Alaskans love summer. And who can blame them? After months of long, dark, cold nights the warm, never-ending sunshine is a welcome friend. With summer comes long days of hiking, fishing, and summer festivals almost every weekend. Just about every town has one and the biggest parties are this time of year around the summer solstice and Independence Day.
Playing under the Midnight Sun
The summer solstice marks the longest day of the year and falls on or around June 21st. The sun doesn’t set at all above the Arctic Circle. About 200 miles south in Fairbanks, the sun dips below the horizon for about an hour, and then rises again in the north, without ever getting fully dark.
For the last 117 years on June 21st, the Midnight Sun Baseball Game has been held in Fairbanks. The game gets started around 10:30 PM, stretches past midnight, and never uses artificial lights. This year, the Alaska Goldpanners beat the San Diego Waves 10-9.
Fairbanks also hosts the Midnight Sun Festival which is held annually on the Saturday closest to June 21st. The streets close down for the 12-hour street festival. The free event has live music, food vendors, and exhibits.
The community of Moose Pass (on Kenai Peninsula between Anchorage and Seward) joins the party with their annual event. Moose Pass Summer Solstice Festival is run by volunteers from the Sportsmen’s Club and raises money for the community center and other local events
Anchorage has its own festival on the closest weekend to the solstice. Along with street vendors and live music, there’s the Mayor’s Marathon. The race is on local trails and ends downtown where racers can then join the festivities.
Independence Day Party Time
July 4th celebrations abound in Alaska. No matter where you find yourself on the fourth, you’re likely to find a party or a parade.
Girdwood Forest Fair is held annually at the beginning of July. The community is about 30 miles south of Anchorage. The multi-day festival showcases artists, crafts, food, and entertainers from all over Alaska. Just be sure to follow their rules—no dogs, no politics, no religious orders.
Seward’s Fourth of July celebration is one of the most popular in the state. Tens of thousands of people pour into the town for the festivities. The fireworks display begins at midnight on the fourth, probably one of the only places you’ll find fireworks on the holiday—remember it doesn’t get very dark! The streets close down for all sorts of vendors and games like tug of war, arm wrestling, and a fish toss. There’s a boat parade and then it’s all capped off by the big race up Mount Marathon.
The Mount Marathon race originated as a bar bet. One patron bet the other the mountain could be climbed up and down in less than an hour and the loser would buy drinks for the crowd. The date for the race was set for July 4th and the winner took just over an hour to complete the race. The bet was lost but in 1915 the tradition was established and the race happens every year on Independence Day.
Racers start downtown and run to the 2,974-foot summit then back down to the finish line for a total distance of 3.1 miles. It’s said to be one of the toughest 5K races around and one of the oldest foot races in the country. The winners typically finish in less than 50 minutes—proving the old sourdough right after all!
As you can see, there’s no shortage of festivals and events throughout the summer in Alaska. This is by no means a comprehensive list. There’s something happening just about every weekend. Alaskans love to celebrate summer and so will you!