5 Best Spots for Cross Country Skiing in Fairbanks, Alaska
Last Updated on April 29, 2023
When I lived in Fairbanks, cross country skiing was the activity that got me through the winter. I learned to cross country ski here and when I visit, cross country skiing in Fairbanks is one of the highlights for me and a good reason to go in winter. There are just so many places to go for a relatively small community.
This list represents the places that are my personal favorites and are good for visitors and beginners.
You have a good chance of seeing people skijoring (skiing with a dog) or dog sledding while you’re out on the ski trails too. Many trails are separated between those that are for walking, cross country skiing and dog sledding. Pay attention to the signs and to your surroundings. Most importantly, NEVER walk on a groomed cross country ski trail! Keep to the side of the grooming and areas that are not groomed if you’re walking.
All of the places on this list except for Birch Hill are also good places for going for a winter walk or hike, just make sure to stay off any grooming in your boots.
- Where to rent cross country skis in Fairbanks
- Creamer’s Field
- University of Alaska Fairbanks
- Birch Hill Recreation Area
- Chena Lakes Recreation Area
- Denali National Park
Related: 8 Reasons to visit Alaska in Winter
Where to rent cross country skis in Fairbanks
Fairbanks is a community where many residents have cross country skis, making it a great place to buy new and used gear. If you’re visiting and looking to rent skis or take lessons, it’s not quite as easy as it is in big cross country ski areas in other parts of the US or Canada. You’ll most likely need to transport the skis from where you rent them to a place you can ski. If you’re taking a lesson you might be able to arrange for them to be transported for you.
I highly recommend calling and finding out your options for your size and the hours rentals are available well in advance. Don’t just show up to rent gear without getting the details ahead of time. Some options for renting cross country ski gear in Fairbanks include:
- Beaver Sports on College Road near the University
- Trax near Birch Hill – they also offer lessons
- University of Alaska Fairbanks Outdoor Center
- Birch Hill offers lessons and has a limited amount of rental gear for those taking lessons
Related: 21 Unique things to do in Fairbanks, Alaska
- Why it’s a great place for cross country skiing in Fairbanks: Creamer’s Field is the ideal location for a beginner because it’s right in town (very close to Beaver Sports where you can rent) and completely flat. It’s also beautiful, with open fields ringed by forest, picturesque bridges over creeks and endless sunshine. The open, sunny fields make even a cold sunny day feel a bit less frigid.
- Cost: Free
- Cell service: Good
- Services Available: There are pit toilets and an interesting museum about the history of Creamer’s Field.
University of Alaska Fairbanks Ski Trails
- Why it’s a great place for cross country skiing in Fairbanks: There aren’t too many college campuses that have nearly 15 miles of groomed cross country ski trails, but the University of Alaska Fairbanks has that! When I was in grad school and lived near campus, this was the place I skied most often. Some of the trails are lighted for the long nights during Fairbanks winters. There are beginner to advanced trails here and plenty of places to explore
- Cost: Free, make sure to park in trail user parking on campus (not student or staff parking – pay attention to signs)
- Cell service: Good
- Services Available: There are a couple of warming huts and restrooms on campus, but not right at the trailheads.
Birch Hill Recreation Area
- Why it’s a great place for cross country skiing in Fairbanks: Birch Hill has more than 40 km of perfectly groomed and maintained trails that are maintained by the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks. The land is owned by the Fairbanks North Star Borough and is adjacent to Fort Wainwright. There are trails from beginner to advanced and more than 10 km of lighted trails from nightfall until 9:30pm.
- Cost: Use of the trails is free, however donations are accepted and encouraged to the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks
- Cell service: Good
- Services Available: Restrooms and a warming hut. They also offer lessons which must be arranged in advance.
Chena Lake Recreation Area
- Why it’s a great place for cross country skiing in Fairbanks: Located about half an hour from Fairbanks, near the town of North Pole, Chena Lake is a wonderful year round destination. In winter, the trails are expertly groomed and go through the forest and along the river. There is a 4 km loop exclusively for non motorized use, you may encounter snowmobiles on the other trails. These trails are mostly flat and another great beginner option out of town but still close.
- Cost: Free
- Cell service: Mostly good
- Services Available: Chena Lake is also a popular ice fishing destination. They rent huts with woodstoves for ice fishing during winter.
Denali National Park
- Why it’s a great place for cross country skiing in Fairbanks: Denali National Park is about two hours away from Fairbanks, but it was one of my favorite winter destinations when I lived there! I don’t recommend this trip in snowy and stormy conditions, the drive is just too challenging. But on those gorgeous bluebird winter days, winter in Denali is spectacular. You can ski (or snowshoe, or walk) along the closed park road. There are also plenty of other trails. At times the park staff even groom for cross country skiing, but I would definitely not count on groomed trails being available.
- Cost: $15 per vehicle park entrance fee (pay at the winter visitor center)
- Cell service: None
- Services Available: The winter visitor center has an indoor heated picnic area as well as restrooms and a water filling station. The parts of the park you can access in a vehicle vary throughout the winter, but the winter visitor center is open daily and the sled dog kennels are open on weekend afternoons.