Alaska is Magical
I think I have never been to a place as magical as Alaska. Sparkling seas of snow, northern lights dancing at the star-filled sky, warm-hearted people, hot springs and ice museums – just a few of the things that make the 50th of the United States so beautiful.
It is a place that will enchant anyone – particularly dreamy adventurers and hopeless romantics.
My Fairbanks bucketlist
Fairbanks, the second biggest city in Alaska after Anchorage with merely around 30.000 inhabitants, is a great jumping off point for your Alaskan adventure. There are plenty of amazing places you can visit and activities you can do within the area.
Since I had the opportunity to spend my exchange semester at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks – and had plenty of time to explore – I would like to tell you about 5 things that should definitely be on your Fairbanks bucketlist.
1. Hiking, Snowshoeing or Cross-Country Skiing
Holding out, fighting your way through a sea of snow that doesn’t seem to end. Not knowing, when you will reach your goal. One mountain steeper than the other.
This is what it feels like when Alaska’s wilderness pushes your limits. Physically and mentally.
But it’s a good feeling. Once you’ve made it – you stand at the top, looking down onto beautiful Alaska – all the exhaustion was worth it. It’s that moment when you will fall in love with this place.
There are endless possibilities for hiking (or, if you might be here during the winter, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing). To name just a few spots where you can go on a day trip or a weekend trip from Fairbanks to hike: Angel Creek, Goldstream Valley, Angel Rocks and Tolovana Hot Springs.
2. Chena Hot Springs and Ice Museum
The Chena Hot Springs resort, two hours by car from Fairbanks, offers two spectacular attractions that couldn’t be more opposite but also complement each other so well. It houses a hot springs lake and an ice museum!
I would suggest to start off with the ice museum so you can warm up in the hot springs later on.
The Aurora Ice Museum showcases ice sculptures such as roses and chandeliers that were created by world champion ice carvers. These chandeliers change their colors to represent the northern lights and thus add to the magical atmosphere of the place. Before you freeze, you can take a seat at the ice bar, enjoy an “appletini” in an ice carved martini glass and feel like a real celebrity.
From -7 degrees Celsius in the ice museum to 41 degress in the natural hot springs. Time to relax and enjoy the healing powers of the thermal waters.
3. Denali National Park
Denali National Park is just about a 2-hour drive from Fairbanks away and offers an abundance of hiking trails and other activities (such as rafting on the Chulitna River). It is beautiful all year round, but particularly worth a visit during fall season.
At that time, the trees wear their iridscent orange-red dresses. The wind teasingly scatters their leaves and the sun glows golden behind the mountain tops.
The highlight of this national park is just what it got its name from: Denali or Mount McKinley, with over 6000 metres the tallest mountain in North America. If you are brave and experienced enough, you might decide to actually climb it.
If you have a more moderate fitness level such as me, I would suggest to go on a day trip and hike one of the trails that start from the park entrance. I can recommend the Mount Healy Overlook Trail (about 4 hours for 5.4 miles), where this photo was taken from. It is a rather steep trail but offers you beautiful views of the valley below.
Also, if you are lucky, you might see some of the park’s wildlife such as dall sheep, moose or grizzly bears.
4. Dog Sledding
If you love dogs and enjoy snow, this will be the ride of a lifetime for you. Just don’t forget to bring warm clothing because it might get pretty chilly, particularly with degress below -20 Celsius during the winter.
At first, you usually get to interact with the huskies. You can play with them and cuddle the puppies that might be around as well. This just adds to the cuteness of the experience.
After that, the dogs will be harnessed and the team hooked up. Now, they are ready for your sled ride. Depending on which tour you choose, you can decide to sit in and just relax or also drive the dog sled.
Glide through the glittering snow and the birch woods – what a beautiful scenery.
There are various companies around Fairbanks – I can absolutely recommend Just Short of Magic.
5. Ice Climbing a Frozen Waterfall
Good places to climb nearby are Fox and Dragon Fly Creeks outside the Denali National Park boundary. If you are an inexperienced climber, though, you will need a guide to teach you and arrange the top-ropes for you. You will also need the right gear such as crampons and ice axes.
If you like climbing and snow, you will love ice climbing – just like I did.
The first steps are hard but eventually, you will figure out how to use your crampons to move up the waterfall. Your fingers will become numb from the cold and hurt like hell once the blood rushes back into them and you have made it to the top of the waterfall – but these borderline experiences are what makes your vacation a real Alaskan adventure.
If you don’t feel that adventurous and not like going out into the wild, you can do something quite similar at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. They have an ice tower outside that you can climb while they provide all the necessary equipment.