Alaska: Find Your Place in the (Midnight) Sun

Author: Alecia Pirulis

The Aurora Borealis Above Fairbanks, Alaska

Neon green wisps perform a slow ballet across the sky, joined occasionally by pulses of deep red, rich violet, inky indigo, and bursts of tawny yellow.  The phantom dance forms a thin veil across the shimmering stars, while the rugged, mountainous landscape glitters below, the snow adding a ghostly element of its own as it clings to the outstretched branches of pine trees. The aurora borealis, or northern lights, put on a show of other-worldly beauty – and is only one of the can’t-miss displays Fairbanks, Alaska is famous for.

Alaska’s “Golden Heart” is the second-largest city in the state. The city rises from the banks of the Chena River, one of Alaska’s most popular sport-fishing destinations. The river is also used for boating – except during the winter, when it is dotted by mushers and snow machines. Fairbanks is just 120 miles from the Arctic Circle in a ring-shaped region around the North Pole called the auroral oval, making Fairbanks one of the best locations on earth to see those northern lights.

Another can’t-miss display is the show Denali National Park puts on daily. From soaring mountain peaks to alpine meadows, and from deep mountain lakes to winding rivers, Denali is a national treasure. The park covers six million acres and includes Mt. McKinley. Animals in Denali include grizzly and black bears, moose, wolves, foxes, marmots, caribou, and Dall’s sheep. A summer bus trip is a terrific way to spot wildlife. Other park activities include backpacking, day hiking, cycling, camping, and mountaineering. Winter activities in the park include mushing, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, snowmobiling, and winter camping – the perfect, unspoiled place to see the aurora borealis. Keep in mind that winter temperatures in Denali often reach -40 F – so make sure you pack your extreme-weather gear if you plan to winter camp!

Fairbanks isn’t just a (ruggedly) beautiful face – it is a major city with a thriving economy, a fact that can easily be forgotten with such a stunning landscape. Alaska’s oldest college, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is located here, and so is Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base. The diverse economy also includes tourism, mining, manufacturing, and financial industries. And – while Fairbanks is the second-largest city in the state – the total population of Fairbanks is about 32,000 – or roughly 1,000 people per square mile. (In comparison, New York City has 27,000 people per square mile, and San Francisco has about 17,870 people per square mile.)

Contrary to what you might think, tourism is a year-round industry in Fairbanks. During summer, tourists arrive by the busloads (and carloads and even cruise-ship loads). They come for the boating, fishing, whitewater rafting, kayaking and canoeing, hiking, mountain climbing, and to visit nearby Denali. They also come for the summer festivals, parades, and for the arts and culture. In winter, they arrive to see the northern lights; to go skiing, snowboarding, and dog sledding; to see ice carving, to ride the Alaska railroad, and to enjoy the outdoor natural hot springs.  They also come to visit the North Pole, a city next to Fairbanks that includes candy cane light posts and plenty of Christmas décor throughout the city.

Shopping is unique in Fairbanks. You’ll find a fantastic downtown shopping area complete with traditional shops and boutiques, along with one-of-a-kind shopping experiences featuring Alaska Native hand-crafted items. As for dining locations, you’ll find a wide variety of them in Fairbanks, from bakeries and cafes to cozy bistros and high-end restaurants to saloons and pubs.

Are you ready to find your place beneath the midnight sun? Check out apartments for rent in Fairbanks and get ready for endless adventure, amazing sights, and breathtaking beauty.