For an authentic Alaskan celebration, head to Fairbanks in the third week of July. That’s when residents cut loose in honor of their Gold Rush history, during a five-day festival they call Golden Days. Bank managers dress up as sourdough miners, waitress don “fluzie” outfits, and most of the city turns out for races, parades, and great food. It’s a great time to meet locals—who are in a festive, social mood—and to be swept up in a big Alaskan event.
This five-day festival began in 1952, when the Chamber of Commerce decided to honor Fairbanks’ Gold Rush and its proud mining tradition. Felix Pedro, a young Italian immigrant, started the rush in 1902 with a gold strike in the foothills outside town. He’s the man who famously proclaimed, “There’s gold in them there hills.” His cry was heard far and wide: Fairbanks grew from a sleepy river town to a bustling city almost overnight. Today, the town collectively celebrates this exciting time with Golden Days, declared one of the country’s top 100 events by Destination Magazine.
The festival includes costume contests, Alaska’s largest parade, foot races, a BBQ cook-off, and a rededication of the Felix Pedro monument, which was a gift to Fairbanks from the Italian government.
Most of the events are downtown, just along the Chena River. For the week of the festival, events run pretty much non-stop throughout downtown, at the park, and in other spots. Keep your eyes open for parties; many organizations host events in conjunction with Golden Days.
Grande Parade - Kicking off Saturday morning, the biggest day of the festival, is Alaska’s largest parade, complete with some 100 floats, marching bands from across the state, and residents dressed in Gold Rush costumes. The floats have been as intricate as miners panning for gold alongside a running stream.
Rubber Duckie Race - Held on Saturday, this is one of the biggest events in Fairbanks—not just for Golden Days, but all year! 8,000 rubber ducks are dropped in the Chena River, where they “race” ¼-mile downstream to the Cushman Bridge. There’s $15,000 on the line, plus 80 local prizes, like gift certificates and donated items. Buy a duck for $5, and you could win $5,000. Or buy a duck for $10 and you could win $10,000…but only if your duck is first across the finish line.
Street Fair - On Saturday there is a street fair located on First Avenue and the Golden Heart Plaza. A variety of vendors sell crafts, art, and delicious food to the fair-goers. There is the Kids Korner which hosts free activities for kids such as face painting and pony rides, and there will be entertainment going on throughout the day on the main stage.
River Regatta - The River Regatta is a floatilla of fun! Contestants participate by building crazy and ridiculous rafts and then they attempt to float them down the Chena River. This is always a very entertaining event to witness, and viewers are encouraged to bring water guns to shoot at the participants from the bridge.
Old Tyme Games - This event hosted at Pioneer Park hosts a slew of family friendly activities. From watermelon eating contests, to log splitting, there is a competition for everyone. Felix Pedro makes a special appearance and a local bank weighs his gold nugget for everyone to see.