How To Spend A Day At The Chena River Walk In Fairbanks, Alaska
The Chena River Walk in Fairbanks is one of my favorite things to do in that city. I love all kinds of river or waterfront walks. As soon as there is some water nearby, a smile appears on my face automatically. That´s what happened when I traveled to Fairbanks, my third stop, during my Alaska road trip.
Fairbanks is the largest city in the Interior region of Alaska and is located about 196 miles/ 315 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle. And somehow I liked it even more than Anchorage. Maybe because of the atmosphere there is even more relaxed and laid back.
As soon as I heard about the river walk, I knew it would be the first what I like to explore when I arrive in Fairbanks. Especially after driving half of the day, I wanted to stretch my legs a bit.
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Chena River Walk in Fairbanks
The river walk starts at the Morris Thompson Visitor Center, follows the lead of the Chena River and ends at Pioneer Park. One way is about 3.5 miles/ 5,6 kilometers long. You can walk or bike it but make sure to stop here and there to rest, relax, and wonder about the beauty and calmness of the Chena River.
Morris Thompson Visitor Center
The Morris Thompson Visitor Center is an excellent way to start your time in Fairbanks. The kind and knowledgable staff will give you information and suggestions about what to do and where to go. It also has a small museum with the history of Alaska and even the Native Nation. You can watch movies about the Northern Lights, life in the wilderness, and many more.
The best thing I liked most is that as soon as you enter an area, you enter a sound system with all the sounds from animals, and winds, ocean, and others you find in the wilderness. Plus you can leave and park your car here and use their wifi for free. Both the riverwalk and downtown are only a few walking minutes away. So you don´t need to worry about parking fees.
At the visitor information center, you might see the Antler Arch; the gateway to Downtown Fairbanks and the river walk. The Antler Arch is an art piece, which is built out of 100 elk and caribou antlers, which came from all over Interior Alaska. Originally, it was planned to build it in front of the historic cabin, but during the work progress, one decided it is perfect for bringing attention to the bike and walking paths alongside the Chena River and eventually, it ended up as the marquee entrance of the Chena River Walk.
After a short four minutes walk, you´ll come around the downtown area and Golden Heart Park, where you´ll pass the Lend-Lease Memorial. The statue shows a Russian and American pilot of WWII, discussing the strategic and social importance of Alaska as a staging ground in the Lend-Lease program (1942-1945).
As part of the program, approx. 8,000 planes and other supplies were ferried to the eastern front from the Lower 48, over Canada and to Ladd Field (now Fort Wainwright, Alaska). There over 300 Russian pilots were waiting to fly the aircraft to Russia via the Bering Strait. R.T. Wallen, an Alaskan original, was the artist, who designed and created the sculpture. The memorial also honors the Women Airline Service Pilots (WASP) who participated in the Lend-Lease program.
Golden Heart Plaza
Soon you´ll come across the Golden Heart Plaza with the “Unknown First Family statue, the milepost of the Alaska Highway, which marks the northern end of it, and the headquarters of the Yukon Quest, a 1.000-mile international sled dog race.
From here you can also take a detour through the Downtown of Fairbanks with the ice museum, gift shops, restaurants or, and that´s what I suggest, do this on your way back.
Did you know that a time capsule, made from a piece of the Trans-Alaska pipeline and with over 200 items, is buried there? The re-opening is due on January 3rd, 2059, to celebrate the centennial of statehood.
Move forward in your own pace and pass historic homes and churches on 1st Avenue.
Relax, Rest And Information Areas
As long as you are in the downtown area and a bit longer, the riverwalk also follows the street. But, no worries, it´s still quiet enough as not so many cars come along. Every few meters you´ll find some rest and viewing areas, where you could sit down for a few minutes, relax or read a book, or watch what is going on Chena River.
Some information signs are also installed which tell all necessary and interesting facts about the city´s history. My favorite detail is that the railings of each rest area have a different topic.
You can find all possible motifs from animals like birds, fish, and other wildlife, to planes, boats, or railways. You can feel the love the people put into this when they built up that riverfront walk.
About halfway, you´ll pass the Riverfront Theater, where one can attend performances of the Fairbanks Drama Association. Here the street leaves the path and the river. Now you have more beautiful views of the Chena River, and it´s getting even quieter and calmer. There is also a small dog park in case you´re traveling with dogs, and you´d like to unleash them for a while.
Sit down in one of the benches alongside the river and watch people kayaking, boats, or relax and enjoy yourself.
If you keep walking, you´ll soon come across the Carlson Center, the 3rd largest multi-purpose event facility in Alaska, and the biggest one in the Interior. It can host concerts to sports events, and is home to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks Nanooks Ice Hockey Team, the Fairbanks Grizzlies Indoor Football Team, the Alaska Gladiators MMA events, and the Fairbanks Rollergirls Roller Derby Team.
Eventually, you´ll arrive at Pioneer Park. Stay here for a while and take a stroll through “Goldrush City,” or get yourself an ice cream or eat at the Alaska Salmon Bake. There are also six different museums, like the railroad or aviation museum. Or take a ride with the train which surrounds the park all day long. Closing hours are from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m., so you´ll have plenty of time to do whatever you want to do.
Back To Fairbanks Downtown
For the way back, you have two possibilities. Go back the same way alongside the river. Maybe you notice any details which you might have missed in the first place. Or you follow the big street and wander through a typical All-American neighborhood. Usually, there is no way to get lost, and it will bring you back to downtown Fairbanks.
You also will have a chance to discover more of the historic houses around 1st and 2nd Avenue.
Back in downtown, it´s your chance to find something to eat (if you haven´t already at Pioneer Park). What about some rib tips at Big Daddy´s – The northernmost southern BBQ. By the way, this restaurant was featured in “Diners, Drive In´s, and Dives” by Guy Fieri. And now officially approved by me! Those rib tips were insanely delicious!!! What can I say? They were right the way I like it. 😋
Overall, it´s a perfect walk to stretch your legs and in combination with strolling downtown or Pioneer Park, you can easily spend the whole day with it. I have to say, that I even liked it more than Anchorage, although the Coastal Walk is also a beautiful one.
Now, it´ your turn! What do you think, would you love to walk that riverfront trail? Leave a comment below and tell which riverwalk is your favorite! And don´t forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter so that you never miss any new posts and travel updates.