We’re heading further north to the Golden Heart City of Fairbanks this week as part of our three part series for parents of smaller children. Last week, we explored southcentral Alaska and found some pretty fun stuff for kids age 0-5, and now we head to the other major hub city, Fairbanks.
Fairbanks, located 360 miles north of Anchorage, is home to some hardy Alaskans who know how to keep their kids busy and happy all year long. From skiing and dog mushing in the wintertime, to hiking and biking during the long summer months, Fairbanks is one happening place. Here are our top picks for family fun with your littlest peeps:
Pioneer Park: The Park Formerly Known As Alaskaland (I say that because many people still refer to it in this manner) is owned by the Fairbanks North Star Borough, and is the best place for kids to get a little wiggly and giggly while still learning something about this unique community. Besides the age-appropriate playground, smaller children will enjoy riding Red and Roela’s Carousel, eating ice cream at the Gold Rush Antique Ice Cream Parlour, and riding the little Crooked Creek Railroad, a short loop that takes visitors around the entire park for a mere $1. Entrance to the park is free, so even if you don’t want to spend any cash, you are still able to meander the beautiful grounds and have a little unstructured play time. Summer brings lots of free music, too, in the rotunda area.
Creamer’s Field Migratory Bird Refuge: Do small kids really care about birds? In Alaska, they do, mostly because at the end of each summer a squawking, dancing flock of Sandhill Cranes converge on the property as part of their annual migration. Acres and acres of meadowland are at your disposal at this former dairy farm, and kids are treated very well, with monthly programs and guided hikes from the Farmhouse Visitor Center. Do take the Boreal Forest trail, too, and show your preschooler or toddler how much fun it can be to “trip-trap” your way across wooden boardwalks, just like the Billy Goats Gruff. Free, but donations are always welcome. Hint: Visit in the early morning hours or after dinner to either kill some time before breakfast, or wind down so kids will sleep, this almost-constant daylight thing can be tough on small children and their parents.
Calypso Farm and Ecology Center: We discovered this little gem in the nearby community of Ester (about 11 miles from Fairbanks), and love, love it. A working organic farm, co-founders Tom and Susan are dedicated to educating about and advocating for sustainable agriculture. Kids can dig in the dirt, munch on a carrot, see enormous flowers and vegetables, and even visit the goats, sheep, and other critters calling the farm home. Calypso Farm is located on a slope that affords parents awecome views of the surrounding landscape, too. It’s peaceful and it’s real, and I guarantee a welcoming smile from any and all staff. Free admission, special tours (field trips) range start at $5/child. Call 907-451-0691 for info. Psst, if you have a big family or group, take the Pizza-Making class. Yummo!
Fairbanks Childrens Museum: The newest kid on the block for family fun in Fairbanks, this “museum without walls” offers periodic events to inspire and provide hands-on learning to small children. Though not in a permenant home as of yet, the board of directors and an incredibly dedicated group of volunteers work constantly to provide consistant opportunities for local and visiting children. Heading to Fairbanks soon? Check their calendar for upcoming events. $5/child (up to $15/family), but grownups are free.
Riverboat Discovery: Along with their sister attraction, the El Dorado Gold Mine (that I recommend for older preschoolers and up), Riverboat Discovery is owned and operated by one of Fairbanks’ oldest families, the Binkleys, who for years have dedicated their lives to entertaining the masses about life back in the town’s early days. The Riverboat tour offers a bit more flexibility for families of smaller children, with walking space, free doughnuts and lemonade (yeah, we’re suckers for free food), and an opportunity to get out and walk around the Chena Indian Village mid-journey. There is plenty of talking by grownups, and a certain “herd” atmosphere, but we found no resistance when walking around instead of listening to the presentations. AK Kid enjoyed peering into the log cabin trading post, sitting on an antique snow machine, and seeing a fish wheel in action. Nice, wide pathways provide easy access for strollers and toddling legs, and young staff are quite charming. Adults are $54.95, children 3-12 are $37.95, and kids under 3 are free. It’s not cheap, but if you have an Alaska TourSaver coupon book, at least one of you will go free of charge, with the 2-for-1 deal. On a sunny day, this tour is delightful, and kids will see plenty.
Of course, Fairbanks is full of other opportunities, so check out the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center on Dunkel Street for the latest and greatest in Interior Alaska family fun.
Our next post will focus on activities in Southeast Alaska. If you’re planning an Alaska cruise with your little ones, you won’t want to miss it!