After a long, dark winter, the people of Nome are ready to take advantage of every minute of summer light. Besides Iditarod week, there’s no more invigorating time to be in Nome than the Midnight Sun Festival, when nearly 22 hours of direct light feed the collective spirit of the community.
Held the weekend closest to summer solstice (June 21), the festival kicks off with an energetic 5k Gold Dust Dash along the shoreline. With the prize being a gold nugget, the runners tend to go for speed rather than taking in gorgeous views of the Bering Sea.
The Midnight Sun Parade follows, with many local groups and organizations making their way down Front Street vying for $50 and $100 prizes. In a fun twist, two out-of-town visitors are chosen from the crowd to be part of the three-member judge’s panel – and all must dress in full wig and court robes.
The tone turns more serious following the parade, as there’s word that bad guys have come to town and are headed to rob the bank – again! The mock hold-up harkens back to Nome’s wild days, when gold fever was rampant and lawmen were scarce.
Once the bad guys are subdued and the loot is shared among candy-craving kids, everyone is invited to get chill in the Polar Bear Swim, a gasp-worthy plunge into the Bering Sea.
A softball tournament over the weekend often goes up to midnight, with no outdoor lights required!
On Sunday, the Nome River Raft Race presents another cold-water challenge: participants must be completely wet when they reach the finish line at Dexter. This is accomplished with water balloons, squirt guns, and buckets of water dumped on them by spectators.
Insider tip: Be sure to stop by the Lions Club booth on Front Street Friday or Saturday of the festival. They serve up a tasty barbeque chicken each year to fuel all the fun – and do usually sell out.