Midnight Sun Fun – Fairbanks, Alaska
Fairbanks is Alaska’s third largest city, sitting behind Anchorage and Juneau, but it’s a far cry from a Metropolis. I wouldn’t call it a pretty city, but it has its own charm and the University adds a youthful vibe that we totally dig. For us, rolling into Fairbanks was exciting on so many levels. We’re back in the land of fast 4G cell service, fuel is a fraction of the price vs. Canada and we have a full week of action packed celebration ahead including meet-ups with fellow travelers, Summer Solstice activities, our 9th anniversary and my 34th birthday. To simply say our time in this city flew by would be a total understatement!
Summer Solstice Fun
The entire town of Fairbanks seems to become a festival for the Summer Solstice…and who could blame them for compensating for their long dark winters? When the never ending sun comes out shining, they take full advantage of every moment of sunshine. There are all kinds of little events going on but the two big ones that drew us and our fellow travelers in were the Midnight Sun Run and Midnight Sun Baseball Game. We did our best to capture it all (which we will edit and release at a later date), but we couldn’t help but share the craziness that is the Midnight Sun Run now to provide a glimpse into this cool city:
Midnight Sun Run – The 10k race was AWESOME! We’re not avid runners and this was our first organized running event since high school, but it benefits charity and costumes are encouraged, so we couldn’t say no. Fortunately there are people of all kinds out on the streets for this event. It’s not only an event for the participants, its one for the spectators & cheerleaders that create the block parties on the neighborhood streets. It makes for one fun run/walk/jog! We challenged ourselves to run 2.5 miles of the 6.2 miles and we succeeded in completing the 10k in just under 2 hours (which considering all the stops we made along the way, we thought this was decent). The event reminded us loosely of our debauchery at the New Belgium Brewing events we’ve attended over the years. If you’re looking for somewhere exciting to spend the longest day of the year we can totally recommend Fairbanks.
Midnight Sun Baseball Game – It’s the 110th year since the first baseball game here in Fairbanks was played without any lighting. The game starts at 10:30pm and lasts till after midnight (not that you could tell that from the photos below, this midnight sun is no joke). It’s a good time if you have some friends to hang out with (we had lots in town) or if you’re into baseball. The good news is they had local beer in cans for only $5 and tickets were a whopping $20, so it’s relatively cheap entertainment and a neat thing to do in the middle of the “night”. If you’re curious “home” team won, woo hoo 🙂
Disc Golf – The 9-hole UAF Disc Golf Course at the university is wide open and perfect for beginners, or if you just need to get out and stretch your legs in the warm sun. It’s right by the museum so you can kill 2 birdies with one “disc” if you’re into doubling up on your culture and history! However, even a seemingly easy course can be a challenge if you’re having an off day like Nikki was. She’s funny when she’s frustrated.
The nearby Birch Hill DGC is extremely challenging! They’ve converted the winter cross country skiing trails into a tree infested, tight fairway, disc eating course! Good news is we found discs for sale at the Sportsmen’s warehouse so you can restock your bag.
Where We Parked It
In Fairbanks we stayed with friends via a little RV driveway surfing (Thanks Bonnie & Chris!), I know that is not helpful to you but we did have friends stay at both Pioneer Park ($12/night 5 night max) and for free at Wal-Mart since they’re smack dab in the city and offer parking lot boondocking. One thing that is very helpful when driveway surfing (that we finally had the opportunity to test) is our Hybrid Inverter with a 15a outlet. After a few breaker trips we got the inverter setup to pull a max of 7a, which allowed us to activate all our RV outlets and run the A/C using the combined power of our lithium batteries.
Just 20 minutes outside of town we stayed in North Pole for two nights at Chena Lake Recreation Area. It’s $20/night or a killer deal of $100 for a season pass (5 nights in 1 night out). The lake is perfect for unwinding and piddling away an afternoon paddling and fishing (we even tried paddle board fishing). It’s a nice little spot away from the city but the downside is it’s near the military base so don’t expect total peace and quiet as fighter jets and cargo planes were a common occurrence overhead. (oh, and that’s not haze, that is smoke from the nearby fires covering the sky. It’s been one of the hottest summers for Fairbanks and the lightning you might have noticed in the Midnight Sun Run video caused several fires in the surrounding areas)
Tip – Don’t get confused like us, the Chena Lake Rec Area does have a dump station, but they do NOT have “pressurized” potable water, so fill up your tank in advance or stop by the nearby North Pole Tesoro gas station before you get out there.
Thwarted by Fires & Weather
Seven of the nine days we were in Fairbanks were over 80 degrees and sunny causing the temps inside the RV tom reach 90+ degrees! Not exactly what we expected in Alaska!
Apparently it’s common during the early summer for fires to break out all around the Fairbanks area (for various reasons) causing a thick layer of smoke to linger in the sky all the way down to Denali National Park area! Sometimes the smoke was so thick you couldn’t even see the sun in the sky. Some days we woke up to the smell of fire as if we left our campfire burning all night inside the RV. It’s not too pleasant and had us really feeling for the locals. It also led us to rethink and rework our planned travel route.
This is a photo of the sun I captured one evening with the smoke so thick it more closely resembles the moon!
Sips & Bites
We started our Beer journey at a place called The Banks Alehouse where we met up with our friends Jason and Kristen. It’s a sports bar that has a ton of AK beer on tap, we only drank here so I can’t comment on the food but it seemed like pretty typical pub fare. For dinner we hit up a little Thai food spot called Thai House Restaurant and we were totally surprised at the authentic flavors and spice! Turns out there are a ton of Thai food restaurants in this town so I guess they have to deliver top quality food to keep ahead of the competition.
One afternoon we made our way to the Tanana Valley Farmers Market to pick up some local produce. It’s a tiny market, and we’re early in the season, but there are several vendors serving up quality looking produce and farm fresh eggs. Best part of this journey was the discovery of one of the best falafel sandwiches we’ve ever had, it’s located just down the street from the market. It’s called the Pita Place and we were totally surprised by the fresh ingredients and authentic taste of our falafel sandwitch.
Silver Gulch Brewing and Bottling Company has a commercial that plays in Fairbanks that states “the best beer in the world is right here.” We thought the commercial was totally cheesy but for the sake of research (and meeting up with fellow travelers), we had to make the drive to nearby Fox, AK to sample the suds and eat at what many locals recommended as GREAT food experience. Overall it was good and totally worth the drive, but to call it the “best” might be a stretch. It is however the most northern brewery in America according to their website, so a good beer this far north might be automatically upgraded to a great beer!
A little tip – If it’s a hot day DO NOT sit upstairs. This place doesn’t have A/C and for some reason they won’t open the windows so it’s hot up there, maybe they do this so you’ll drink more beer!?! If so, genius!
Birthday and Anniversary Celebrations
Our 9th wedding anniversary was June 9th and my (Jason) 34th birthday was June 22nd. Now, everyone celebrates differently and for us we try to make big deals of the 5’s and 0’s and keep everything in-between more low key. So this year was spent enjoying festivities, friends and gifting each other fishing gear ($220 for poles, lures and such) and Alaska fishing licences ($145 per person). I know it doesn’t sound very romantic but it was lots of fun. The big question is, what are we going to do next year for the big 10 year anniversary and my 35th birthday? Maybe an international celebration?
Side Trips We Missed (Sigh)
Dalton Highway, Prudhoe Bay & the Arctic Circle
We were on the fence about the Dalton Highway and we must have gone back and forth a dozen times whether or not we’d attempt to travel it. In the end we decided there wasn’t enough time to do it and we really wanted to get away from the smoke. Many people make a day trip out of the drive to the Arctic Circle sign, take a photo, then make the 6 hour trek back to Fairbanks. Now that just seemed ridiculous to us because if we were going to drive all that way, we wanted to camp out for at least a day or two. After visiting the Public Lands office in town we found just 2 hours beyond the sign and past all the “boring mosquito infested tundra” is the stunning Brooks mountain range that rises up from the flats. I’m totally sad we didn’t get to see this with our own eyes.
Good news is, we spent so much time researching and making grand plans, we are all set for our next road trip to Alaska. If you’re thinking of heading north here’s what we thought would be a worthy adventure: Take the RV, hike and climb Finger Mountain (Mile Marker 98), snap a photo at the Arctic Circle (Mile Marker 115), Camp at Marion Creek BLM Campground (Mile Marker 180). Continue on to Sukakpak Mountain for hiking (Mile Marker 204), loads of hiking and photo opportunities throughout the Brooks Range (Mile Marker 235 – Mile Marker 300). We decided dropping back into the flat tundra and continuing onto Deadhorse (Mile Marker 414) was unnecessary so we planned to turnaround at Mile Marker 300 and setup camp at Galbraith Lake before heading back to Fairbanks.
Chena Hot Springs
This one was WAY up on our list of must-do spots but sometimes nature works against us in every way possible! Most everyone knows about the resort at Chena Hot Springs, the naturally landscaped pools are an extremely popular tourist destination. Most of the locals say they don’t bother with the springs during the summer months due to all the tourists (and heat), so I’m guessing it gets pretty busy up there with tour busses. The big draw for us was the Chena River State Recreation Area. We planned to spend a few days at Rosehip Campground directly on the Chena River. Great opportunities for fishing and paddling right from our site! From there we wanted to head up to the Granite Tors Trail for what we were told is a spectacular 15 mile loop through the 100 ft. high granite tors with killer views of the entire valley. Our next hike on the list is an easier 3.5 mile loop called Angel Rocks. We figured a nice long soak in the hot springs would be well earned after a couple days of hiking! Sounds perfect right? So what happened? Several fires sparked in the 2 days before our planned trip up Chena Hot Springs Road causing the smoke to settle in pretty heavy destroying any potential for good views, combine that with the 80+ degree days and all the sudden lounging around in hot water doesn’t sound too appealing.
Circle & Manby Hot Springs
In our original plans we thought we could make it to Circle and Manby Hot springs but due to time restraints we took these two off the list. Based on feedback from the Fairbanks locals Circle didn’t seem like it was worth the several hour dirt road drive “there’s not really anything worth seeing or doing up there” according to a few people.
We received mixed reviews from the locals on Manby: The road is extremely rough. Do you really want to drive 5 hours to sit in a concrete hot tub? The greenhouse sounded unique but its better when the weather is cooler and not so smoky. Other than the hot spring (and we were told Chena was more impressive) there’s literally nothing else there (so we were repeatedly told).
Fuel Prices – Fuel is the least expensive we’ve seen in a while at $3.40 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline.
Road Conditions – Everywhere we drove in Fairbanks was well maintained with only a few small patches of construction.
Weather – Temperatures were warm, like T-shirt and shorts warm, and since the sun never really set it was hot till late in the evening. Highs in the mid 80’s and the lows in the mid 50’s.
Dates Visited – June 17 – 26, 2015
How did you celebrate the longest day of the year wherever you were? If you’ve spent time in Fairbanks tell us what you think about the town and some of your favorite spots. We love hearing from you so please share in the comments below!