Spring is a great time for an Alaska getaway; here are some of the best options

The first time a friend suggested I go to the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, I thought they were crazy.

That’s before I went. I still think my friend is crazy, but the ice carving exhibition is worth the trip.

All of the best ice sculptures are hidden in the trees next to the Tanana State Fairgrounds on College Road in Fairbanks. There are several sections to the Ice Park that makes it fun for the whole family. First, there is the competitive challenge of crafting art from huge blocks of ice using a combination of chisels, saws and drills. When we visited the park, many of the artists still were working on their blocks, even though it was 26 below zero outside.

Next to the competitive carving area, there are games and slides for the kids. There is a pingpong table made of ice, a checkers board made of ice, and other games. There are at least three slides made of ice — and the park provides sleds so you can go faster!

The Ice Park opens at noon each day and it’s fun to see the chiseled ice glistening in the sun. But the real light show starts after dark when the sculptures are illuminated with multicolored LED lights. Visit the Ice Park between now and March 31.

The ice carvings are just another tool that Fairbanks uses to draw you north in the winter. Much of the action is in the sky, with the aurora borealis putting on incredible displays all night long. Although it’s possible to see the lights in town, there are plenty of options to get out of the city and see the northern lights more clearly. Check with Explore Fairbanks for their Aurora Tracker, as well as a list of operators that can take you to see the lights.

As spring approaches, there are many community festivals throughout Alaska, any of which would be a great excuse for a getaway.


Juneau is hosting the 49th annual Alaska Folk Festival, April 8-14.

“This is a free, community event,” said Liz Perry, head of Travel Juneau.

“There’s lots of music in town all week long,” said Perry. “In addition to the nightly concerts which start at 6:30 p.m. each evening, there are pop-up performances at coffee shops and in building lobbies around town.”

“The festival takes over all of downtown,” wrote Marian Call, a Juneau-based musician who has played the festival for 20 years. “More genres are cropping up and people can now hear all kinds of folk, but also rock, funk, jazz, honky tonk, and hip hop.”

All the scheduled performances are in Centennial Hall, Juneau’s convention center, including this year’s guest artist, Laurie Lewis. Lewis will perform with her bluegrass band, The Right Hands.

If April is the month for folk music, May is the month for bird-watching.

Over in Cordova, birding enthusiasts flock to the Copper River Delta May 3-5 for the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival.

“People come to see the spectacle of migration,” said Cathy Renfeldt, director of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce.

“Photography and birding go hand in hand,” said Renfeldt, “so the organized birding field trips are very popular.”

There are two focus areas to view many of the birds, from Hartney Bay and also at Alaganik Slough. Guided tours are designed to coordinate with the tides for best results. There also are boat tours on the FV Myrmidon, led by Capt. Thea Thomas. The four-hour tour goes along the shoreline, where birders may catch a glimpse of sandpipers, plovers, terns and gulls.

In addition to birding enthusiasts, Renfeldt said more visitors “just want to be out in nature.”

Also, there’s a contingent of visitors who converge on the Net Loft, a local store that offers classes in nature journaling, needle felting and painting. “These people want to experience nature by creating art,” said Renfeldt.

From Anchorage, travelers can reach Cordova by flying Alaska Airlines or sailing with the Alaska Marine Highway System from Whittier.

Renfeldt recommends travelers who plan on attending make plans now for accommodations. In addition to the Reluctant Fisherman, the Prince William Motel and the Orca Adventure Lodge, there are several vacation rentals.

The very next weekend, May 8-12, is the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in Homer.

“Ours is the largest wildlife viewing event in Alaska,” said Melanie Dufour, the festival’s coordinator.

“There are viewing stations around town,” said Dufour, “where migratory birds often are sighted.”


The Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, the Pratt Museum and the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve are key program partners, offering fun activities for all ages and skill levels.

“We have a junior birder program for kids age 8-12, plus a plan for teen birders, age 12-18,” said Dufour.

This year’s festival features more than 100 events for birders of all ages. In addition to shore-based bird watching, several operators will offer boat tours around Kachemak Bay. There’s also a day-long trip to Seldovia.

The festival’s keynote speaker is Ted Floyd, longtime editor of Birding Magazine.

There are several other popular community festivals, including the Great Alaska Craft Beer and Home Brew Festival in Haines May 24-25, and the Kodiak Crab Festival, May 23-27.

I recommend you burn some miles and fly up to see the ice carvings in Fairbanks. Then catch the folk festival in Juneau. Bring your legislator down the hill for a concert. Alaska’s a big state — and there’s lots going on.

Scott McMurren

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at Subscribe to his e-newsletter at For more information, visit