Fairbanks Train Station
Photo by: Ron Reiring, Creative Commons

Life is full of surprises. Just ask the inventors of some of the most important gadgets in the last century alone. Better yet, look at Christopher Columbus and his so-called discovery of America: landing on the shores of America wasn’t in his plan but it went on to become his life’s greatest achievement. The city of Fairbanks was founded in an almost similar manner.

The second largest city in the state of Alaska was accidentally founded by one Captain E.T. Barnette in 1901. Barnette, a known swindler, banker, and Yukon riverboat captain, originally intended to organize a trading post by the Tanana River. He found himself stranded on the Chena River instead after the riverboat carrying him was forced to turn back. Barnette initially planned to move on, but as luck would have it, gold was being uncovered in a location not more than 12 miles away from him. The gold rush brought business to Barnette’s trading post until it eventually became a settlement, named Fairbanks after then-Vice President Charles Fairbanks. Barnette was the first mayor of Fairbanks.

Fairbanks is located just 358 miles to the north of Anchorage and acts as the center for most of the smaller villages scattered in the neighboring wilderness. Though Fairbanks is also relying on its tourism industry much like Anchorage, the citizens of Fairbanks offer a cozier, small-town feel to their accommodations.

Fairbanks’ position within the rings of the North Pole’s aurora oval provides Fairbanks a great opportunity to view the Northern Lights, one of the city’s most popular natural attractions. Much of the events are focused on the winter, though the city has its share of interesting summer attractions like the 44-acre Pioneer Park, a theme park focusing on the history of Fairbanks and doubles as a community park; water adventures like rafting, canoeing, and kayaking; marine tours that showcase the marine wildlife of Fairbanks; access to four of the town’s hot springs; and a honest-to-goodness riverboat tour courtesy of the Riverboat Discovery that not only explores Chena and Tanana Rivers, but also includes interesting bits about Alaska as a whole.

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