Alaska : Safety by CityUnited States - safety as a country Alaska - state review
Get ready to see the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska.
This land-locked city is anything but isolated with many ways to get to, from, and around this beautiful forested region.
Summers are the most popular time to visit Fairbanks, but the winter brings the best viewing of the Northern Lights.
Even though the closest port is more than 400 miles away, cruise ship travelers choose multi-day excursions just to see this Inland Empire of the Last Frontier.
Christmas lovers will be thrilled to know the city of North Pole is just 20 minutes away and you can even play reindeer games at the reindeer farm.
(Is it the REAL North Pole?
We’ll never tell.)
Depending on the time of year you visit, you could experience the sun at midnight, or darkness at 10 am.
A popular midnight game happens in the summer where, at the stroke of midnight in broad daylight, you can catch a baseball game.
On the flip side, visiting in the winter is a type of cold you’ve never imagined.
The high in January is 0°(F).
If you like the cold, or can at least tolerate it happily, there are a wide variety of winter sports to enjoy and you won’t have to worry about sunburn.
Warnings & Dangers in Fairbanks
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk here because crime rates aren't all that great and the inherent challenges of being 400 miles inland near the Arctic circle. It's not dangerous, per se, but it's definitely a place to get educated about before you go and we'll help you along with that.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
There are plenty of options here by vehicle, air, train, and shuttle. The Metropolitan Area Commuter System (MACS) is the public transportation. What's great about this is the bus goes to just about all the tourist locations I'm going to tell you about — even the North Pole! Taxis are plentiful if you'd prefer to ride solo. There are several different vendors of air tours and shuttle trips, so do your research before you go.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
The theft rate here is a little high, with a one in 35 chance of being a victim. Only seven reports of pickpockets were made in 2020, so that's a little more assuring (and the thieves got away with just $323 total). There's a low risk it will happen to you, but I'd be a little more cautious in this town than in some other areas.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Wildfires are a big risk here and the emergency management team in this area is well prepared for the risks. It's important to know if you're traveling here in the summer, the smoke from wildfires can get stalled over Fairbanks, impacting air quality. The winter can also bring big winter storms and potentially deadly cold temperatures if you aren't prepared for it.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
There were four robberies labeled as "highway robberies", which means they happened in a public place. The risk is low, but it's a good reminder to avoid expensive bags, wearing valuable jewelry, or flashing around cash.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
If I could have a category between medium and low, I would use that ranking. We'll call it low-mediumish. Here's the thing. Fairbanks is a transportation hub and terrorists have been known to hit mass transit systems. The Alaska Pipeline is also just 50 miles away. If a strike happened here, so many people would be tourists without cars, it would be hard to evacuate. However, since there's no port here, that could also lower the risk.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
I really thought there would be scams against tourists here since it's such a popular place, but this city gets the same old scams as the lower 48 that target residents. The best word of caution is to be sure to book an excursion through your cruise line if possible, so you know it's a licensed and safe adventure. If you're just flying here, ask your hotel for the most reliable tours.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
If women are prepared for the winter cold and can handle the rough edges of a deep-inland Alaska community, they should be just fine with low risk.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The tap water here passed all necessary inspections without violations, so there's a low risk. If you research this, there has been a contamination issue in the past, which tells me the area is vulnerable to it. You should check the Gold Heart Utilities website when you arrive to see if there are any water advisories.
Safest Places to Visit in Fairbanks
The Northern Lights, officially known as Aurora Borealis, can be seen in all their splendor from late August through late April.
You do need to plan on where to view them and maybe be a little patient and they aren’t guaranteed every night.
ExploreFairbanks.com has a great “Aurora” tracker, so you’ll know the best time of day to go with current weather conditions.
Anytime you want to come in from the cold, or get away from air quality risks in the summer, the Museum of the North will not let you down.
This is on the campus of the University of Alaska – Fairbanks.
Whether you want to see the remains of an arctic dinosaur, learn about the indigenous people, or explore wildlife in the state, this is the perfect place to spend half a day.
I was especially intrigued by “The Room Where You Go To Listen”, which is a quiet space with sounds of the seasons playing in a dark room and you’re immersed in the summer solstice or the fall moon and several other listening options.
Car lovers must see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and you’ll see the very first cars to ever drive through the Alaska Wilderness.
I’m not especially into cars, but so many reviews say this is the #1 tourist attraction in the city, and some of the videos make some really interesting points.
I’d even enjoy a couple of hours here.
Don’t miss it just because you’re not into cars.
Pioneer Park is so much more than a community park.
It’s a theme park with attractions all designed to have fun and learn a little bit about Fairbanks along the way.
I got excited when I saw there was a bear gallery there, because I love bears, but it’s part of an art display.
Still cool, but you’re not coming face to face with a grizzly.
My sources tell me if you visit this park you should not miss the Alaska Salmon Bake.
The website says you should go “Just for the Halibut.”
Good to see a sense of humor in Alaska.
Gold Daughters Alaska is a great place to go if you want to pan for some gold.
You’re guaranteed to get some gold when you purchase a packet of paydirt.
There’s also a history of mining museums on site.
You’ll never find another place to visit like the Aurora Ice Museum and Chena Hot Springs.
Yes, those are two attractions in one place.
Even the ice museum is open in summer and this is also a great place to view those stunning Northern Lights.
The Running Reindeer Ranch is the place I’d move into if they let me.
(I love reindeer so much I have a dog named Donner.)
This attraction is by appointment only, but it’s worth it because you get an interactive reindeer experience and not just through a fence.
The reindeer will walk alongside the tour and you can take all the photos you’d like.
There’s even Reindeer Yoga for those who want to savasana among wild animals.
Places to Avoid in Fairbanks
Fairbanks really isn’t big enough to have a good side vs. a bad side of town.
The city is home to just 32,000 people and crime is spread throughout the community.
When planning your Alaska trip, you should know that some of the attractions – indoor and outdoor – are only open during certain seasons.
There are more attractions open during summer, but there are, obviously, more snow activities and attractions in the winter.
Birch Hill Ski Resort is the closest place to ski the slopes or do some cross country skiing.
They do close down if the temperature is greater than -25°(F).
It is open year-round, but different activities take place depending on the snowfall.
One of the great things about visiting Alaska is there are plenty of social forums on Reddit and Facebook from people who are expert cruisers/travelers and locals who can help answer any specific question you have about any certain region.
Start following those groups a good three months before your trip so you can be fully informed by those who know the area best.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Fairbanks
- If you live in a place where it normally doesn’t get too cold, you don’t have to go broke buying all the Gortek winter gear that you might not use again. There are winter clothes rental services, like Kit Lender, that will stock you up before your trip and you just mail them back when you are done.
- Cell phone service is hit or miss at many of the attractions outside the city limits, and you’re not going to get the high speeds that you might be used to all of the time. Check with your wireless provider to see where service limits are for your phone.
- Sign up for safety alerts through Nixle.com. The Fairbanks Police Department posts messages about weather warnings, crime, and civil emergencies. Most cities in Alaska are on this system, so look for every city on your Alaskan itinerary.
- The Fairbanks Police Department is really good about sending updates on Facebook when crimes happen or criminals are on the run. It’s a good idea to follow them to see the types of crime trends closer to your visit.
- Alaska.org has a great guide on how to dress in the winter. You might think you know how cold it is, but even some locals tell me it’s “next-level cold”, “so much colder than you think”, and “the coldest you’ve ever been is a spring day in Alaska.” There are specifics like not wearing cotton as a base layer and even an interesting one of suggesting men put a hat over their genitals to avoid the cold winds from getting through. There’s a full packing list with specific brands and fabrics, so check it out.
- As I write this in early 2022, there’s a wolf alert in the popular Chena Lake Recreation Area. A pack of wolves devoured a moose. While wolf attacks on humans are pretty rare, it’s still a risk. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has a great explanation of why wolves act the way they do. Wolves will only come after you if you are near a den, trying to trap them, or if they’ve been injured. If you do get approached by a wolf, don’t turn around and run. NEVER turn your back on a wolf (or a bear, for that matter). Make loud noises and go back the way you came so you don’t run closer to the den. Another option? Climb a tree. Wolves can’t do that and they’ll eventually lose interest in you.
- Now let’s talk about bears. Bears like to use the same trails you do, so there’s a good chance of a sighting. Bring bear spray with you, just in case. Never approach a bear. Use the zoom function to get a picture. Don’t leave food for them or attempt to feed them. If you do encounter them, you should let them know you’re a person by talking in your regular voice. Keep walking backward and if the bear gets too close, make really loud noises and use the bear spray as a last resort.
- Now let’s talk about moose. As a symbol of Alaska, they are generally non-aggressive (don’t read that as “friendly”) but do have a bad habit of running into traffic. There are more than 800 vehicles vs. moose crashes each year. Ask locally what hot spots are for moose sightings, so you can drive slower in those areas.
- If you want to fish or hunt in Alaska, you will need a license. Those are available online at the Alaska Department of Fish & Game website. The hunting regulations went through a big change in the 2021-2022 update, so review the “Hunting Regulations” booklet for all the new information.
- You can still try to strike it rich in Alaska parks, but you must have a permit to do so. You can’t just go panning without the required permit.
So... How Safe Is Fairbanks Really?
There is a lot of information out there that says Fairbanks is one of the most dangerous cities in the United States based on size.
By statistics, that’s definitely true.
The numbers make it look like an unsafe area.
However, when you drill down into the numbers, you’ll see that the theft risk, which is twice the national average, includes 46% of theft crimes that wouldn’t impact tourists.
They were either shoplifting or taken from a building.
Most crimes happen between 8 pm and 4 am in Fairbanks, on average.
This isn’t a town where you’ll want to be walking around at night anyway.
A good chunk of the crimes that happen in Fairbanks and Alaska as a whole are from domestic situations.
So you should be aware of the crime numbers, and you should practice all the good safety steps, but you aren’t in imminent danger.
There’s trouble to find if you go looking for it, but otherwise, you’ll be fine.
You must have a good weather app on your mobile device and check it each day.
You need to see how cold it’s going to get, as that could close down some attractions.
You need to know about air quality in the summer because it can make being outside very uncomfortable.
You wanted an adventure and you’ll get it in Alaska, but there are a lot of things to plan for different than if you were going on a trip to anywhere in the lower 48.
How Does Fairbanks Compare?
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- Visas - The Visa and proof of home country citizenship happens at the port if you took a cruise ship, or at the airport. If you are a U.S. Citizen, you don't need a passport. Should any part of your trip take you to Canada, you'll need a passport for that. You don't have to do additional processing to be in Fairbanks.
- Currency - You'll use the U.S. Dollar here. Fairbanks has a handful of currency exchanges in town. Pay for what you can in advance so you don't have to pull your wallet out as much (and take the glove off your hand in the cold). One credit card should suffice here, and be sure to let your bank know you'll be traveling so you don't get a fraud alert while making purchases.
- Weather - Temperatures are at or near single digital for daytime highs from November through February. Expect daily lows in this range to be below freezing. Spring brings temperatures between the 40s and 60s for highs and down to the 20s for lows. Summer warms up to an incredible mid-70s for highs (I can't say "During the day" because it's "day" 22 hours through much of the summer) and the upper-40s or low-50s for highs. Remember to study up on cold-weather attire.
- Airports - Fairbanks Airport is your only option unless you're taking a smaller plan to get back to the cruise ship. It's right on the southwest side of town. The Anchorage airport is nearly a seven-hour drive south.
- Travel Insurance - You'll want to get travel insurance for a trip to a place this isolated. Snow, smog, fog, and mechanical issues in the cold can cause delays or cancellations. Be prepared with travel insurance.
Fairbanks Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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