Alaska Summer Festivals
Visiting Alaska in the summer is festive in its own right, but Alaskans are proud to celebrate their state’s history, cultures, sunlight, quirkiness, sustenance and independence at numerous summer festivals. From bluegrass picking to picking berries, sunny Solstice to yummy King Crab, Alaska has summer festivals for all tastes.
Every July since the ‘50s, the Golden Heart City of Fairbanks has celebrated its Gold Rush roots with its week-long Golden Days festival. Community pride flows and so do thousands of rubber duckies in a race down the Chena River. The area’s history also comes to life with truly unique events like the Felix Pedro look-alike contest. The highlight is the weekend parade featuring dozens of Gold Rush-inspired floats, filling food, creative crafters and gold, gold, gold!
Fairbanksans don’t take sunlight for granted. In fact, they bask in it and celebrate it. Every June near Summer Solstice, the Midnight Sun Festival brings the sun and fun downtown. City blocks shut down for food, music and vendors, the Midnight Sun Run course travels from the university to its downtown finish line, and the Midnight Sun Game is a baseball classic that starts late, is played without the assistance of manmade light and pauses at midnight for the singing of the Alaska Flag Song.
Girdwood might be home to Alaska’s biggest ski resort, but it also hosts two of the state’s most fun and family friendly summer festivals. The tiny ski hamlet gets funky in July with its Girdwood Forest Fair and then jams (literally and figuratively) in August at the Alyeska Resort Blueberry Festival. A laid-back, smile-packed tradition since the ‘70s, Forest Fair offers assorted food and art vendors, musicians and performers, kids games, adult beverages and a community parade all dipped in a little tie-dye. The Blueberry Festival coincides with the ripening of Alaska’s bittersweet fruit and the waning of summer. Its offerings are similar to the Forest Fair’s but also include blueberries at their berry best in pie-eating contests and cooking/baking competitions. Both festivals are very popular, so arrive early for good parking.
Sure, there’s plenty of sweet shellfish meat to enjoy at the Kodiak Crab Festival, but the five-day, early summer event is also a tribute to the people who work in and support the fishing industry, as well as a celebration of the tight-knit island’s sense of community. Food is foremost for many, but events like a survival suit race, the Blessing of the Fleet and displays of skill and equipment from the Coast Guard remind everyone that this town’s heart pumps seawater.
Most Alaska communities have some sort of celebration on the Fourth of July. But one of America’s toughest and most unique running races, Mt. Marathon, takes place in one of Alaska’s most interesting towns: Seward. The grueling Mt. Marathon races (for men, women and juniors) are the stars of the Seward Fourth of July Celebration, but you don’t have to break a sweat to enjoy the races, parade, food, community and patriotism. Consider coming early because the fireworks and fun begin on July 3 and the tiny town bursts at its seams by race time on July 4.
Most summer festivals reflect each area’s people and personalities. The Barrow Whaling Festival in June celebrates traditional Alaska Native lifestyles of food, drumming, dancing and, yes, whale hunting. The Nome Midnight Sun Festival has sunlight and sustenance galore. The Sitka Seafood Festival has delicious food and fun options, though it took a year off in 2016. In May, birds and bird fans flock to the Copper River Shorebird Festival in Cordova and the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in Homer. The annual Eagle River Bear Paw Festival and Colony Days in Palmer cram in about as much fun as these small urban communities can handle.
You could practically dance and sing the summer away in Alaska as most festivals have a music element and music-specific festivals take place nearly every weekend. Most feature Alaska artists and a national headliner or two who perform music that reflect the state’s traditional genres – folk, bluegrass, country, singer-songwriter. But there are also plenty of edgy, alternative, hip and good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll festivals to get you moving. The summer kicks off with the Trapper Creek Bluegrass Festival, which is bluegrass in name only – this show gets twangy, rocking and funky. The Chickenstock Music Festival is a jam at the top of the world; the Rivergrass Music Festival flows all weekend in Willow; the late-summer Salmonfest in Ninilchik draws the biggest crowds and highest-level headliners; and most of Alaska’s regional and state fairs bring in musical acts from around the state and beyond.