Summer in Alaska is a busy time for Alaskan residents and visitors alike. Everyone, including Alaska’s wildlife, is seemingly sent into hyperactive overdrive by the solar sensations of the warm, bright midnight sun and the opportunity to soak up every sun-lit moment – whether they’re finishing up their summer chores or completing their adventure checklists. Alaska life seems to just speed up in the summer and is just packed with “only in Alaska” events, from city-wide festivals to neighborhood farmers markets. Each summer, there are many unique and special events which take place across the state, in every Alaskan community, offering something for everyone. Do some research before your Alaska trip and talk to the knowledgeable team at Alaska Tour before you finalize your itinerary to ensure that you maximize your local fun wherever you decide to go.
Here are a few “only in Alaska” summer events that fall into the “don’t miss” category:
Summer Solstice (late June)
The sun is so beloved and summer is so fleeting in Alaska that June’s Summer Solstice – and the weekends before and after it – is practically a state holiday. It is certainly celebrated with festivals in just about every major community, most filling a full day or multiple days close to Solstice with music, food, local and state culture, and yes, plenty of outdoor good times.
Anchorage’s Downtown Summer Solstice Festival is particularly popular. While the Midnight Sun isn’t quite as bright in Southcentral Alaska as it is in the Interior, the city’s larger downtown is hopping with food and drink, music and sun worship. And this Anchorage summer festival includes a big-time running race, the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon, which draws thousands of runners from across the country for a race that begins and ends in downtown.
Other Solstice-time celebrations include good old-fashioned Alaska Family Fests in Nome and Soldotna; music-focused festivals including the Fairbanks Sun-Lit AK Music Festival, Seldovia Summer Solstice Music Festival, Moose Pass Summer Solstice Festival, the Far-Out Chicken Festival in Chickenstock and the Chugach Fest in Arctic Valley near Anchorage. And if you’re Denali bound in June, don’t miss the Big-Time Solstice Brewfest in Healy near Denali Park.
Midnight Sun Festival in Fairbanks
Among the most popular summer festivals in Alaska is in Fairbanks, where the Midnight Sun Festival lives up to its name and hype. The Land of the Midnight Sun is home this all-day festival, usually taking place on a Saturday in the heart of Fairbanks’s downtown. A few blocks are closed to cars and fill with the foot traffic of frolicking Fairbanksans and visitors who mill around between local vendors offering Alaskan food and artisan crafts with stages hosting live entertainment. The annual Midnight Sun 10k Run also draws a big crowd of late-night runners, who charge toward the downtown finish line packed with their fans cheering them on.
Fourth of July Fun
Much like Solstice, there’s pretty much Fourth of July events in most Alaskan communities, too, packing patriotic partying with Alaska distinctiveness. Just don’t expect to be blown away by the fireworks displays – the Midnight Sun tends to subdue these and sometimes summer wildfire danger eliminates them entirely. The most exciting Fourth of July party is in the charming and usually quiet port town of Seward. On this holiday, however, and the days and nights leading up to it, however, it turns into the state’s biggest party that sandwiches the state’s most famous iconic running race: the grueling and grand Mt. Marathon Race. HINT: One way to avoid the summer traffic associated with this popular event as well as enjoy the views from Anchorage to Seward is to book a seat on the Alaska Railroad to Seward from Anchorage. Convenient, affordable and scenic!
Alaska Baseball League Summer Events
Speaking of sports, while baseball certainly isn’t Alaska’s pastime, the collegiate-level Alaska Baseball League (ABL) does give spectators home runs and Alaska visitors grand slam landscapes all summer. The baseball is good, of course, but the league’s ballpark backdrops are also super stars: the Glacier Pilots and Bucs play at Mulcahy Field in midtown Anchorage, which features the Chugach Mountains towering behind the cityscape; massive mountains surround Hermon Brothers Field in Palmer, home of the Mat-Su Miners, and Lee Jordan Field in Chugiak-Eagle River, home of the Chinooks; tall trees stand in the outfield of Coral Seymour Ballpark in Kenai, where the Peninsula Oilers play.
While the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks are an off-and-on member of the ABL (it’s complicated), the team’s ballpark, Growden Memorial Park near downtown, hosts one of the baseball’s most fascinating and famous spectacles: the Midnight Sun Game. Played every June 21 to coincide with Summer Solstice and the peak of the Interior’s Midnight Sun, the ballgame has more than 100 years of hard-hitting history, with the first pitch coming at 10:30 p.m. and all nine innings are played without aid of manmade light. Yes, the Midnight Sun provides all the light that players and fans need. The game even stops at midnight for the crowd to sing the Alaska Flag Song. Sports fans and Alaska romantics cannot miss this.
Other Standout Summer Events in Alaska by Month
Other standout summer festivals include June’s aptly named Celebration in Juneau, which is a multiday jam bringing together Alaska Native tribes, Alaskans and visitors from across the state for traditional drumming, dancing, crafts, food, and much more and the Kenai River Fest in Soldotna offering summer fun for everyone.
July’s Girdwood Forest Fair is a funky weekend that wanders far from Girdwood’s resort town vibes. And you don’t have to fish for interesting activities at the Copper River Salmon Jam in Cordova in mid July – though fishing is an excellent option at this wonderful weekend festival. July’s Bear Paw Festival in Eagle River is so popular, that it practically goes all week and not to be outdone. Golden Days in Fairbanks is a citywide party in July that celebrates summer, sun and Fairbank’s Gold Rush history.
And want to experience genuine Alaska culture in action? Check out the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics or WEIO in Fairbanks in July. These games are highly competitive, totally thrilling, and sometimes punishingly painful tributes to traditional Alaska Native lifestyles and stories from the past, from knuckle hops and high kicks to fish skinning and greased pole walking and more. WEIO is also a gathering for families and friends from across rural Alaska, which means the venue buzzes all day and into the night with cheer, as well as crafts displays, singing, dancing and drumming, traditional Alaska Native foods, and awe-inspiring blanket toss, a true sporting example of community, teamwork and aiming high.
In early August, Salmonfest on the Kenai Peninsula is a music and sustainability-oriented concert series that rocks until the Midnight Sun dips behind the mountains and trees of Ninilchik.
The Alaska summer run of festivals beings to wind down around the time Alaska’s wild berries ripen, which makes Alyeska’s Blueberry Festival in August an Alaskan favorite. The Girdwood setting is peaceful and perfect for berry-picking, eating and drinking local, and hiking and dancing around the tiny resort town. Summer comes to an unofficial end when Alaska’s biggest fairs (the Tanana Valley State Fair in Fairbanks and the Alaska State Fair in Palmer) arrive later in August, bringing tons of entertainment along with suddenly dark nights and a reminder that it’s time to cram in the fun because winter isn’t far away.