Big nature and big animals are the main attractions in Alaska. But in between those magnificent places are a few cities and towns that we wanted to weave into our itinerary. And glad we did! In addition to the towns of Sitka, Juneau and Talkeetna highlighted in previous blog posts, we spent nearly two weeks exploring Anchorage (population ~290,000) and Fairbanks (population ~30,000). And of course I have a few photos to share.
Anchorage: Alaska’s Largest City
Anchorage might appear at first glance to be a typical American city, but closer exploration shows some surprising facets of urban life in Alaska. . . . Human residents share their space with an estimated 1,500 moose, not to mention bald eagles, bears, beavers, Dall sheep, and the occasional lynx. King and silver salmon fill Ship Creek all summer long, drawing anglers to one of the world’s only urban salmon fisheries.
Just a block away, the Alaska Railroad’s largest passenger depot is at the center of train travel, as it has been for more than a century. . . . A bustling seaplane base at Lake Hood has planes casting off from docks near hotels and homes. There are around 600 takeoffs and landings on the big days, and many sightseeing tours by plane or helicopter. (Source: http://www.anchorage.net)
Anchorage Photo Galleries
Bears about Town
Alaska Botanical Garden
Sights along the Trails
Anchorage boasts 120 miles of paved biking and multi-use trails.
The Anchorage Museum features art, history, ethnography, ecology and science exhibits. It’s a must do!
Additional Photos from Anchorage
Our comfy vacation rental was conveniently located in mid-town Anchorage adjacent to a bike/walking trail and one block from public transit.
Our Take on Anchorage
- Anchorage is worth a visit – allow 3-4 days if you have time.
- Don’t expect to see moose, bears or other large mammals when you’re out and about. If you do, it’s a bonus!
- Rent a car if you can (we couldn’t – none available). While it’s possible to get around by walking or with Uber and public transportation, you’ll be challenged to make it to the Alaska Native Heritage Center and other attractions in outlying areas of the city.
- Definitely make time to visit the Anchorage Museum (it’s easy to spend an entire day) and walk (or rent a bicycle) the 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.
Fairbanks: The Golden Heart of Alaska
Believe it or not, Fairbanks is the third largest municipality in Alaska, with just 30,000 residents. Best known for its dark (3 hours 42 minutes of sunlight at winter solstice) and frigid (record low minus 66 degrees Fahrenheit) winters, the number one visitor attraction is the aurora borealis, or northern lights, visible on four out of five nights. But not in July, because it never gets dark. So that’s a visit for another time. Maybe.
Fairbanks Photo Galleries
Museum of the North
This fabulous museum that features nature, science, art and culture of the Circumpolar North is located on the UAF campus (University of Alaska Fairbanks).
A coming attraction next year – Into the Wild bus!
Large Animal Research Station (LARS)
Part of UAF, LARS studies muskox, caribou and reindeer on its 134 acre property. Visitors can participate in an informative guided tour.
Georgeson Botanical Garden
Located on the UAF campus, this five acre garden focuses on research and education programs in subarctic horticulture.
Because peonies flower later in Alaska than in the lower 48, they are in high demand as cut flowers. In fact, peonies were the state’s first commercial agricultural export product. Here’s a small sample of the varieties at the botanical garden.
More Photos from UAF
Student enrollment at UAF was ~7,500 in 2020. The campus was pretty unremarkable and, frankly, looked a little run down. However, we found a few interesting sights.
The impressive Geophysical Institute at UAF conducts “research programs in space physics, atmospheric science, seismology, volcanology, satellite remote sensing, tectonics and sedimentation. The institute operates a rocket range for space research and a satellite ground station with processing and archiving capabilities for earth science support.” (Source: UAF website)
Pioneer Park is a 44-acre historic village located on the Chena River within the city of Fairbanks. Along with other attractions, it features original buildings relocated from the downtown area which have been repurposed as shops and restaurants. A delightful way to spend a day.
A few of the cabins that have been relocated to Pioneer Park:
Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge
We only saw a few birds, but there were nice walking trails on this 1,800 acre property.
I enjoyed trying to capture interesting reflections in the lake:
Other Sights around Town
Our vacation rental was a sweet little bungalow located a couple of miles from the UAF campus – comfy and nicely appointed. Our host couple was super friendly and helpful.
Travel Tips for Fairbanks
- Go! We were surprised by the number and variety of visitor attractions. Fairbanks has a friendly vibe, and you can easily stay entertained for a week. We ran out of days and should have stayed longer.
- Rent a car (we did) – Fairbanks is not easily explored without a vehicle to get around.
- Make your first stop the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center for helpful sightseeing information, as well as outstanding educational exhibits about the area and the people. Plus it’s free!
Popular summer activities in Fairbanks that we missed, listed by our level of interest from highest to lowest:
- World Eskimo-Indian Olympics – our visit occurred just prior to this unique annual sporting event
- Trail Breaker Kennel – home and sled dog kennel of Susan Butcher, four time Iditarod winner
- Fairbanks Community Museum
- Chena Hot Springs and Aurora Ice Museum – road was temporarily closed due to an active wildfire
- Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
- Running Reindeer Ranch
- Riverboat Discovery
- Gold Dredge 8
And that’s the last of the summer 2021 Alaska travel posts. Thanks for coming along with us!