This article originally appeared in the Alaska Dispatch News August 28, 2015. Make sure you keep tabs on my weekly column, “Kids in the Outdoors,” normally appearing on Tuesdays in the ADN Sports and Outdoors section. This week we moved in honor of our fair-themed musings. You can find the KIO column easily by hitting the big, red button on the blog’s home page. ~EK
PALMER — It’s nearly here, my favorite powdered-sugar-funnel-cake-pig-racing-giant-vegetable-and-music event. The Alaska State Fair in Palmer opens Thursday, Aug. 27, representing the some of the best of Last Frontier culture and agricultural wizardry. I can almost taste those crab cakes and see the enormous pumpkins.
Running through Sept. 7 with a full schedule of activities, food and entertainment to tantalize even the youngest visitor, the state fair is in its 79th year of showcasing Alaska life. The 12-day extravaganza will unfold come rain, shine or school schedules, and children are expected be a big part of the 300,000-plus people who take part.
Thankfully, plenty of moms and dads have experienced the fair with their children, and judging by the amount of face paint and crazy hair that appears on social media channels, it would seem that most had a great time.
Here are a few tips for enjoying the 2015 Alaska State Fair with kids. As always, pack your best smile and positive attitude. Fairs are a rite of passage for kids, even if they end up a little sticky.
• Pre-purchase tickets. Between now and Aug. 26, fair admission tickets may be purchased at alaskastatefair.org. The discounts aren’t deep, only a few dollars, but the convenience of breezing through admission gates with children is priceless.
• Know how you’ll get there. The Alaska State Fairgrounds are along a country road, and it can frustrating to sit on the Glenn Highway interchange, waiting in a miles-long line with restless kids, to reach a fair parking lot.
Try the Old Glenn Highway exit a few miles earlier if arriving from Anchorage, and take the extra 10-mile scenic route to Palmer. It’ll put everyone in the appropriate “country fair” mood.
Another option is to take the Alaska Railroad’s Fair Train. Tickets are going fast, but there are seats available on select dates, priced at $14 for adults, $10 for kids (0-11 if in their own seat), with children ages 2 and under free if sitting on a lap. The ride is about 90 minutes each way. Returns are open-ended, and the last departure from Palmer leaves at 10:15 p.m. from the fair’s Green Gate. Beware, the train has no services on board, so bring snacks, drinks, diapers, toys and anything else necessary for peaceful transit.
If you can’t get on the train, try the Valley Mover bus service from Anchorage, departing Northway Mall in east Anchorage at 9:10 a.m. and arriving back in Anchorage at 5:15 p.m. The bus is $10 for a day pass, $7 one-way, and is cash only, with exact change required. This trip takes a bit longer than two hours, so be prepared.
• Take advantage of discount days. The Alaska State Fair offers six special-admission days that offer free or two-for-one savings on admission fees.
• Arrive with the first wave (at noon Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m. Saturday, Sunday and Labor Day). You’ll find fewer lines, lots of fresh food and happy animals. Ride the rides first, nosh on old-fashioned fair food, then peruse the barns and exhibits, knowing you’ve already fought the good fight against a crush of people waiting to ride the Gravitron. Plus, if your kids have been amused and fed, in that order, peace will reign and adults will be able to observe the efforts of bakers, farmers and others who have entered items for judging in the exhibition barns.
• Pace yourselves. For many children, particularly younger ones, fairs are noisy, confusing places with much to see at once. Be sure to pick up a map of the fairgrounds at any entrance gate, and plot your day according to your family’s interests. Take advantage of out-of-the-way seating near the fairground peripheries, and watch the world go by as you relax for a bit.
**Try the Family Rest Stop inside Raven Hall for a place to let toddlers toddle, babies eat and nap, and parents sit down for a few minutes.
• Pack wisely. Bring snacks, drinks, and some wet wipes for dusty hands and faces. Pay attention to the weather, and pack rain gear if necessary. Make sure everyone is clad in comfortable, closed-toe walking shoes, especially those who want to tackle the big rides.
Erin Kirkland is author of “Alaska on the Go: Exploring the 49th state with children” and publisher of AKontheGO.com, Alaska’s only family travel resource. Connect with her at email@example.com.