Just 150 air miles from the Arctic Circle, Fairbanks sits at 64 degrees 49 minutes north latitude, on par with Reykjavik, Iceland, and considerably north of Helsinki, Stockholm, and St. Petersburg—not to mention Honolulu. The second-largest city in Alaska (pop. 31,000) and one of the largest population centers on earth this far north, it’s still just one-ninth the size of Anchorage, but with a hospitable hominess its big sister has long since forgotten.
Fairbanks has much to offer summer visitors, including a classy new museum, flower-filled downtown, creative restaurants, and an abundance of wild adventures in all directions. Occupying a broad valley surrounded by rounded hills, the city straddles both sides of the Chena River—a major boating playground all summer—with the much larger Tanana River just south of Fairbanks. City streets are convoluted and confusing, partly because of the winding river, so get a map and follow it closely when driving around town.
Fairbanksians take extrovert pride in their toughness surviving the cold dark winters, but also love to play in the lazy days of summer when the sun is almost always visible. Today, Fairbanks is transitioning from the hard-edged frontier days exemplified by the log cabins that still fill residential neighborhoods to a present that also mixes in Wal-Marts, in-floor heating, and Wi-Fi.
Getting to Fairbanks
By Air: Beautifully remodeled in 2009, Fairbanks International Airport (www.dot.state.ak.us/faiiap) is six miles southwest of downtown. The main level includes an information booth with brochures. Alaska Airlines (907/452-1661 or 800/426-0333, www.alaskaair.com) has multiple daily flights between Fairbanks and Anchorage, plus once-a-day nonstop service to Seattle. Both options are available year-round.
In business since 1950, Frontier Alaska (907/266-8394 or 800/866-8394, www.frontierak.com) is the largest regional carrier, with daily flights between Fairbanks and Anchorage, plus scheduled service across most of Interior Alaska. They’re also the parent company for Era Aviation and Hageland Aviation. Warbelow’s Air Ventures (907/474-0518 or 800/478-0812, www.warbelows.com) is another long-established air taxi with extensive connections throughout the Interior. Larry’s Flying Service (907/474-9169, www.larrysflying.com), Arctic Circle Air (907/474-0112, www.arcticcircleair.com), Everts Air Alaska (907/450-2350, www.evertsair.com), and Wright Air Service 9907/474-0502, www.wrightair.net) also have scheduled regional flights.
By Train: The Alaska Railroad (907/265-2494 or 800/544-0552, www.alaskarailroad.com) chugs out of Fairbanks from a modern depot at 1745 Johansen Expressway. Mid-May–mid-September there are daily departures at 8:15 a.m. arriving in Denali National Park at noon ($64) and in Anchorage at 8:15 p.m. ($210). Tour-bus fares to Denali and Anchorage are cheaper, but the train is a more comfortable, enjoyable, and historical way to see this part of Alaska. If you want to go in luxury, however, buy a ticket ($85 extra to Denali, $110 extra to Anchorage) on the elaborate double-decker GoldStar coaches, where open-air viewing decks are the main attraction.
By Bus: Alaska Direct Bus Line (907/277-6652 or 800/770-6652, www.alaskadirectbusline.com) has service to Tok, continuing on to Whitehorse and Anchorage. Buses run three times a week in the summer, twice weekly in winter. Alaska/Yukon Trails (907/479-2277 or 888/770-7275, www.alaskashuttle.com) runs a daily summer-only service connecting Fairbanks with Denali, Talkeetna, and Anchorage, plus three-times-a-week runs to Delta Junction, Tok, Chicken, Dawson City, and Whitehorse.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition