This delightful 44-acre theme park (907/459-1087, www.co.fairbanks.ak.us, daily noon–8 p.m., grounds year-round, shops and rides late May–early Sept., free)—the only one of its kind in the state—occupies the site of the 1967 state centennial celebration. Many of the original buildings from the early days of Fairbanks and various locations around Alaska have been moved here and assembled into a gold rush–era town.
Park headquarters is in one such restored building just inside the entrance off Airport Way between Nome and Peger Roads. Pick up a map of the park and spend a few hours exploring the grounds of this free open-air museum.
The big 1933 stern-wheeler riverboat Nenana sits just inside the entrance. The second-largest wooden-hulled vessel in existence at 227 feet long, it houses an amazingly detailed diorama of towns along the Yukon and Tanana Rivers.
To your right inside the entrance is the Harding Car, a railcar used by Warren G. Harding when he came to Alaska on his ill-fated trip in 1923, just before his death under suspicious circumstances.
Continue to Gold Rush Town, a collection of 29 colorful and historic buildings that includes the interesting home of Alaska’s first Territorial Governor, James Wickersham. The Palace Theatre has a musical-comedy revue nightly ($18 adults, $9 children), while the Pioneer Museum is a free collection of mining and other memorabilia, including a large 1912 map of Alaska. The same building houses The Big Stampede Show ($4 adults, $2 ages 6–16), a 50-minute look at the lives of early pioneers.
Pioneer Air Museum (907/451-0037, daily noon–8 p.m. summer, $2) is housed in a dome-shaped Jetsons-esque building near the center of Pioneer Park. Inside are a number of historic and modern aircraft, including a 1933 Stinson SR-5 and a 1966 Bell UH1 helicopter.
The narrow-gauge Crooked Creek and Whiskey Island Railroad ($2 adults, $1 children) circles Pioneer Park throughout the day, and the depot doubles as a little museum that houses the oldest operating steam locomotive in Alaska, built in 1899. Families also love the vintage 1915 carousel, dogsled rides, and miniature golf. Browse around the replica mining valley with its antique mining equipment, and the Native Alaskan village where you will find historic artifacts. For dinner, visit Pioneer Park’s excellent salmon bake.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition