12 Things To Do With Family In Fairbanks, Alaska

Last Updated on March 4, 2024 by Emily Johnson


Fairbanks, Alaska is a delightful destination for families looking for outdoor adventure, cultural experiences, and unique Alaskan sights. Located in the interior region of Alaska, Fairbanks offers easy access to vast public lands perfect for fishing, hiking, camping, wildlife viewing, gold panning, and gazing at the magical Northern Lights.

No.ActivityDescription
1Panning for Gold at Gold DaughtersFamily gold panning experience with historic touch.
2Ride on the Alaska RailroadScenic rail journeys through Alaska’s landscapes.
3Visit the Museum of the NorthExplores Alaska’s history, art, and science.
4See the Trans Alaska PipelineViewing the engineering marvel of Alaska.
5Go Dog MushingExperience Alaska’s state sport of dog sledding.
6Try Your Hand at Ice SculptingParticipate in ice sculpting in Fairbanks.
7Pan for Gold aboard Riverboat DiscoveryRiverboat tour with history and gold panning.
8Drive up the Steese HighwayScenic drive offering wilderness and adventure.
9See Wildlife at Creamer’s FieldWildlife viewing at a local migratory waterfowl refuge.
10Camp & Fish along the Chena RiverCamping and fishing in the beautiful Alaskan outdoors.
11Marvel at the Aurora BorealisWitness the stunning northern lights display.
12Explore Alaskana at the Tanana Valley FairEnjoy local culture and fun at the annual fair.

The long summer days provide ample sunshine to explore the beautiful boreal forests, subarctic tundra landscapes, and rich mining heritage of the area. Wintertime unlocks an icy wonderland perfect for snowmachining, dog mushing, ice sculpting events, and other chilly Alaskan fun.

Whether you visit Fairbanks in the summer or winter, there are many fantastic things to experience with the whole family. Here are 12 of the top activities and attractions to enjoy with kids of all ages when visiting Fairbanks, Alaska’s Golden Heart City.

Panning for Gold at Gold Daughters

Name and Location: Panning for Gold at Gold Daughters, located at 1975 Discovery Dr, Fairbanks, AK 99709.

History and Significance: Gold Daughters offers visitors a chance to experience the gold rush history of Alaska by panning for real gold. The attraction is located near the historic gold mining areas of Fairbanks.

What to Expect: Visitors can learn the techniques of gold panning from experienced guides and keep any gold they find. The attraction also features a gift shop with gold nuggets, jewelry, and other souvenirs.

Visitor Information: Gold Daughters is open daily from mid-May to mid-September. Panning sessions last about 1-2 hours. Reservations are recommended, and a fee is charged for the panning experience. Parking is available on-site.

One of the most iconic Alaskan experiences is panning for gold. Fairbanks happens to be located right in the center of Alaska’s gold mining region, so it’s the perfect place to try your hand at striking it rich. For a great family gold panning experience, head to Gold Daughters – a historic mining operation originally founded in the early 1900s.

At Gold Daughters, everyone can pan for gold in the sluice boxes fed by real mining claims. You’ll get to keep all the gold flakes and nuggets you find as a unique memento from your Alaskan adventure. Kids will love discovering shiny gold amidst the black sand and learning about Fairbanks mining heritage first-hand from the experienced instructors.

Ride on the Alaska Railroad

Name and Location: Ride on the Alaska Railroad, departing from various locations throughout Alaska, including Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Seward.

History and Significance: The Alaska Railroad has been operating since 1923 and played a crucial role in the development of Alaska. The railroad offers scenic routes through some of the state’s most beautiful landscapes.

What to Expect: Visitors can choose from a variety of train routes and services, ranging from short day trips to multi-day adventures. The trains feature comfortable seating, dining options, and dome cars with panoramic views.

Visitor Information: Train schedules and routes vary by season. Reservations are recommended, and tickets can be purchased online or at the train station. Luggage restrictions and other policies may apply.

Alaska’s famous railroads are legendary, connecting remote regions through stunning landscapes. In Fairbanks, you can catch the Alaska Railroad and ride the rails towards either Denali National Park to the south or the Arctic Ocean to the north. Journeying north, the railroad crosses over the Arctic Circle where you’ll be awarded a special certificate.

Heading south, you’ll pass through vast wilderness and get breathtaking views of Denali on a clear day. The Alaska Railroad has comfortable, vintage dome cars to give you the best views during the scenic trip. Enjoy sharing unforgettable moments watching moose meander through boreal forests, eagles soar over rivers, and maybe even catching a glimpse of the elusive northern lights if you take an evening ride.

Visit the Museum of the North

Name and Location: Visit the Museum of the North, located at 1962 Yukon Dr, Fairbanks, AK 99775.

History and Significance: The Museum of the North is a cultural and natural history museum that showcases the unique environment, peoples, and history of Alaska and the circumpolar North.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore exhibits on Alaska’s diverse wildlife, Indigenous cultures, and modern history. The museum also features artwork, including the famous painting “The Rose” by Sydney Laurence.

Visitor Information: The Museum of the North is open year-round, with varying hours by season. Admission fees apply, with discounts for children, seniors, and veterans. Guided tours are available for an additional fee.

For a family-friendly indoor activity with interactive exhibits that will appeal to all ages, head to the Museum of the North in Fairbanks. This expansive museum on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus focuses on the geology, paleontology, archaeology, history, art, and ethnography of Alaska and the Arctic region.

Kids will love the dinosaur displays, reconstructed mammoth skeletons, sparkling aurora exhibit, native Alaskan artifact collections, treasure trove of gold rush relics, and interactive science experiments like making giant bubbles freeze instantly in the cold.

Special events and classes also provide additional learning opportunities for curious young minds. After exploring the museum, be sure to enjoy a photo-op with the Antler Arch sculpture out front featuring thousands of caribou antlers.

See the Trans Alaska Pipeline

Name and Location: See the Trans Alaska Pipeline, with viewing areas at various locations along the pipeline route, including the Dalton Highway and the Alyeska Pipeline Visitor Center in Fox, AK.

History and Significance: The Trans Alaska Pipeline is an 800-mile pipeline that transports oil from Alaska’s North Slope to the port of Valdez. The pipeline’s construction and operation have significantly impacted Alaska’s economy and environment.

What to Expect: Visitors can see the pipeline up close at various viewing areas and learn about its history and operation at the Alyeska Pipeline Visitor Center. The pipeline is an impressive feat of engineering, stretching across Alaska’s rugged terrain.

Visitor Information: The Alyeska Pipeline Visitor Center is open daily from late May to early September. Admission is free. Viewing areas along the pipeline route are accessible year-round, but road conditions may vary.

You can’t visit Alaska without checking out one of the state’s most impressive engineering feats – the Trans Alaska Pipeline. This over 800-mile pipeline transports crude oil from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean across rugged Alaska terrain all the way to the port of Valdez. Near Fairbanks, you can stop and observe the hulking pipeline up close at the Alyeska Pipeline viewing station.

Display signs detail facts and figures about the pipeline construction and operation that will surely impress the kids. Make sure to take the short hiking trail beneath the pipeline while learning how tundra plants are able to grow again after massive construction disrupted the landscape. Standing below the elevated pipeline lets you grasp the sheer volume and speed the oil travels across Alaska’s interior to be loaded onto tanker ships.

Go Dog Mushing

Name and Location: Go Dog Mushing, with various tour operators in Fairbanks and surrounding areas, such as Black Spruce Dog Sledding and Paws for Adventure.

History and Significance: Dog mushing has been an important part of Alaska’s history and culture, serving as a primary means of transportation and communication in the Arctic for generations. Today, dog mushing is both a popular sport and a tourist activity.

What to Expect: Visitors can experience the thrill of riding on a dog sled, pulled by a team of energetic and friendly Alaskan huskies. Tours may include visits to a musher’s kennel, hands-on interaction with the dogs, and scenic rides through the Alaskan wilderness.

Visitor Information: Dog mushing tours are available year-round, with different experiences offered in summer and winter. Prices, duration, and included amenities vary by tour operator. Advance reservations are recommended, and warm clothing is essential.

Embrace Alaska’s state sport by going dog sledding during your stay in Fairbanks. Numerous local tour operators offer dog mushing adventures ranging from brief demo rides to multi-day excursions across the backcountry.

Gliding over snow-packed trails behind a team of eager sled dogs is thrilling for adventurous families. Responsible tour operators focus on the wellbeing of their canine athletes and will introduce you to the different sled dog breeds before harnessing them up.

Kids can learn the distinct commands the musher uses to direct the dogs left, right, faster and slower. If you visit in summer, many kennels still provide cart rides behind the dogs along dirt trails since sled dogs love to run no matter the season. Prepare for big doggy kisses at the end!

Try Your Hand at Ice Sculpting

Name and Location: Try Your Hand at Ice Sculpting, with classes and demonstrations offered by the Fairbanks Ice Museum, located at 500 2nd Ave, Fairbanks, AK 99701, and other local organizations.

History and Significance: Ice sculpting has become a beloved winter art form in Fairbanks, with the city hosting the annual World Ice Art Championships. The event attracts talented ice sculptors from around the globe.

What to Expect: Visitors can learn the basics of ice sculpting from experienced artists, using specialized tools to create their own small sculptures. The Fairbanks Ice Museum also features impressive ice sculptures and exhibits on the history and techniques of the art form.

Visitor Information: Ice sculpting classes and demonstrations are typically offered during the winter months. The Fairbanks Ice Museum is open year-round, with varying hours by season. Admission fees apply, and advance reservations may be required for classes.

For a truly only-in-Alaska winter experience, have the whole family try ice sculpting in Fairbanks – the ice art capital of the world! The frozen interior of Alaska has long cold seasons perfect for magical crystalline ice formations.

World Ice Art Championships are held annually in Fairbanks showcasing stunning frozen creations. Local ice parks also provide opportunities for visitors to craft frozen figures. Under expert guidance, families can try making their own Alaskan-themed ice sculptures using chisels and chainsaws provided by the park.

let your imagination run wild while crafting arctic foxes, narwhals, polar bears and other icy tributes to Alaska’s distinctive wildlife. The care taken making elaborate ice sculptures and buildings never fails to impress visitors to the ice parks around this chilly city.

Pan for Gold aboard Riverboat Discovery

Name and Location: Pan for Gold aboard Riverboat Discovery, located at 1975 Discovery Dr, Fairbanks, AK 99709.

History and Significance: The Riverboat Discovery offers a unique way to experience gold panning, combining it with a scenic river cruise. The tour provides insight into the history of gold mining in the Fairbanks area.

What to Expect: Visitors can pan for real gold on a recreated gold mining site along the Chena River, with guidance from experienced prospectors. The tour also includes a riverboat cruise, bush plane demonstration, and a visit to an Athabascan Indian village.

Visitor Information: The Riverboat Discovery operates daily from mid-May to mid-September. Tours last approximately 3.5 hours. Advance reservations are recommended, and a fee is charged. Parking is available on-site.

For easy sightseeing and unique Alaskan experiences rolled into one family-friendly tour, all aboard the Riverboat Discovery! This 3-hour ride along the Chena River offers scenic views from the comfort of the enclosed, heated sternwheeler.

Local guides provide narration of Fairbanks history and landmarks along the shores. Kids are thrilled seeing the dramatic bush plane takeoffs and landings right beside the boat. A highlight is stopping at a recreated Athabascan fish camp to learn survival skills like using a hand-operated pully ferry across a section of the river.

Park rangers bring along raptors and other Alaskan animals for a demo focused on conservation. The tour finale is a view of the Trans Alaska pipeline before disembarking at the historic mining town of Gold Dredge No. 8. Here you can pan for gold, view mining equipment demonstrations, and ride the narrow-gauge train.

Drive up the Steese Highway

Name and Location: Drive up the Steese Highway, starting from Fairbanks and extending northeast for 161 miles to the Yukon River.

History and Significance: The Steese Highway was originally built as a transportation route to the gold fields of Interior Alaska. Today, it offers a scenic drive through the Alaskan wilderness, passing by historic sites and stunning landscapes.

What to Expect: Visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of the Alaskan tundra, mountains, and rivers along the highway. Points of interest include the Chatanika gold mining camp, the Yukon River, and the Arctic Circle sign.

Visitor Information: The Steese Highway is open year-round, but road conditions may vary depending on the season. Visitors should be prepared for remote travel, with limited services along the route. A vehicle with good tires and emergency supplies is recommended.

For boundless wilderness adventure just minutes from downtown Fairbanks, take a drive up the historic Steese Highway north of the city. This National Scenic Byway is your portal to secluded boreal forests, wild arctic tundra, and the start of the Yukon Quest trail.

Stopping at various pullouts along the highway provides plenty of room for the kids to get out and explore. Let them climb hills carved by permafrost heaves, scan spruce trees for boreal birds, and gaze at wildflowers blooming across the rolling tundra. Just 15 miles up, visit Fox Springs trailhead with a moderate 1-mile loop passing beaver dams, waterfalls, and relics left by gold seekers.

Further along are several campgrounds and access points for fishing, gold panning, hiking trails, and connecting ATV routes thatventure across vast public lands. The Steese Highway has plenty of family-friendly adventures along its 160-mile length.

See Wildlife up Close at Creamer’s Field

Name and Location: See Wildlife up Close at Creamer’s Field, located at 1300 College Rd, Fairbanks, AK 99701.

History and Significance: Creamer’s Field is a former dairy farm that has been transformed into a migratory waterfowl refuge. The site is an important stopover for birds traveling the Pacific and Central Flyways.

What to Expect: Visitors can observe a variety of bird species, including sandhill cranes, Canada geese, and various ducks, from viewing platforms and walking trails. The refuge also features interpretive displays on the history of the dairy farm and the importance of wetland conservation.

Visitor Information: Creamer’s Field is open year-round, with the best bird viewing opportunities in spring and fall during migration seasons. Admission is free, and parking is available on-site. Visitors should stay on designated trails and avoid disturbing the wildlife.

For fairly guaranteed wildlife sightings within minutes of downtown Fairbanks, spend an afternoon exploring Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. These protected grassland and forest habitats in the middle of Fairbanks attract an abundance of Alaska wildlife through the seasons.

Easy walking trails and viewing platforms make it outstanding for families to observe wildlife behaviors in comfort. Listen for the yodel-like calls of sandhill cranes in spring and fall when thousands stop to rest and refuel during migrations.

Large moose with calves are frequently seen nibbling willows alongside the wetlands. Birds of prey like northern harriers, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles nest and hunt rodents across the fields. You may also spot beavers, red foxes, arctic ground squirrels and other small mammals at this suburban oasis for northern creatures.

Camp & Fish along the Chena River

Name and Location: Camp & Fish along the Chena River, with various campgrounds and fishing spots located along the river near Fairbanks.

History and Significance: The Chena River has been an important resource for the people of Interior Alaska for thousands of years, providing food, transportation, and recreation. Today, the river is a popular destination for camping, fishing, and boating.

What to Expect: Visitors can enjoy the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness while camping along the banks of the Chena River. The river is known for its excellent fishing, particularly for Arctic grayling, as well as northern pike and burbot.

Visitor Information: Campgrounds along the Chena River are typically open from May to September, with some variations depending on the specific site. Fishing licenses are required and can be purchased online or at local sporting goods stores. Visitors should practice Leave No Trace principles and be prepared for changing weather conditions.

What better way to spend long summer days in Alaska than camping along a peaceful river and fishing for wild salmon and trout? The Chena River winding around Fairbanks offers many gorgeous campsites and access areas perfect for angling. Campgrounds like the Chena River State Recreation Site cater to families with play areas for kids, mossy nature trails along the riverbanks, and the perfect jumping-off point for fishing adventures.

Rainbow trout are stocked in portions of the Chena River, while cohos and kings swim upstream later in the summer to spawn. Fishing for the mighty Alaskan salmon or silly stocked trout makes for wonderful memories reeling them in. At camp, days can be spent picnicking, gazing up at clouds drifting by and keeping an eye out for soaring bald eagles that nest along the river corridor in summer.

Marvel at the Aurora Borealis

Name and Location: Marvel at the Aurora Borealis, visible from various locations around Fairbanks during the fall and winter months.

History and Significance: The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, have captivated humans for centuries, inspiring countless stories, myths, and legends. Fairbanks is known as one of the best places in the world to view this incredible natural phenomenon.

What to Expect: Visitors can witness the mesmerizing dance of the Northern Lights across the night sky, with colors ranging from green to purple. The best viewing opportunities occur on clear nights away from city lights, typically between late August and early April.

Visitor Information: Several tour operators offer Aurora viewing packages, which may include transportation, warm clothing, and hot beverages. Visitors can also seek out dark, clear areas on their own for a chance to see the lights. Warm clothing, a camera with manual settings, and patience are essential for a successful Aurora viewing experience.

No family visit to Alaska would be complete without witnessing the dazzling Natural Wonder of the World that is the northern lights – or aurora borealis. Fairbanks’ location directly under the “Auroral Oval” means it experiences frequent northern light displays that light up dark arctic nights in a mystical dance of color.

While the lights are weather-dependent, know that some of the best displays happen right over Fairbanks – just be sure to bundle up! Starting by September, families can use online aurora forecasts to determine prime viewing nights. Seek out a dark location away from city lights between about 10pm – 2am.

When those magical green swirls come out, remember to glance away from time to time to engage those peripheral light receptors for best viewing this bucket list phenomenon. Lay a blanket down to stay warm while craning your necks at the splendor that is the aurora. The lights reflecting off snow offer added beauty to this surreal light show your family will forever remember.

Explore Alaskana at the Tanana Valley Fair

Name and Location: Explore Alaskana at the Tanana Valley Fair, held annually in early August at the Tanana Valley State Fairgrounds, located at 1800 College Rd, Fairbanks, AK 99709.

History and Significance: The Tanana Valley Fair has been a beloved tradition in Fairbanks since 1924, showcasing the culture, history, and spirit of Interior Alaska. The fair celebrates the region’s agricultural heritage and community pride.

What to Expect: Visitors can experience a taste of Alaskan life at the fair, with exhibits showcasing local agriculture, arts and crafts, and live performances. The fair also features carnival rides, games, and a variety of food vendors offering Alaskan specialties.

Visitor Information: The Tanana Valley Fair typically runs for 10 days in early August. Admission fees apply, with discounts available for children, seniors, and military personnel. Parking is available on-site for a fee. Visitors should check the fair’s website for specific dates, hours, and event schedules.

What better glimpse into authentic Alaskan culture than the annual Tanana Valley State Fair happening every August in Fairbanks? Local families look forward to this beloved end-of-summer tradition filled with lively music, artery-clogging food, talented artisans, Giant Cabbage weigh-offs and good old-fashioned fun.

Be sure to grab a Pronto Pup hotdog and see if you can win a squirmy goldfish at a carnival game booth. Let the kids burn off energy in the hay scramble attempting to stuff as much straw as possible into grain sacks in just a few minutes. Gaze in wonder at the immensity of trimming from these massive veggie contest winners.

Grab a spot at the heavily attended concert series featuring local musicians and pay tribute to influential Alaskan artists. Don’t forget to poke around the historical village and 4H barns to glimpse unique elements of Alaskan heritage and culture through creative exhibits. The best way to wrap up a family-friendly Alaskan adventure is by joining the festivities at this beloved interior fair.

Conclusion

Fairbanks is truly an unforgettable destination for families seeking iconic Alaskan adventures and unique northern sights. During the summer solstice period from May through September, Fairbanks’ central location provides sunlight-filled days perfect for exploring the great outdoors through hiking trails, winding rivers, and lush forests.

Wintertime transforms the region into a magical wonderland that highlights its frontier spirit through aurora displays, festivals, dog mushing, and sculpting tributes with ice. Throughout the year, families traveling to Fairbanks will find welcoming local culture and diverse museums that provide context and history about interior Alaska. With so many amazing options for all-ages fun, Fairbanks has secured itself as a premier family vacation spot for discovering Alaska’s Golden Heart.

Leave a Comment