Experience the Alaska of 100 years ago! Pioneer Park is an historic village that features original buildings moved from downtown Fairbanks, as well as museums and a Gold Rush town street. But it’s also a theme park with a carousel and train that runs the perimeter, shops, and restaurants. Stay a few hours or spend a full day; Pioneer Park offers fun for the whole family.
What It’s Like
Take a spin on the carousel, explore the historic sternwheeler, and hop the train that chugs around the park’s perimeter. Then drop by Mining Valley, where old pieces of equipment and signage give you a great feel for what local mining was like. Feeling active? Play the 3-hole disc golf course, then rent a canoe or kayak the Chena River. Shoppers can browse the stores, while art lovers can peruse the fine sculptures and paintings in Bear Gallery. Grab a bite at one of the restaurants, which range from American to Asian to Mediterranean, and enjoy your meal at one of the picnic tables along the river. And be sure to stay for the nightly salmon bake and dinner show about the colorful characters who came here in search of gold.
Pioneer Park is open all winter! While the shops and restaurants close for the season, you can still walk around and get a feel for Alaska’s early years. It’s also a good place to get into the holiday spirit; there’s a tree-lighting ceremony on the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year, and the holiday lights stay up through March. And don’t miss a stop at Bear Gallery (winter hours: 12 p.m.–6 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday) to check out the fine art on display.
Pioneer Park opened in 1967 as part of the Alaska ‘67 Centennial Exposition, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Alaska’s purchase from Russia. The park featured a zoo and rides in those early days, when it was known as Alaska 67 and then Alaskaland. The name was changed to Pioneer Park in 2001, to reflect its focus on history.
The surrounding area also has a fascinating past. Along the park’s northern border lies the Chena River, a name of Athabascan origin derived from “che” (meaning “stick”) and “na” (meaning “river”)—the Stick River. It was this river that Fairbanks’ founding father, E.T. Barnette, traveled up in 1901. He was searching for the town of Tanana Crossing (now called Tanacross), where he hoped to establish a trading post. But his boat, the Lavelle Young, hit a sandbar, and he was forced to spend the winter along the banks of the Chena River. The following spring, miner Felix Pedro found gold in the surrounding hills, and Barnette decided to stay and establish his trading post there. That early community was known as Barnette’s Cache. Within a year, however, it became known as Fairbanks, named after Indiana Senator Charles Fairbanks (who went on to serve as Theodore Roosevelt’s Vice President during Roosevelt’s second term).