Everyone- “You are spending your New Year where???”
Me- “Alaska…North Pole to be exact.”
Everyone- >> blank stare and a pause<< “Well that’s really cool.”
Oh Alaska. I always thought I would visit the 49th state in the summer time when I could cautiously hike my way through countless trails and see the amazing stateside of “The Last Frontier”. Also, I always thought I would visit when I wouldn’t have to worry about my toes going numb, but surprise, surprise, I decided to end a pretty crummy 2018 on a guaranteed high note (or low note if we are speaking temperature wise). New Year's for me was spent in North Pole, Alaska (yes this is really where they send children’s letters to Santa). It was icy, it was cold, it was snowy and it was so perfect that I would do it all over again at the drop of a hat.
I spent the first few days in Alaska in the Fairbanks/ North Pole area by staying in a semi secluded wood cabin Airbnb (click link to see house) and taking some time to relax by the wood burning fireplace after daily strolls down icy streets. Fairbanks is located in the interior of the state where temperatures can drop into some serious negative digits, but unfortunately for us, we arrived just in time for it to warm up to the 20's on our second day there. The lowest we got to experience was -15 degrees on our first night (yes we are that crazy and wanted to experience the extreme cold!).
So why start in Fairbanks?
Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center-
This is the perfect place to visit after landing in Fairbanks and you can visit with the people from Explore Fairbanks and get ideas and helpful tips for your trip. In addition to picking up pamphlets and learning about the area, the center has a great and very interesting exhibit on site about the interior of Alaska and the history of their way of life. If visiting in the summer, they have interactive options to experience their culture first hand.
For more information, visit the Morris Thompson website.
The Northern Lights-
Fairbanks is one of the most known places to catch the Aurora Borealis. Since it is located in the Aurora Oval, it increases your odds of viewing the lights. Just keep in mind that you also need the weather to cooperate with some clear skies. I recommend monitoring the University of Alaska’s predictions and downloading the apps, Aurora and Aurora Alerts to monitor skies overhead and on the horizon. Staying remotely also helps, as there is less light pollution in the area. We were lucky and were welcomed by a peek of them our first night there. Denali National Park and Chena Recreation Area are two local spots to drive out to and wait for your chance to see the lights.
Santa Claus House-
At first when I booked my housing in North Pole, Alaska; I humored it and looked up Santa Claus. Turns out, the locals have humored all the Christmastime tales and actually have a Santa Claus house and Reindeer meeting area (during summer months)! Built in 1952, the Santa Claus House offers picture opportunities with a giant 42ft, 900lb Santa and his big red sleigh, exclusively made North Pole apparel and many made in Alaska souvenirs. I missed out on meeting any reindeer at the Antler Academy during my trip but would have happily forked over the $12.95 to hang out with them. I did at least get to see a few ice sculptures that they had on site and get my photo taken on Santa's sleigh. Overall the Santa Claus house was a fun thing to do our first day in town. It is absolutely and solely a tourist attraction with overpriced souvenirs but it’s a fun way to get in the North Pole spirit and is relatively free (no admission charge) for grown-ups and kids a like! I recommend at least stopping by and seeing if you are on the naughty or nice list and grabbing a cup of coffee while venturing around the property grounds.
For more information, visit the Santa Claus House website where they also offer deeds and letters from Santa : )
Fountainhead Antique Car Museum-
Yep…you read that right. In Fairbanks, AK there is an antique car museum… and it’s actually really cool! Over 80 vehicles (a majority of them still run) and over 100+ historical clothing and garments make up this “living museum”. The collection of automobiles and wardrobes is well organized, informative and very educative and spans from the Victorian to the Art Deco era. Admission for adults is $10 and $5 for kids 6-12. There are also a couple of photo opportunities while dressed in vintage garments and if you are lucky enough to go by in the summer time, rumor has it that you MIGHT be able to take a ride in one of the cars when they take them out in the parking lot to run them (which is what makes this a 'living museum'). Spending a couple of hours here during your trip is well worth the time!
For more information, visit the Fountainhead Antique Car Museum website.
Paws For Adventure LLC-
Upon heading to Alaska, dog sledding quickly became my “must do” item. If you follow me on social media, it is well documented that I absolutely LOVE dogs….they are simply the way to my heart! Paws does a wonderful job of taking care of the dogs and making sure you feel comfortable about what they are actually doing on site. The owner, Leslie, is truly passionate about her facilities and the well-being of the dogs. There are many dog sledding options but Paws simply made me feel right at home and they are one of the most competitive price wise. My favorite part? Well…. spending hours petting all the dogs (I didn’t want any to feel left out!), but I also truly enjoyed learning so much from our dog musher, Spencer. He was extremely knowledge and willing to share all of his expertise with us during our run. Paws offers tours year round in a variety of tour options.
*Tip: in the winter, you will need AWD or 4WD to access the last part of their road way (I recommend only renting these vehicles anyways but if you find yourself in a 2WD vehicle, then just call Paws and they will work with you on getting you on site).
For more information, visit the Paws For Adventure website.
Things I Didn’t Do That YOU Should:
Chena Hot Springs- Located about 60 miles from Fairbanks, Chena offers hot springs driven by a geothermal power plant, resort lodging, an ice museum that offers tours AND you can order an ice glass drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic options are available) and there are plenty of outdoor activities available.
Denali National Park- Awe inspiring year round, Denali boasts North America’s highest peak, snow-capped mountains and sweeping views. You can hike in the summer and the winter by monitoring road conditions on their website or by visiting with the visitor center prior to your drive out there.
Overall, Fairbanks is a great way to get to know the interior and arctic parts of Alaska. Keep in mind that during the winter you are working with limited sunlight and ice covered roads, but the snow covered views are breathtaking and you have a chance at seeing the Aurora Borealis and that by itself is worth the weight of the world.
If the lights don’t do it for you then wait a bit for the summer to melt away the winter snow and Alaska has a whole other world to offer under the midnight sun. Trail hiking and hunting is a bit more accessible during the summer.
From fishing to hiking to scenic railroad rides; Alaska has plenty to offer all year round. It is aptly named, The Last Frontier and Fairbanks truly is the gateway to the magic of interior Alaska.
For more information on the area, reach out to my friends at Explore Fairbanks.
North Pole Lover