So you’re coming to Alaska!
If you’ve recently moved or are moving to Fort Wainwright or Eielson Air Force Base, welcome to the Fairbanks North Star Borough! Interior Alaska is wild and can be the experience of a lifetime. Fort Wainwright is adjacent to Fairbanks, while Eielson AFB is about 20 minutes away. Our family is currently stationed at Fort Wainwright.
Here are some of my favorite things about being in Fairbanks, Alaska:
The summers here are incredible. On the Summer Solstice in Fairbanks, the sun rose at 2:59 am and set at 12:47 am. Because of the increased daylight, people are active well into the night.
I had a chance to float a river one summer with my sister and friends that began at 10 pm and lasted until midnight. Every night we look out the window and think, “Looks like 9:00.” It’s actually midnight, so we drag ourselves upstairs and try to tell our brains it’s nighttime. The sun means very little in relation to the actual clock time. We have helped ourselves sleep with blackout curtains, film, and sleep masks and try to remember the words of a friend: “You can sleep in September.”
Fairbanks has a festival every summer solstice where they host a 12-hour street fair, a Midnight Sun Run, and a Midnight Sun Baseball game. On the longest day of each year (with a full 24 hours of daylight in the vast Tanana Valley), Fairbanksans celebrate the coming of summer with the playing of this traditional game that continues through the midnight hour and never uses artificial lights. With Fairbanks a mere 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the sun is just beginning to set in the North as the game of baseball gets underway, and, at its conclusion some three hours later, the sun begins to rise again – also in the North.
Explore more about events in Fairbanks here.
Summer is the perfect time to hike, camp, fish, and do almost anything outdoor. Fairbanks Parks and Recreation office runs a Summer Trails Challenge and encourages people to have fun in nature. Our family has been enjoying trails (as much as we can with small people with short legs) and camping.
Winters to Remember
People are hardy here, and I’ve been impressed by how well my girls have adapted. I remember looking at the temperature on my phone last winter as my daughter walked out the door to catch the bus. -42 degrees. I thought, Am I insane sending my daughter outside in that weather? Truly, she was attired appropriately (base layers, long sleeve shirt, pants, sweater, coat, mittens with hand warmers, boots rated to -40, and balaclava) for her 2 minutes outside before the bus came, but it still felt strange.
One crazy tradition in Fairbanks is the Forty Below Club. As the winter grows colder, people seem to get wilder and need to get out of the house. To be a member of the Forty Below Club, you must, according to a local Fairbanks news station:
‘Stand in front of the University of Alaska Fairbanks thermometer in their best beach attire and snap a photo proving they braved the cold. Students manage to look warm in temperatures that can cause frostbite to set in in less than 30 minutes.’
I live on the opposite end of town from this historic sign was not about to drive across town in my swimsuit and get this picture when our temperature dropped. But I was willing, with the help of a friend, to go to a far closer sign in a said swimsuit. I’m going to count it.
For other fun in winter, we’ve found frozen ponds to skate on and have attended Ice Dogs games, our hometown NAHL hockey team.
Opportunity to Eat + Shop Local
In Fairbanks, there are few chain stores and restaurants. I’ve found it fun to explore the local shops, restaurants, and businesses. One thing that surprised me is the number of food trucks here. I’ve found Indian, German, Thai, Burgers, Philipino, Native American, Italian, Moldovan and more. In the summer, the Tanana Valley Farmers Market sells locally grown fruits and vegetables, pottery, foraged mushrooms, and flower from a local peony farm.
Another way we enjoy eating local is from the subsistence hunting and fishing many Alaskans participate in. Within a week of moving to Alaska, a neighboring family invited us over for moose roast. Since then we’ve had moose burgers, fresh-caught salmon, halibut, and we are hoping to try caribou before we leave. It’s not strange to get a late-night text from a friend asking if you’d like to come help process their caribou and share some meat.
Learn About Alaska Native Culture
The Morris Thompson Visitors and Cultural Center in Fairbanks is a great place to start learning about Alaska Native culture. My girls enjoy seeing the exhibits of Alaska’s four seasons and looking at the Alaska Native arts and crafts. It’s free to visit, so drop by any time. The employees there are so helpful and can recommend local attractions and books to read on Native people and tribe history of Alaska. Additionally, the building is close to the Chena River where you can take the walking path and enjoy seeing downtown as you stroll.
The Northern Lights
This is a bucket list item for many people, and Fairbanks is the perfect place to see the Aurora Borealis. My first time seeing it was out my back porch on Ft. Wainwright one night in September. The lights were dancing, and it was magical. I woke my daughter, wrapped her in a blanket, and let her come look as we watched the ribbons swirl and move. We’ve seen the Northern Lights several times now, but it never grows old.
Sometimes my husband asks me if I’m happy we moved to Alaska. This isn’t our forever home, but I’m absolutely glad we get to spend a few years here. Even if the nearest Target is 6 hours away.