The Best Festivals to Celebrate Summer Solstice in Alaska
Summer solstice floods Alaska with daylight. But while the longest day of the year may be June 21st, that’s just a technicality. It basically never gets dark from early June to mid-July between Anchorage and the Arctic Ocean, including Fairbanks and all destinations in between. And true night visits for only a couple of hours—think of the wee hours after midnight—from the Kenai Peninsula to parts south, including Kodiak and Southeast Alaska.
Alaskans celebrate this sunshine tsunami with an enthusiasm that matches how the rest of the country dives into the winter holiday season. It can be a fun, energized time with parties, street fairs, live music, adventures and athletic contests. Events, both private and public, will be all over.
Tips for finding Alaska solstice celebrations:
- Check local newspapers, websites and community forums in the week leading up to the Solstice. If traveling outside of towns, swing into roadhouses or local establishments and you might find details for a community picnic or local concert. (Alaskans are super friendly.) Across the state, scores of bars, venues, restaurants, markets and communities regularly hold solstice events, usually on June 21 itself but also on the nearest weekends.
- Locals often gather on solstice night at public beaches, river bars, hiking destinations and other geographic features. In Anchorage, check out the 3,245-foot Flattop Mountain in Chugach State Park. Hundreds of people sometimes make the 1,300-foot climb from the Glen Alps parking lot on the Solstice, with scores spending the night on the state’s most-climbed summit to enjoy a never-ending sunset backlighting a panorama that includes the Anchorage skyline and Denali massif. (Assuming clear weather.)
- It’s not just one day! Think of Alaska Midnight Sun time as a season all its own, extending from the solstice week to the Fourth of July. The amount of daylight and direct sunshine doesn’t change much, and it can feel like a continuous holiday, with raucous Fourth blowouts climaxing the period. It’s the Far North green-season mirror to the December holiday winter solstice season that runs from Hanukkah-Christmas to New Years.
Anchorage: Downtown Summer Solstice Festival
Anchorage’s city center jams with activity between noon and 6 pm near the solstice, usually on the closest Saturday. The activity centers on the Town Square and Fourth Avenue. Live music and other entertainment, along with food trucks and vendors, a chalk art gallery, petting zoo, bouncy houses, hip hop dance performance, beer gardens. The “Hero Games” with athletic feats and contests are open to all first responders in the military, coast guard, fire and police departments.
When: Saturday Closest to Solstice
Anchorage: Mayor’s Marathon
In an annual tradition and athletic challenge that draws a respectable number of elite participants from across the country, the city sponsors a solstice-time full marathon on area trails, plus a half marathon, a relay and other events. The finish line is on the Delaney Park Strip, only a few blocks from the heart of the Summer Solstice Festival. Racers complete the race, and then blend with their fans and supporters into the downtown crowds.
When: Saturday Closest to Solstice
Anchorage: Midnight Sun Baseball
Solstice week is prime time for the Alaska Baseball League, with evening games in Mulcahy Stadium (and other venues around the state) virtually every evening during the last half of June. A special solstice matchup traditionally starts at 10 pm during Anchorage’s celebration and stretches into the new day! Check the ABL calendar for details.
When: Evening games in June
Moose Pass: Moose Pass Summer Solstice Festival
If you’re seeking to mingle with friendly locals at a family-friendly gathering in the Kenai Mountains, go to Moose Pass on the weekend closest to solstice. This annual community party has been held for decades and is a great way to meet real Alaskans. It features live music, family activities, food venders, beer garden, bake sale and contests. Sponsored by the Moose Pass Sportsmen’s Club since 1978, the fair raises money for the local community center and other events. Look for the fair at the corner of Depot Road and Mile 29.5 of the Seward Highway, across the street from Trail Lake Lodge.
When: Third weekend in June
Seldovia: Summer Solstice Music Festival
For a trip to one of Alaska’s most unique seaside villages, try out this solstice celebration and a music festival all in one, usually held Thursday through Sunday over the weekend closest to solstice. The Seldovia Arts Council brings in musicians from across the country to perform at the Susan B. English School, but the whole village becomes part of the venue, with open mic moments and outdoor sets around town throughout the weekend. Seldovia—located across Kachemak Bay a short ferry ride from Homer—is a favorite weekend destination, a friendly town with Native and Alaska maritime heritage. It has a Southeast Alaska-rain forest feel and is famous for the downtown boardwalk along the harbor. You’ll find lots to do in Seldovia.
When: Weekend closest to solstice
Fairbanks: Midnight Sun Festival
The Midnight Sun Festival has become one of the biggest street fairs in the state, held in downtown Fairbanks on the Sunday closest to the summer solstice. The 38th annual event runs from noon to midnight on June 23, 2019—a day when the sun won’t actually set until almost an hour after festivities wind down. (Don’t worry. It won’t get dark. Fairbanks experiences two continuous months of civil twilight.) The festival features hundreds of food trucks and booths selling a myriad of Made-in-Alaska crafts and products. Four different stages deliver live music, comedy and other performances by 40 different acts, with something new taking a stage every 15 minutes. It’s a family-friendly party, too, with a skate park, gold panning and a carnival midway. Sponsors expect at least 30,000 people.
When: Sunday closest to solstice
Fairbanks: Midnight Sun Game
In a tradition that reaches back to 1906 and the Interior gold rush, the Alaska Goldpanners collegiate baseball team hosts an annual solstice contest at Growden Memorial Park in downtown Fairbanks. First pitch gets thrown just after 10 pm on June 21 in 2019, for instance, with the final inning expected to stretch well past midnight beneath the still glowing sun. At least one year, the event climaxed a series of other baseball games and clinics that spanned the previous 24 hours. (And no, it never got dark.)
When: Solstice night
Healy: Solstice Brewfest
Live music and craft beer dominate this festival held at the Denali venue of 49th State Brewing Co., about 250 miles north of Anchorage on the Parks Highway (about 10 miles north of Denali National Park.) In recent years, the bands that performed at the 49th State’s Anchorage location during the city’s solstice celebration take a road trip into Interior Alaska and set up for a sequel party the very next day. (The solstice sun typically sets at 12:25 am ADT in Healy and rises three hours later!) Hundreds of people camp for the night, many bivouacking at the Midnight Sun RV & Campground next door. (The bus used in the film “Into the Wild” resides here.) Check out 49th State’s “feature events” listings in early June for details and timing.
When: The day or weekend after solstice
Nome: Midnight Sun Festival
The Seward Peninsula town famous as the finish of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race puts on big community party highlighted by a surf-dodging foot race, a staged gold rush shoot-out (put to rest by retired lawman Wyatt Earp, who operated a saloon in pioneer Nome) and a polar bear swim in chilly Bering Sea. Performances by Native dancers, an in-town raft race and multiple barbecues complete the scene. The annual party is especially well known for outdoor dining.
When: Weekend closest to solstice