Enjoying the Fairbanks Ice Museum and the Alaskan Midnight Sun

aurora ice museum welcome

By the time we arrived to Fairbanks on our Alaska road trip and checked in to the hostel, it was getting late. And we had to leave at 7 the next morning for a long drive.

That left us only a few hours to explore the city. Fortunately, we managed to make it to the Fairbanks Ice Museum downtown just in time for their last show of the evening. And what a show it was!

The museum presented an ice carving and a film about the Aurora Borealis. That makes sense, since Fairbanks is considered by many to be the one of the best places in Alaska to see the Northern Lights.

Visiting the Fairbanks Ice Museum

The program began with an introduction from a local ice carver. Every March, Fairbanks is home to one of the biggest ice carving competitions in the world. One artist is on hand here each day to provide demonstrations.

A collection of ice sculptures are displayed with pretty lights behind glass windows, where they can be stored at 20 degrees. You’ve got your stereotypical Alaska shelter, the igloo, with a scary wolf watching nearby.

Ice igloo carving

Full-size igloo inside the Fairbanks Ice Museum!


I don’t know how else to describe this piece of art, except a pink lady lying on her back with her legs in the air. I’m sure there’s no latent meaning behind this one. It’s just artsy, right?

Ice pink lady carving

Here’s the cool part: There’s one room in the Fairbanks Ice Museum that you can actually walk inside to touch some of the ice creations. So we got to poke our heads through Eskimo sculptures and stand behind a bar made of ice and pretend to chug whiskey. It was all pretend. No real whiskey chugging here… just pretend…

fairbanks museum - ice posing

After we were given a few minutes to browse the icy goodness, the artist moved behind a glass wall and busted out his power tools to sculpt a plain block of ice into something pretty.

Ice carving in action

Later, he brought out the super-sized blow dryer to permanently freeze it in place.

ice blow drying

It’s a snail on a leaf! I think.

snail ice carving - fairbanks ice museum

The previous hour’s carving was still on display, and was equally impressive in my opinion. Look at that magnificent sea horse!

48 Hours in Banff National Park: A Suggested Itinerary

Sea horse ice statue

It’s always thought-provoking when you encounter someone who is such a specialist at such an obscure trade. Imagine dedicating your entire life to learning to carve and sculpt ice. What an odd profession. But an incredibly cool one at the same time.

Other Things To Do and See in Fairbanks, Alaska

Once the ice carving and a subsequent Aurora Borealis film ended, it was back out to the street. The time was approaching 10:00, but at this near-Arctic latitude, it looked like the middle of the day.

Fairbanks Ice Museum exterior

As we tried to adjust to the late daylight, we walked around downtown to see what else Fairbanks had to offer. I thought Fairbanks was bigger than it was. All I knew was that it was the second-largest city in Alaska, behind Anchorage. Turns out Fairbanks only has 30,000 residents. That’s just three times the size of the town in Beaver County, Pennsylvania where I grew up!

This is what the row of businesses in downtown Fairbanks looked like:

Downtown Fairbanks

So while there wasn’t as much in the way of nightlife as I expected, we passed on the bars and instead opted to see a local park.

More love for the native peoples with this prominent statue and fountain.

eskimo statue fountain - fairbanks things to do

These distance signs are always fun. Only 10,200 miles to Cape Town!

Fairbanks mileage sign

Even at this hour, some hoodlums were rafting down the river. Yeah, I call them hoodlums. Who knows what trouble they’re getting into?

fairbanks rafters

Finally, there it was. The midnight sun, peeking through the clouds to light up the early morning.

Midnight sun in Fairbanks

It finally got “dark” after 1 a.m., but only for a couple of hours. Seeing the sun at that hour made the drive up to Fairbanks worth it.

Have you ever seen an ice carving? Or the sun at midnight?

About Quirky Travel Guy

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based freelance writer & fan of indie rock, road trips, ice cream, squirrels on power lines, runaway shopping carts, and six-way intersections. Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, which may earn me a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.

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  1. Very cool museum. My coworker is from Fairbanks and she has told me all about the town. If I had a few more days in Alaska it would definitely make my itinerary.

  2. That is so amazing that you got to go to Alaska!! I can’t imagine it being that light at midnight. I would never sleep! I had a hard enough time in Paris in summer… Ice artists are exciting to watch; their precision is unbelievable. Love the “interactive” photos — you must’ve been freezing!

    1. We were so exhausted that it wasn’t actually that hard to sleep! The ice carving room was chilly but not too cold. The guy worked behind glass in his own room where it was 20 degrees.

  3. Ice sculpture is so fascinating. How fun that you got to see carving made in front of you. These are pretty impressive creations to have been created while people are watching. How long did it take? And the sight of so much light at 10 PM and that beautiful midnight sun… It all sounds like a fantastic experience 🙂

    1. I think it took 15-20 minutes. I’d love to go back when the big competition happens and watch even bigger sculptures get created.

  4. Those ice sculptures are just fascinating. It must be such hard work to create them.
    And their beauty is enhanced by lights in the dark!
    Wish you a wonderful weekend Scott:)

  5. Thanks so much for this article, and for linking to our website. I love your description of the Ice Museum! I’m sharing it on our facebook page for the Downtown Association of Fairbanks.

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