you travel, do this!

Have a Drink or a Meal on a deck next to the Chena River

The deck and outside of the building of the Pumphouse restaurant in Fairbanks Alaska

In summer, sitting outside on one of the decks at the Pumphouse or Pike’s Landing for a drink or happy hour is a pretty amazing experience! Just grab a drink or a snack in the mid afternoon or later at night if you’re on a budget, or splurge and have lunch or dinner there.

Even if you’re not into the floating idea, you still gotta do the deck!

Wander the beautiful garden behind the Fairbanks Princess Hotel

Brightly colored flowers reach toward a sunny sky next to a tree lined river
Some of the flowers along the river behind the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge

One beautiful element of the midnight sun in interior Alaska is incredible gardens with flowers and giant vegetables briefly flourishing for a few months in endless daylight.

Don’t miss this hidden gem behind the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge along the Chena River. If you’re staying at Princess or at Pike’s you can easily walk there, or you can drive and park at the hotel.

Sample Local Craft Beer and other Craft Beverages

A beer in a glass at Black Spruce brewing in Fairbanks Alaska
Black Spruce Brewing is one of my favorites!

Fairbanks has an excellent craft beer scene with lots of delicious brews made in town. It deserves it’s place on my self guided beer tour of Alaska! A few of my favorites include:

  • Black Spruce is a tasting room only and has some lovely outside seating on the south side of town.
  • Hoodoo Brewing is also a tasting room and is located closest to downtown near the railroad terminal. They also have an outside seating area with propane heaters!
  • Latitude 65 is a tasting room with food trucks and great beer
  • Hoarfrost Distilling has delicious cocktails made with their own vodka – try anything cranberry!

Have a Lake day at Chena Lake Recreation Area

A calm lake with white clouds and blue sky reflected in it with forest on the far side and bushes and grasses in the foreground.
Chena Lake on a beautiful summer day

Chena Lake Recreation Area is about half an hour from Fairbanks near the town of North Pole. An excellent year round location for outdoor recreation that’s popular with locals! When I lived in Fairbanks, one of my best friends lived here (her spouse was the manager) so I probably spent more time here than anywhere else except home and work.

The Army Corps of Engineers built a 7 mile dike here after a flood in the 1960s devastated Fairbanks, creating a good sized lake. The park has a section along the river and one along the lake. In the summer, this is a wonderful beach to hang out at and go swimming or canoeing or kayaking. There is a run of salmon which at this point have made it 1000 miles upriver from the Bering Sea to this small river which makes for an impressive site when they are running. The park is also an excellent place to see wildlife and has a campground.

Soak in Chena Hot Springs

wintry hot springs surrounded by icy and snowy rocks at Chena Hot springs
Winter at Chena Hot Springs – prefer going here in winter but many people love it in summer too.

Chena Hot Springs is a local favorite and the only hot springs in Alaska that’s easy to get to.

The drive out to Chena goes through the Chena River State Recreation Area, an area with multiple hiking trails and fishings spots. This is also an excellent place to see moose, I don’t know if I’ve ever driven this road without seeing at least one.

Of course you have to do some soaking in the hot springs. There is an outdoor hot pool (the best) as well as an indoor pool. They have changing rooms and lockers. You can also rent a towel if you don’t have one.

The other thing that you must do at Chena Hot Springs is visit the Ice Museum, which is open all year. Here, you can see some amazing ice sculptures and even slide up to the ice bar for a cocktail served in an ice martini glass! Do not miss this taste of winter even on a summer visit!

A martini glass made of ice with a cocktail in it in the dimly lit Aurora Ice Bar at the ice museum at Chena Hot springs, one of the best things to do in Fairbanks
Appletini served in an ice martini glass in the Aurora ice bar at Chena Hot Springs

Cruise the Chena River on the Riverboat Discovery

The deck of the Riverboat Discovery along the Chena River with homes and trees along the banks
The Riverboat Discovery along the Chena River

The Riverboat Discovery is an extremely popular experience that everyone loves. If you’re an independent traveler, don’t be put off and miss out by how many cruise travelers are doing it. I’ve taken hundreds of people here and everyone loves it! That includes me and I’ve been on it many times.

This is a good way to see the many things Fairbanks is known for if you’re short on time or don’t want to organize it all yourself. In addition to a river cruise, you’ll get to learn about Athabascan culture and see sled dogs in action.

Find gold at Gold Dredge 8

a historic gold dredge with a gangway to a shrubby area near a pond

The Gold Dredge is an excellent place to learn about gold mining in the Fairbanks area. I believe that everyone who visits Alaska should try their hand at Gold planning because it’s really fun! You will also learn a LOT about gold mining which is a fascinating part of Alaska’s history.

Snuggle puppies at a sled dog kennel

Dog sledding in winter at Chena Outdoor Collective.

Though I took this photo on a winter visit, you can visit in summer and meet the mushers, cuddle the dogs and learn all about the sport of dog mushing!

Go for a Reindeer Walk

To fully experience dog sledding, you really need to do a winter visit (great for so many other reasons too). Dog sledding is a winter sport and to go for a ride you’ll need to be there in the colder months.

When summer comes, there is still plenty of opportunity to learn about the sport of dog sledding, or dog mushing as it is known in Alaska.

A visit to a kennel will give you the chance to interact with the wonderful dogs, learn about the dogs and the sport of mushing and get to know a dog musher.

A unique thing to do in Fairbanks is to visit the Running Reindeer Ranch or Chena Outdoor Collective where you can walk with reindeer year round. The walk includes the opportunity to learn everything you ever wanted to know about reindeer and about their environment.

Visiting Denali National Park from Fairbanks

2024 Note: The Denali Park Road closed at Milepost 42 (Polychrome Pass) in August 2021. The park service has announced that the road will remain closed at this point at least through the 2024 season. A permanent fix to this section of road is currently being built. Bus tours will still operate up to that point. Eielson Visitor Center and Wonder Lake will not be accessible.

Visiting Denali National Park from Fairbanks in Summer

Distant snow capped mountains on a cloudy day, brilliant fall tundra colors in the foreground in Denali National Park.
Amazing September color in Denali National Park – even on cloudy and wet days!

Denali National Park is about 2 hours away from Fairbanks, south on the Parks Highway going towards Anchorage. Fairbanks is the closest major airport to Denali.

I recommend spending at least one night in Denali and ideally two to give you a full day in the park. Make sure to reserve hotels and camping in advance (hotels need to be reserved far in advance). If not, you could do a day trip of visiting the park entrance area, including the visitor center, the dog kennels and hiking Mt Healy.

Denali’s summer season generally runs from mid May till mid September. During this time everything is open, almost everything is closed outside of that time. If you’re visiting Denali in summer, you can only travel in to the park in an organized tour or shuttle. The first 15 miles of the road are open to private traffic.

A really unique way to see Denali is to enter the Denali Road Lottery. Unfortunately, the National Park service has not offered the Road Lottery since 2019, but I hope they bring it back since it was such a unique way to see the park at a special time of year.

Where to stay in Fairbanks


Lodging in Fairbanks during the summer months and late winter books up early! Depending on what type of lodging you’re looking for, here are a few suggestions:

Fairbanks has a number of chain hotels and some smaller hotels. Most of the hotels are near downtown, the university or the airport.

My personal favorite hotel in Fairbanks is Pike’s Waterfront Lodge, which is right by the river and has a wonderful deck for hanging out in the summer. They also have a shuttle that gives rides to the airport and the train station.

This map shows in real time the different accommodations options available in Fairbanks so you can easily see how close different options are to what you want to do and whether or not you need a car.

This section contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Vacation Rentals

Pay attention to the location of your vacation rental as some may be a significant drive from town. The outlying areas are wonderful places to stay, just make sure you know where it is and have access to a rental car if you’re staying away from town.


In Fairbanks, a cabin means a small house without running water. This is normal in Fairbanks! I lived in a cabin without running water (also known as a dry cabin) for two of the years I lived there. If you want to go local and/or save a lot of money I highly recommend giving a cabin a try.

A cabin will be MUCH less expensive than a regular house vacation rental or hotel room. You’ll have a cooking set up and your host will let you know how to wash dishes with the water provided. You will also get the chance to use your very own outhouses. Your host will have ideas for places to go for a shower. This is a great adventure, especially for budget travelers. One of my good friends rents dry cabins, so if you want one that’s guaranteed to be awesome, book hers!

Alaska State Parks public use cabins

One of the most unique things to do in Fairbanks is to stay at one of Alaska's many public use cabins. A small wooden cabin in golden birch trees with a firepit in front
The Salcha River cabin is one of the awesome public use cabins I’ve stayed at. This one is about an hour away from Fairbanks next to the Salcha River

Alaska has more than 80 public use cabins across the state! Many of them are in the Fairbanks area. These are a great way to get away from it all and just spend some time relaxing. Cabins must be reserved online. The cabins are more basic than one you would rent on Airbnb. Think of it as camping, but you don’t need a tent.

You need to bring sleeping bags and pads, water, food and cooking gear. They do not have running water so there are no showers. They have outhouses for each cabin. Alaska’s public use cabins are a great way to find a budget friendly night’s sleep and get away from it all without spending a fortune.When reserving, read all the information carefully as some cabins you cannot drive to. Cabins are open year round, though access may change at different times of the year. Information about seasonal access will be included in the description when you reserve.


Most campgrounds in Fairbanks have a lot of RVs, so if that isn’t your jam, you might want to consider camping a bit outside of town, perhaps at one of the campgrounds along Chena Hot Springs road.

In town, my favorite campground is the River’s Edge RV park, which is in a lovely setting next to the river.

The best restaurants for Fairbanks in summer

Fairbanks has some truly exceptional restaurants for a smaller city and some of my favorite restaurants in Alaska. It’s hard to pick just a handful, but these are the best ones for summer visitors.

  • Sunrise Bagel and Espresso Three drive through shops in different parts of town with delicious coffee as well as amazing breakfast sandwiches. My favorite coffee in Fairbanks and a good way to hit the road early in the day for adventures.
  • Lavelle’s Bistro – fine dining very popular with locals and a strong focus on locally sourced and Alaskan ingredients. This is the best place for wine lovers in Fairbanks. They have a patio outside in summer
  • Big Daddy’s BBQ – Amazing BBQ in downtown Fairbanks that was featured on Drive Ins, Diners and Dives.
  • Pike’s Landing: This is a great place to sit on the deck for a drink and some food in the summer and watch the river go by
  • The Pumphouse – a popular special occasion restaurant in a historic building near the river. Another fantastic deck for summer evenings.
  • Thai House – all the Thai food in Fairbanks is incredible. Every local will tell you this. Thai House is my personal favorite, but they’re all good.
  • Cookie Jar – A local favorite for soup and sandwiches and OF COURSE delicious cookies
  • Hot licks: Alaskans love ice cream and hot licks is amazing. They have plenty of flavors with local ingredients like blueberries.
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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite. I lived in Alaska for many years and I still spend lots of time there every year visiting friends and working as a tour director. I've been a guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington, am a field editor for the Milepost and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast about Alaska Travel as well as the Washington State Hiking Podcast. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you here!