Last Updated: September 27, 2022
“Extreme” is one word you’ll often hear when residents describe Fairbanks, Alaska. The Golden Heart City sits at 64.8° North latitude—far north enough to generate some pretty harsh weather. In fact, the record for the coldest New Year’s Eve in Fairbanks was set in 1969, when the temperature dropped to -60° F. (Even we think that’s pretty cold!)
However, if you’re willing to endure the brisk winters, Fairbanks has plenty to offer. It’s the home of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which acts as one of the hubs of activity in the area. Fairbanks is also considered one of the best places in Alaska to see the Northern Lights. Additionally, there are plenty of winter sports opportunities to keep you busy during those dark months, and lots of family-friendly activities during the rest of the year.
Finally, although only 32,515 people live in the city of Anchorage, 95,655 people live in the greater Fairbanks North Star Borough. And 95,655 people can’t be wrong, can they!?!
If you’re considering a move to Fairbanks, we’ll give you our insider’s tour of the Golden Heart City. We’ll show you what you need to know, where to live, and how to enjoy your time in Fairbanks.
We’ll start with a few must-knows about the city of Fairbanks.
Fun Facts About Fairbanks, Alaska
- Fairbanks originally got its start as a gold rush boomtown. In 1902, an Italian immigrant named Felix Pedro discovered gold in the area. Captain E.T. Barnette had just set up a trading post at Tanana Crossing, and people soon rushed the area to try and make their fortunes.
- In 1917, the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines was established in Fairbanks. As the name implies, agriculture was the institution’s major focus. As the school expanded to offer classes in liberal arts, science, and engineering, its name was changed in 1935 to the one you recognize today: the University of Alaska.
- Don’t miss the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO), held in Fairbanks each July. For over 60 years, this event has showcased games of strength, endurance, balance, and agility—skills needed to ensure survival in the harsh Alaskan environment. These games offer a unique glimpse into the cultural traditions and heritage of the Native peoples you’ll find in the Fairbanks area.
- It doesn’t get more “Alaska” than a sled dog race. The Yukon Quest is a 1,000-mile sled dog race between Fairbanks, AK and Whitehorse, YT that pits competitors against the world’s most extreme elements—and each other. In Fairbanks, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of this annual event.
- You might know Fairbanks as a great place to view the Northern Lights, but did you know where they come from? When the sun ejects electronically charged solar particles into space, and they interact with the atoms and molecules that make up our atmosphere, these particles emit energy in the form of light. For this reason, scientists view the Northern Lights as a unique opportunity for us to experience “space weather” here on Earth.
Now that you know a little about the city, let’s get down to one of the biggest questions we hear about moving to Fairbanks…
What Is the Weather Like in Fairbanks?
We’re not going to sugarcoat it: Winters are cold in Fairbanks. In fact, the average high in January is 0° F. That’s 32 degrees below freezing—and that’s the average high. However, you will get a bit of a respite in summer. July is the hottest month in Fairbanks, and you’re looking at averages from the low 50s to the low 70s.
Tip: If you want your car to survive the winter, you’ll need to winterize it. This generally entails winter tires and a block heater—for starters. You might also want a trickle charger, a battery blanket/battery heater, and/or an oil pan heater. Before your first Alaska winter, take it to a trusted mechanic to get yourself all set up.
You can expect winter to be both dark and cold in Fairbanks. (Check out our guide on surviving your first Alaskan winter for our tips!) Additionally, you’ll find that the winter snowpack is established by mid-October. In other words, once that snow hits the ground, expect it to stay there until March or April. When it all melts, be ready with a good pair of boots, like a pair of XTRATUFs.
Since Fairbanks is situated so far north, you’ll really feel the extremes (there’s that word again!) when it comes to sunlight and darkness. From April to August, you’ll have abundant sunlight, with 20+ hours of daylight each day in June.
However, the opposite is true in the winter months. In December, you may only see about 3–4 hours of sunlight, which can really weigh on some people. During these darker months, a sunlamp can be a huge help—and a huge mood booster!
Now that you have a good sense of what the weather is like in Fairbanks, let’s tackle the next obvious question: Where’s the best place to live?
What’s the Best Place to Live in Fairbanks?
As we mentioned earlier, 95,655 residents call the Fairbanks North Star Borough home. While that might seem like a lot of people (for Alaska, at least), the borough covers an area of 7,444 square miles. That’s just a little smaller than the state of Massachusetts. Consider that Massachusetts has a population of 6.9 million, and you’ll get a good sense of just how sparsely populated the Fairbanks North Star Borough is as compared to the Bay State.
Much of the Fairbanks North Star Borough is wide-open, unpopulated land. The majority of the population is concentrated around Fairbanks and along the borough’s major roads. You’ll find plenty of places to live in these areas, but our favorites include:
A friendly, quiet community with resident artists living alongside families. Ester is about five miles west of the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, so you’ll get a little more peace and quiet than you would closer in to town. Although many of Ester’s residents commute into Fairbanks for work, the town has retained its own unique identity, which is a major part of Ester’s appeal.
As the name suggests, College is the area where you’ll find the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Although it’s often considered part of Fairbanks proper, College is technically its own census-designated place. A good portion of College delivers a fairly suburban feel, although the areas closer to UAF can seem a bit more busy. Of course, no matter where you live in College, you’ll have easy access to both Fairbanks’ downtown amenities, as well as the area’s outdoor adventures.
North Pole, Alaska, is only about 13 miles from downtown Fairbanks. However, in spirit, it’s probably a whole world away. North Pole embraces its name to the fullest by celebrating the Christmas spirit year-round, with the Santa Claus House as its crowning jewel. With a population of around 2,700, living in North Pole means even smaller-town life than living in Fairbanks. However, it’s that same community spirit that’s kept long-time residents in this whimsically-named town.
Finally, if you’re wondering what your days will be like in Fairbanks, let’s take a look at the activities you’ll find in the area.
Things to Do in Fairbanks, Alaska
Hiking & Backpacking
If you’re looking for a place where you can experience year-round adventures on glaciers and mountains, Fairbanks is that place. Just 150 miles away is Denali National Park, home to Mt. McKinley (also called Denali), North America’s highest peak at 20,237 feet. In ancient history, the park was home to mammoths, which feasted on what were predominately grasslands. Now, tundra has taken over, the mammoths are buried, and humans climb and slide around the enormous glacial playground best reached by air taxis. Forget a walk on the beach—this is real adventure. Campers can also whet their appetite in the numerous public parks that surround Fairbanks, including the Chena River State Recreation Area and Tanana Valley State Forest.
Of course, you’ll also find plenty of winter sports in and around Fairbanks. Our favorite happens to be cross-country skiing. The Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks is highly active in hosting races and other events, such as the annual Sonot Kkaazoot 50k and 20k cross-country ski race, skiathalons, junior championships, and plenty of other events.
Or, maybe your tastes run to something a little different—like roller derby. The Fairbanks Rollergirls (“Derby with a heart of COLD”) is a nonprofit amateur sports team owned and operated by the women themselves. Strap on your skates and pads and let loose—right after you pick the kids up from ski practice.
Stargazing and Bird Watching
The Northern Lights can be seen as many as 200 nights a year around Fairbanks. Pack some coffee, moose jerky, and a comfortable chair. Find yourself a spot in one of the many public parks around Fairbanks to relax and enjoy one of nature’s most colorful dreamscapes.
Or, if birdwatching is more your style, grab your binoculars and head to Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge to catch some graceful gliders and winged wanderers. Bird enthusiasts will also love the Sandhill Crane Festival, which takes place the final weekend in August to celebrate the return of the migratory sandhill cranes.
Soak Up Some Heat
If the cold in Fairbanks ever gets to be too much, make a visit to the Chena Hot Springs Resort. The resort sells daily hot springs passes which offer you access to the hot springs lake, indoor heated pool, outdoor and indoor hot tubs, and the locker area and shower facilities. You can even add on towel service for just $5. Since the Hot Springs Lake maintains an average temperature of 106° F all year long, it’s a great way to warm your bones in the dead of winter.
Discover Local Indigenous Culture
In addition to the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to explore the history and culture of Alaska’s Native peoples in the Fairbanks area. Stop by the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center to experience Alaska Native art, music, stories, and dance. Attend the Athabascan Fiddlers Festival and the Gwich’in Fiddle Dance in November to enjoy traditional dance and fiddle music. Or check out the Festival of Native Arts, held every March, whose line-up of workshops and performances are all organized by UAF Native students.
Celebrate Fairbanks History
The Golden Days Festival is a celebration of Fairbanks and all that the city has become. For five days each year, the city’s biggest festival includes memorable events like the Golden Days Parade, can-can shows, a half-marathon, a rubber ducky race, a traditional gold dredge, a street fair, and variety shows. Additionally, to acknowledge Fairbanks’ origin as a gold-rush town, you’ll see plenty of people around town dressed in Wild West gear or Victorian-era clothing.
Additionally, if you’re interested in learning more about the gold that brought so many people to Fairbanks, visit the El Dorado Gold Mine. This 110-year-old point of interest holds several tours a day from May to September. Visitors will see first-hand why so many gold miners traveled by steamboat to the Great White North in the early 20th century.
Finally, the Fairbanks Riverboat Discovery will give you a sense of what it might have been like to be Captain E.T. Barnette, who arrived to Fairbanks by boat. From May through September, visitors and locals alike can hop aboard real sternwheelers and cruise the waters around Fairbanks. If nothing else, it will offer you a new perspective on the city.
Enjoy Some Quality Family Time
If you have a family, you’ll also find plenty to keep them entertained in Fairbanks. Take them on a visit to the Pioneer Air Museum or the Fairbanks Ice Museum. Or, head over to Pioneer Park (formerly called “Alaskaland”), Fairbanks’ historical theme park. In the 44-acre park, you’ll find a carousel, a train that circles the park, plus shops, restaurants and activities for kids. And, of course, plenty of Fairbanks residents take their kids along on their ice fishing, hunting, sledding, hiking, and skiing adventures.
Making Your Home in Fairbanks
Living in Fairbanks offers you a taste of what many people call “real Alaska”—especially if you live in one of the area’s dry cabins with no running water. For those who find Anchorage too busy and urban, don’t mind the long, dark winters, and want to make the most of the area’s incredibly beautiful wilderness, Fairbanks can be the perfect spot.
If you’re ready to move to Fairbanks, we’d be happy to help. Our Anchorage-based team has helped individuals and families move to locations all over the state, including Fairbanks. To get started, request a free quote from one of our experts.
Tell us about your move!