Everyone knows that cats love to sleep, so you can imagine my surprise and delight when I stumbled upon the magical place of Fairbanks, Alaska, a place where nighttime never ends. In the month of December travelers to Fairbanks enjoy extended nighttime hours, up to 19 hours per day! So, aside from extended cat naps, how can you convenience your human to visit this enchanting terrain? It’s as easy as jumping on the kitchen counter! There are so many things to do in Fairbanks, Alaska in December that you and your human may have a hard time knowing where to start.
This trusty travel guide breaks down your options for what to do in Fairbanks, the second-largest city in Alaska. From exciting adventures into the Arctic to star gazing from hot springs, your time in Fairbanks will be anything but a cat nap.
- Explore the Terrain on Cross-Country Skis
- Try Your Hand at Ice Fishing
- Go Dog Sledding
- Take an Aurora Tour
- Chase the Lights on Your Own
- Celebrate the Winter Solstice in Downtown Fairbanks
- Play Reindeer Games at Running Reindeer Ranch
- Explore Alaskan Culture at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center
- Learn about History at the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
- See an Engineering Marvel: The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Viewpoint
- Visit North Pole, Alaska
- Relax at Chena Hot Springs
- Take a Trip to Denali National Park
- Journey to the Arctic Circle
- Conclusion on Things to do in Fairbanks, Alaska in December
Embracing Winter Activities
While it may seem counter-initiative, getting outside is one of the best ways to enjoy the cold, dark days of Fairbanks in December. The locals have learned how to get the most out of nature year-round, so why not follow their lead on embracing the winter months? From fishing to skiing to gliding over the snow in a traditional dog sled, it’s time to bundle up in your winter’s best and join the fun!
Explore the Terrain on Cross-Country Skis
With vast expanses of snowy landscapes, December in Fairbanks is a great time to experience cross-country skiing. A favorite activity amongst locals, cross-country skiing offers the excitement of gliding along powdery snow with a connection to Alaska’s stunning winter landscape.
One reason that cross-country skiing is so popular in Fairbanks is an abundance of groomed trails that are free for public use. Experienced skiers can rent skis and explore popular trails like the ones at Creamer Field and the University of Alaska. For those who are less experienced or entirely new, plenty of qualified guides will provide gear and take you to trails that match your level.
As a bonus, cross-country skiing in Fairbanks in December offers the possibility to see the Northern Lights. Creamer Filed is a great place for visitors to explore at night. Its accessibility also makes it a popular place among locals, meaning that you’ll likely find a friendly face to discuss which trails are best or help look out for aurora activity.
Whether you go in alone or hire a guide, cross-country skiing in Fairbanks should be on your list of things to do in December.
Try Your Hand at Ice Fishing
The traditional Alaskan pastime of ice fishing offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature and enjoy the serenity of winter. Like many winter recreational activities, ice fishing is also a part of day-to-day life for some Alaskan residents.
As the rivers and lakes freeze over, anglers venture onto the ice to drill holes and drop their lines. The thick ice provides a sturdy platform for this cold-weather pursuit and specialized gear allows for a warm and cozy experience. Ice fishing is an excellent way to catch a variety of fish, including Arctic grayling and char.
The act of ice fishing itself is a contemplative endeavor. Surrounded by the hushed beauty of the snow-covered landscape, you can’t help but feel a sense of tranquility. You may notice the absence of birds, insects, and woodland creatures that frequent summertime fishing expeditions. Additionally, the monochromatic nature of a cold winter provides a completely different visual setting than summertime.
Whether you’re an experienced angler or a novice, ice fishing guides are helpful in providing the equipment needed to drill through the thick ice and directing you to where the fish like to hang out. Most tour companies provide heaters, warm drinks, and other amenities to ensure comfort while experiencing this unique tradition.
If you are looking for a good ice fishing guide in Fairbanks, check out Alaska Fishing and Raft Adventures.
Go Dog Sledding
Dog sledding in Fairbanks, Alaska during the winter is a must-do activity. Aside from offering the exhilarating feeling of gliding along untouched snow, you can also experience a unique connection to the region’s history and culture.
A dog sledding tour often starts with the opportunity to meet some of the dogs. These extremely energetic Alaskan huskies will charm you as their anticipation to run through the snow is palpable. Experienced mushers (aka sled drivers) will provide background on how they care for their team of dogs and the technical details of operating the sled.
Dog sledding has been around for over 9,000 years, starting in Siberia and then slowly making its way east across the Bering Strait into Alaska. Sled dogs played a major role in the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska in the late 1800s. Today, they remain a major part of life in many Indigenous communities throughout the state.
For your dog sledding adventure near Fairbanks, you are likely to interact with dogs that are either training to race or have retired from racing. “Mushing” events like the annual Iditarod pay homage to these magnificent dogs’ impact on history.
Chasing the Northern Lights: Witness the Aurora Borealis
Witnessing the Northern Lights (also known as the Aurora Borealis) is a “bucket list” item for many travelers. Luckily, Fairbanks in December is the best time and place to witness this colorful spectacle. While chasing the lights is an adventure in and of itself, if you want to see the aurora Borealis you should set aside time each night to look.
The aurora forecast site, hosted by the University of Alaska is a great resource for predicting the activity of the aurora. With that said other factors like clouds and light pollution can have a major effect on its visibility, so you can not rely on this site completely. Depending on your schedule, budget, and flexibility, you may decide to join a guided tour or chase the lights on your own.
Take an Aurora Tour
To really maximize the possibility of seeing these elusive lights, we recommend booking an aurora tour. Unless you get lucky and the aurora is very active, you’ll need help spotting it.
Local guides know the best times and locations to view the lights and are well-versed in spotting the beginning of activity. In the evenings when the aurora is not very active, it’s extremely easy to miss it entirely!
Another advantage of taking an aurora tour is safety. To really see the lights you’ll need to get out of town and drive on some potentially dangerous roads. Experienced guides know which roads are well maintained and operate vehicles that are well equipped for transversing ice and snow.
There are plenty of local tour operators that will pick you up at your hotel in a warm comfortable vehicle. Most tours include access to one or more lodges, where you can sit indoors with hot chocolate while your guides scan the sky for signs of activity. Of course, this service comes with costs, generally ranging from $150-$300 per person. Alaska Wildlife Guide is a good place to compare and contrast local tour options.
Chase the Lights on Your Own
Your other option is to look for the lights on your own. On nights when the lights are very active, you can easily view them from anywhere in town. If you are not so lucky, your best bet is to get out of town, away from the light pollution.
Technically speaking, you can drive a few miles out of town on any road and significantly increase your chance of seeing the lights. With that said, there are a few lookout points that are widely considered the best places for aurora viewing.
Murphy Dome, about 20 miles northwest of Fairbanks is a popular viewing location. The highest point near Fairbanks, the “dome” is a natural structure. Aurora chasers park here and look for the lights from inside their warm vehicles. Cleary Summit, about 20 miles northeast of Fairbanks provides a similar viewing area. And, finally, Chena Lakes Recreation Area is located about 17 miles Southeast of Fairbanks and provides a nice, flat area to view the aurora.
Your final option is to book a space in a viewing lodge, like the Aurora Borealis Lodge. If you are willing to drive yourself to the lodge, tickets start as low as $35 per person.
Discover Unique Attractions
Aside from chasing the Northern Lights, Fairbanks offers several unique experiences. From the playful herds at the Running Reindeer Ranch to the engineering marvel of the trans-Alaska pipeline, here are five more items to add to your to-do list for Fairbanks, Alaska in December.
Celebrate the Winter Solstice in Downtown Fairbanks
If you are lucky enough to be in Fairbanks during the Winter Solstice Festival in downtown Fairbanks, joining the festivities is a must-do activity! The winter solstice represents the shortest day of the year and varies within a few days, year to year. Hovering around Dec 21st, during the winter solstice in Fairbanks, the town experiences 3 hours and 41 minutes of daylight. With that said Fairbanks tends the celebrate the solstice a week earlier to avoid overlapping with the holidays.
One of the main events for the Winter Solstice Festival is the Winter Lights Walk in Griffin Park. A long-held tradition of creating light during the darkest night, local Christmas light enthusiasts design extravagant lighting displays on snow-covered trees. Visitors also enjoy pop-up holiday markets, a scavenger hunt, and photos with friendly reindeer.
Play Reindeer Games at Running Reindeer Ranch
Visiting the Running Reindeer Ranch in Fairbanks, Alaska during the winter is an experience like no other. Nestled in the heart of the pristine wilderness, this unique attraction offers immersion in the world of these gentle and enchanting creatures. This a truly unique way to celebrate the Christmas holidays.
During the month of December, Running Reindeer Ranch offers a 1-hour long guided “Reindeer Walk”. This popular activity starts with a tour through the Boreal forest, while also interacting with the charming reindeer herd that inhabits the area. As members of the herd accompany your walk, they may nuzzle your hand or engage you in a whimsical game of “reindeer tag.” This magical experience is very popular amongst visitors to the area.
After your guided walk you’ll enjoy the ranch’s world-famous cookies, hot drinks, and a chance to learn more about reindeer’s role in the local culture and history of Alaska. The knowledgeable guides provide fascinating insights into the indigenous traditions and the significance of these animals in the region.
Whether you’re an animal lover, nature enthusiast, or are simply looking for a unique winter experience, the Running Reindeer Ranch in Fairbanks provides a great opportunity to connect with the natural world.
Explore Alaskan Culture at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center
In Fairbanks, Alaska, the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center takes on a special charm during December. This cultural hub becomes a gateway to the heart of the region’s heritage, welcoming visitors to explore Alaskan culture.
Open daily in December, the visitor center offers an indoor reprieve from all of the outdoor adventures Fairbanks has to offer. Here you’ll find information and insights into the history, traditions, and native peoples of Alaska. Stopping by the visitor center is a great way to become more connected to Alaskan culture.
The museum’s location provides a backdrop of snow-covered landscape that adds an extra layer of beauty to the experience. The adjacent Griffin Park is an ideal spot for a leisurely walk next to the Chena River after your visit.
Learn about History at the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
In Fairbanks, Alaska, the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum is a delightful destination year-round. Open on Sundays and Wednesdays during December, here you’ll find a mentally engaging experience away from the winter chill.
This museum anchors its main exhibit on a journey through time, offering a unique perspective on the history of transportation. Their vintage cars, each a piece of rolling art, are beautifully preserved and showcased. Coupled with vintage clothing and art, the museum tells a story of how history has shaped cars in Alaska. This unique educational experience creates a sought-after experience for visitors to Fairbanks.
Whether you’re passionate about vintage cars or simply looking for an interesting indoor experience in the heart of winter, the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks offers a blend of history, nostalgia, and holiday cheer that is sure to brighten your day.
See an Engineering Marvel: The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Viewpoint
Located at 1671 Steese Hwy, you’ll find the Trans-Alaska Pipeline viewpoint in Fairbanks. This lookout point allows visitors the unique opportunity to witness an engineering marvel amidst the pristine Alaskan wilderness. The pipeline, stretching over 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to Valdez on the Gulf of Alaska, is a lifeline for the state’s oil industry.
In December, the viewpoint takes on a special charm as the landscape transforms into a winter wonderland. The snow-covered surroundings add to the already breathtaking vista, creating a picturesque backdrop for visitors.
The viewpoint also allows you to get up close to the pipeline, giving you a sense of the complex engineering required to transport oil across the vast and rugged terrain of Alaska. You’ll also find an example of a “pig”, which is the device used to clean and inspect the pipeline.
Educational displays provide insights into the pipeline’s history, its importance to the state’s economy, and environmental safeguards. It’s a fascinating opportunity to learn about the delicate balance between resource development and environmental preservation in Alaska.
Visit North Pole, Alaska
Located about 15 minutes outside of Fairbanks, this Christmas-themed town is especially lively in December. Featuring a 42-foot-tall statue of Santa Claus, North Pole, Alaska is a quirky roadside attraction that you do not want to miss.
Another reason to stop by is to visit Santa Claus House, a massive Christmas-themed gift shop, complete with a fudge and cookie shop and cameos by Santa Claus himself. During the winter months, you can also meet Santa’s reindeer team, located right next door.
This town is also home to the North Pole post office, which receives thousands of letters to Santa each year. While Santa can not respond to all of the letters, they are all opened and read. Some letters even end up on the wall at the Santa Claus House! One favorite tourist activity is to send mail back home from this famous post office. How excited would your niece or nephew be to receive a letter from the North Pole? You can even sign your letter as “Santa Claus”. He won’t mind, I checked!
Winter Experiences Just Outside of Fairbanks
Another way to get the most out of Fairbanks in December is to explore the surrounding area. Fairbanks serves as a great jumping-off point for truly Alaskan experiences like visiting Chena Hot Springs, exploring Denali, and touring the Arctic Circle.
Relax at Chena Hot Springs
Visiting Chena Hot Springs from Fairbanks in December is a quintessential Alaskan winter experience. Located about 60 miles from Fairbanks, this geothermal wonder is a haven for those seeking warmth, adventure, and relaxation in the winter season.
The journey to Chena Hot Springs, surrounded by snow-clad landscapes, feels like an adventure in itself. When you arrive, the star of the show is the geothermal hot springs. These soothing, mineral-rich waters stand in sharp contrast to the crisp winter air. Many travelers find they have an almost mystical quality when enjoyed under the Northern Lights.
Aside from the hot springs, Chena offers a range of other activities like the famous Aurora Ice Museum, an aurora viewing lodge, ice fishing, dog sledding, and hiking. They also run their own greenhouse which provides produce for their onsite restaurant and bar.
Close enough to Fairbanks for a day trip, you can choose to either come back to town in the evening or stay the night in the onsite hotel. Either way, spending time in natural hot springs in the height of winter is an experience you will not want to miss.
Take a Trip to Denali National Park
Home to Mt. Denali, the tallest peak in North America, this popular national park is located about 2.5 hours south of Fairbanks. The drive itself is stunning, with ample opportunity to see the sun peek over the horizon reflecting a warm orange over the snowy landscape. The road between Fairbanks and Denali is generally well-maintained, however, you should still check local weather conditions before making the trek.
Once you arrive you can expect a uniquely Alaskan experience. The entire park will be blanketed in pristine snow and the absence of insects and birds creates a peaceful silence. Make sure to visit the Murie Science and Learning Center which acts as the main visitor’s center during the winter months. Here you can learn about the unique ecology of the park and also plan your activities for the day.
During December some popular activities in Denali National Park include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling (called snow machining by the locals), and biking. The road is typically closed at mile 3, which means your activities will be relegated to the front of the park.
If you’d like to stay overnight, there are several lodges in the area that remain open in winter. Staying in or around Denali in the Alaskan winter is an amazing opportunity to witness the night sky in all of its glory. If you are lucky you may even get to see the famous Northern Lights.
Journey to the Arctic Circle
Embarking on a guided tour of the Arctic Circle from Fairbanks, Alaska in December is an extraordinary journey. Aside from extremely cold temperatures, you can expect stunning landscapes, wildlife sightings, nearly 24 hours of darkness, and a good chance of spotting the Aurora Borealis.
Most arctic adventures are a combination of travel via air and land. Experienced guides will show you a truly pristine landscape and maximize your chances of spotting some of Alaska’s most resilient fauna like reindeer, polar bears, and moose.
Depending on your tour company you may also have the opportunity to try outdoor activities like dog sledding, snowmobiling, or snowshoeing. Due to extreme weather conditions, however, you should expect to be inside a vehicle or lodge most of the time.
Traveling to the Arctic Circle from Fairbanks in December is not for the faint of heart. To get the most out of your Arctic adventure, you need to be patient with changing weather conditions, plan for long stretches of travel, and have tolerance for cold weather. With that said, if you enjoy exploring unique environments, this adventure will prove unforgettable.
Conclusion on Things to do in Fairbanks, Alaska in December
In December, Fairbanks, Alaska transforms into a snowy wonderland of endless nights. It’s a destination for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and aspiring anthropologists alike.
The extended nighttime hours, with up to 19 hours of darkness per day, set the stage for a truly unique winter escape. It’s a place where the Northern Lights, dance across the sky, dog sleds glide across the snow and hot springs bubble up from below the ground.
The city of Fairbanks also provides a plethora of indoor activities allowing the opportunity to learn about the history and culture of this unique state.
If you have the time and budget to explore the surrounding areas, Fairbanks serves as a home base to remote areas like Chena Hot Springs, Denali National Park, and the Arctic Circle.
Fairbanks in December is a destination like no other, where every day is an opportunity to create lasting memories. So, pack your warmest gear, embrace the cold, and embark on a journey to Fairbanks, where the nights are long, but the list of things to do is even longer.
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