To Alaskans, sunlight is about as valuable as gold, and sometimes, just as hard to find. If you’re currently in the state, you’ve undoubtedly noticed an abundance of sunny skies and the resulting activities they encourage. Alaska residents go crazy for the sun, worship it even, bathing pale bodies in a wash of golden light, causing even the grumpiest sourdough to dance with unabashed joy. Think I’m kidding? Stick around for summer solstice during your vacation, and drink the delicious flavor of an Alaska non-winter. Solstice is the perfect time to visit; festivals and events celebrating this formerly-pagan holiday mean tons of kid-friendly activities with a focus on outdoor recreation. We love it. But then, we just put away the snow gear.
What is summer solstice? A Latin word derived from sol = sun, and sistit = to stop or stand still, the term and day are filled with magic and mystery derived from pagan religions. Our planet rotates on an axis, you know, and during the Summer Solstice, Earth tilts that Northern Hemisphere to catch the maximum amount of glimmering rays, thus those long, long daylight hours. Solstice officially arrives at 9:04 ADT on June 21, and after that date, the reverse operation begins until winter solstice arrives in December to put us all in the dark again. But never mind that right now, to Alaskans, summer solstice means daylight, lots of it, and depending upon where your family visits, more hours of sunshine than you could ever possibly outlast.
Every Alaskan has his or her own opinions about where one should celebrate summer solstice, so the phrase “anything goes” fits well with plans for staying up late. From hiking to scenic vistas or dancing in the streets, traveling families should be able to find an activity suitable for your kids’ abilities and interests. Below are a few highlights.
Festivals: Anchorage is home to the Downtown Solstice Festival, held between 4th Avenue and Town Square Park. Simply packed with activities, music, food, and crafts, the event pulls in visitors from around the world. Don’t miss the Hero Games, an annual event wrapped within the festival, in which local police and first responders go head-to head in a series of contests. Noon-6, Saturday, June 22.
Fairbanks closes downtown streets at Noon on Sunday, June 23 for their Midnight Sun Festival, going on until midnight. Look for lots of food, music and dancing, kids’ activities, and an abundance of bright skies.
Special events: Fairbanks visitors can also attend the only baseball game in the U.S. starting at 10:30 p.m. without benefit of artificial lighting. That’s right, if you have baseball fans in your family, you won’t want to miss this very fun game, full of tricks and treats for all little bat and ball boys or girls. Find the ball park at Wilbur Street and 2nd Avenue.
Outdoor fun: Hiking is a very popular activity during Solstice, mostly for the almost-setting sun so long after bedtime. In Anchorage, head up to Arctic Valley, Glen Alps, or to nearby Alyeska Resort in the community of Girdwood, 45 miles south of town.
In Fairbanks, try Murphy Dome, Angel Rocks, or a family stroll along the Chena Riverwalk, where kayakers, canoers paddle along the placid Chena, and bikers and walkers enjoy the flat, paved trail.
Southeast Alaska, while not reaping the full benefit of such late nights, still receives about 19 hours of daylight on Solstice, so take the kids up the Mount Roberts Tram for a bit of hiking along wildflower-laden trails in full view of stunning Gastineau Channel.
*For all Alaska hikes, check in with the community Alaska Public Lands Information Centers, where maps, trail reviews, and information about scenic vistas is readily available.
We also count the Alaska Marine Highway System (ferries) as one of our favorite places to spend a long summer night. The combination of water, wildlife, and unobstructed views of the sun setting (if it’s not rainy, that is), are fabulous.
Are you with us? Take a cue from thousands of Alaska parents who take Summer Solstice as an opportunity to embrace the wildly-swinging light and darkness. It’s a beautiful thing to behold during a visit, and, as we like to say…
“They can always sleep later.”
Read more about Alaska, and Solstice in previous posts: