By Graham Templeton
5 Reasons To Visit Fairbanks, Alaska
1. The light – Fairbanks is one of Northernmost metropolitan areas in Alaska, and one of the Northernmost in the world, and as a result few places on Earth change more with the passing of seasons. During summer solstice, Fairbanks gets almost 22 hours of sunlight per day! If you’re looking to get as many daytime hours as possible out of your vacation, Fairbanks is the destination for you. Take advantage of those long, bright days with an eco-tour or outdoor adventure. Alaska Wildlife Guide and other tour operators will showcase the area’s incredible natural diversity, from enormous flocks of migratory birds to the majestic Grizzly bear.
2. The Lights – Although they’re called the Northern Lights, seeing the aurora borealis in all its glory takes more than just driving toward the top of the map. Weather, elevation, and other factors will all affect how brilliant a display you’re likely to see – and it just so happens that Fairbanks is situated in one of the world’s best viewing areas. The aurora lights Fairbanks up to 200 days per year, often with intensity far higher than elsewhere in the Arctic. Stay for at least 3 nights and your chances of seeing the aurora increase to 90%. Several local tour operators will help you view the phenomenon, like the Aurora Borealis Lodge, ideally situated for full 360 degree viewing.
3. The Golden Heart – When Italian immigrant Felix Pedro struck gold in Alaska, he had no idea what he was starting. Today, the Alaskan Gold Rush is kept alive in a selection of historical towns and museums, the largest of which is in Fairbanks, itself. Try your hand at gold panning, or see the state’s largest public gold display at the Fairbanks University museum. An annual Golden Days celebration takes place each July, featuring large scale historical recreations and faithful historical recreations. Tour operators offer packages showcasing both the history and present of the Fairbanks gold industry. They don’t call Fairbanks the Golden Heart City for nothing.
4. The Native culture – Alaska’s culture and history are intimately tied to those of the Native tribes of the area, and Fairbanks has one of the most thriving intercultural exchanges in North America, with regular markets and galleries showcasing the very best in Native art and craftsmanship, not to mention the Festival of Native Arts beginning each February. Fairbanks is also home to the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center, which features Alaska native cultural programs throughout the year including singing, dancing, music and workshops where visitors can create projects with the guidance of an Alaska native artist.
5. The Adventure Landscape – The forests and mountains of Alaska seem designed for human recreation at all times of the year. Though skiing attracts thousands to Fairbanks during the winter months, the snow melts to reveal some of the continent’s most sought-after hiking routes. Head out to watch the great caribou migration, or raft the fast-flowing rivers. Conquer Mt. McKinley, or “The High One”, North America’s highest peak. This the gateway to the Arctic and to Alaska’s interior, the furthest one can go into the raw Alaskan wilderness not straying too far from all the comforts of civilization.
5 Reasons To Visit Anchorage, Alaska
1. Glaciers galore – Alaska has nearly 100,000 glaciers, those enormous, crawling ice sheets that can cover more than 75,000 square kilometres of Alaska’s lush landscape. When the glaciers begin to retreat in the summer months, many look only to exploit the ground revealed beneath. However, many travellers take the opportunity to explore the glaciers themselves. Many are only accessible during the summer. Cruise, hike, bus, or kayak your way around, over, and even into these enormous natural wonders. Watch a glacier calve a chunk of cobalt ice the size of an apartment building. There’s no better way to appreciate the awesome nature of the Arctic.
2. Wildlife – Anchorage has an industry built on wildlife and nature tourism, particularly focusing on the nearby wildlife haven of Chugach State Park. At more than 2000 square kilometres, this enormous protectorate was actually created first and foremost for human use, a playground for recreational activities and a protection for the Anchorage water supply. If the wide variety of wildlife viewing tours don’t appeal, from cruises to bike tours, then there’s always the Alaska Zoo. The zoo is renowned for its Animal Encounters program, which lets visitors come along with zookeepers as they care for wolves, seals, big cats or polar bears.
Alaska.com3. Fishing – There aren’t a lot of places in the world that integrate fishing with the downtown core. Remote and relaxing fly fishing awaits travellers after just a short trip out of the heart of Anchorage, which recently earned a spot on Field and Stream magazine’s list of America’s best fishing cities. June sees the city begin the Slam’n Salm’n Derby, a friendly salmon fishing competition with great prizes and even special divisions for visitors. All proceeds fro the derby go to local soup kitchens. For a more introspective experience head to Jewel Lake, named for its breathtaking reflections of the Alaskan sky and the nearby Chugach Mountains.
4. Nightlife – For a place that sees so little true darkness, Anchorage sure knows how to fill a wonderful night. There are the traditional Northern Township attractions like log cabin taverns and drink selections from the pioneer days, cozy hangouts that are as likely to feature roaring wood fires as banks of televisions. Beyond this, Anchorage has a thriving bar scene with some serious attention to quality beer; the city features at least four “Number 1” beer halls for local, imported, and specialty brews. Most notably, live music is a huge part of Anchorage culture, and is a feature of virtually every establishment, to some extent.
5. Dogsledding – The Iditarod dogsledding marathons is one of the toughest physical challenges on Earth, but dog sledding doesn’t have to be a gruelling test of will. Anchorage is perfectly situated for fun, low-impact dog sledding suitable for every age and skill level. The dogs are friendly and social, and they love to delight new riders with their incredible speed and endurance. The best local summer sledding takes place in Punch Bowl Glacier, a short helicopter ride from the city and a great place to earn the title of dog musher. If that sounds too intimidating, stick instead to the “basket” and let a tour guide drive the team. There’s nobody who can’t experience the thrill of a genuine Alaska dog sled