Alaska's Interior remains the last frontier, even for the Last Frontier state. The northern lights sparkle above a vast, mostly uninhabited landscape that promises adventure for those who choose to traverse it. Come here for wildlife-rich, pristine land and hardy locals, a rich and quirky history, gold panning, nonstop daylight in the summer, or ice-sculpting competitions under the northern lights in winter. Outdoors enthusiasts can enjoy outstanding hiking, rafting, fishing, skiing, and dogsledding. And don't forget to top off the experience with a soak in the hot springs.
The geology of the Interior played a key role in human history at the turn of the 20th century. The image of early-1900s Alaska, set to the harsh tunes of countless honky-tonk saloons and the clanging of pans, is rooted around the Interior's goldfields. Gold fever struck in Circle and Eagle in the 1890s, spread into Canada's Yukon Territory in the big Klondike gold rush of 1898, headed as far west as the beaches of Nome in 1900, then came back to Alaska's Interior when Fairbanks hit pay dirt in 1903. Through it all, the broad, swift Yukon River was the rush's main highway. Flowing almost 2,300 miles from Canada to the Bering Sea, just below the Arctic Circle, it carried prospectors across the north in search of instant fortune.
Although Fairbanks has grown into a bustling city with some serious attractions, many towns and communities in the Interior seem little changed from the gold-rush days. Visiting the galleries at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center makes it clear how intertwined the Interior’s past and present lifestyles remain. When early missionaries set up schools in the Bush, the Alaska Native peoples were herded to regional centers for schooling and "salvation," but that stopped long ago, and today Interior Alaska's Native villages are thriving, with their own schools and a particularly Alaskan blend of modern life and tradition. Fort Yukon, 145 miles northeast of Fairbanks on the Arctic Circle, is the largest Athabascan village in the state, with just under 600 residents.
Alaska's current gold rush—the pipeline carrying (a little less each year) "black gold" from the oil fields in Prudhoe Bay south to the port of Valdez—snakes its way through the Interior. The Richardson Highway, which started as a gold stampeders' trail, parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline on its route south of Fairbanks. And gold still glitters in the Interior: Fairbanks, the site of the largest gold production in Alaska in pre–Second World War days, is home to the Fort Knox Gold Mine, which has approximately doubled Alaska's gold production. Throughout the region, with the price of gold down from its highs of a few years ago but still quite lofty, hundreds of tiny mines—from one-man operations to full-scale works—have geared up again, proving that what the poet Robert Service wrote more than a hundred years ago still holds true: "There are strange things done in the midnight sun / by the men who moil for gold."