A quick trip to Alaska: Visiting my 49th state & the Midnight Sun Game

I just wrapped up a recent family trip to Alaska mainly to see visit my 49th state and go to the Midnight Sun Game in Fairbanks.

I wasn’t planning on writing about it as I didn’t use points or miles for the trip. However, after the quick four-day jaunt, it seemed like a good idea.

Overview

For as long as I can remember, my dad has always wanted to attend the Midnight Sun Game in Fairbanks, Alaska. The game, which has been going on for 114 years, starts at 10 p.m. on June 21 every year. And, its claim to fame is that it doesn’t use the stadium’s lights.

Once my parents decided they were finally going to make this trip from Atlanta to see the game, I decided to make the quick trip from Seattle for a few days of it. Alaska is the 49th state I’ve been to, and over the years, I’ve wanted to see the Midnight Sun Game as well!

I bought a Delta basic economy fare to get to Anchorage where I would meet my parents. While I was stuck in a middle seat (which wasn’t horrible), I was able to check a bag for free thanks to holding the Delta Gold American Express card. I flew home on an Alaska Airlines flight from Fairbanks to Seattle via a quick stopover in Anchorage.

Thanks to holding the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I was able to access the Alaska Airlines Lounge with my Priority Pass membership. It was one of the rare times I wasn’t denied entry into a Priority Pass Lounge.

As I mentioned, I didn’t use points and miles for this trip, however, I’m going to do a quick write-up of what we did while in Alaska.

Flights and Hotels

There are a lot of options to get to Alaska with almost every major airline. Anchorage is the biggest city and home to the most popular airport in Alaska. However, major airlines do fly into other cities.

  • Anchorage: Alaska Airlines, Sun Country, Delta, United, JetBlue, American
  • Fairbanks: Alaska, Delta, United, American
  • Juneau: Alaska, Delta, America
  • Ketchikan: Alaska, Delta, America

Most flights – especially those not originating on the west coast – will transit through Seattle. Points and miles are obviously a great option to use on the major carriers. Flying to Alaska is also a great way to take advantage of the Alaska Airlines Companion Fare.

Finding a place to stay was pretty interesting. In the cities, there are many popular chains such as Hampton Inns or Holiday Inn Express properties, but the prices were outrageous.

There are also hotels that are owned by cruise lines. In Fairbanks, we stayed at a Westmark (owned by Holland America). It was very much a cruise hotel, but it was much cheaper. The Westmark was still pretty nice, but when you’re in Alaska, you shouldn’t be spending a lot of time in a hotel!

Denali National Park (Denali, Ak.)

I’m very conflicted about Denali National Park. It was absolutely beautiful – jut stunning topography, but I was underwhelmed with the lack of wildlife that we saw on the tour. (Full disclosure: my expectations were probably way too high thanks to just finishing One Planet)

There are several ways to see Denali National Park, however, driving in yourself is not an option. The National Park Service limits cars at the 15-mile marker. While you can see the topography, you’re not going to get to see a large portion of the park unless you want to go on a hike.

The National Park Service offers two tours – a transit bus and a guided tour. The transit bus system is marketed as an unnarrated ride through the park and it’s about half the cost of the guided tours. Riders can get off anywhere along the route and just flag down another transit bus when they are ready to continue. The guided tours have a trained narrator and are just under $150 per person. You are not able to leave the guided tour buses on your own but only at designated stops.

We did the transit bus. And it was great. Because you are not limited to a specific bus, you can take longer times at stops or even go on hikes if you want. We were on two different buses throughout the day, and both times, the drivers actually spoke quite a bit about the park.

Now, the negative. In order to do this, it’s pretty much an all-day trip. We left the main bus depot just inside the park at 7:30 am and didn’t return at the end of the day until 4:30 pm. The topography was absolutely stunning – the animals were not. Maybe my expectations were off, but I was expecting to see a lot of animals.

Not so much.

With that said, on the return trip to the park entrance, we saw something that made the entire thing worth it. We were maybe 25 feet away from a grizzly bear and her cub. It was absolutely spectacular. Be sure to watch the video, as well!

We saw a grizzly bear and her cub just 25 feet from the Denali National Park transit bus.

Midnight Sun Game

The highlight of the trip was the Midnight Sun Game at Growden Park in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Picture this: 4,000 people watching a baseball game between two semi-pro baseball teams in Fairbanks, Alaska at midnight. It was wild. Check out the pictures below:

This picture was taken after midnight late in the Midnight Sun Game as the sun began to set.
This picture was taken after midnight late in the Midnight Sun Game as the sun began to set.
Growden Park isn't impressive, but the fans turn out for the annual Midnight Sun Game.
Growden Park isn’t impressive, but the fans turn out for the annual Midnight Sun Game.

At midnight, they stop the game and sing some Alaskan song:

At midnight, they stop the Midnight Sun Game and sing an Alaskan song.

There are several ticket options – general admission and reserved. The general admission tickets were $25 while the reserved tickets were $75. Thanks to my dad not wanting to fight for bleacher seats, I was afforded the opportunity to sit in a chair back.

Here’s the thing: If I went to that game again, I would absolutely pay the $75 to get a reserved seat. It was absolutely worth it not having to worry about waiting in line, getting to the park early or losing a seat when you went to get a beer. I would strongly recommend just ponying up and getting the reserved seat at the Midnight Sun Game.

I’ve been to more than 100 college, minor and major league baseball stadiums in my life, and this ranks near the top. It was absolutely spectacular. The atmosphere for this game was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. And walking out of the stadium after 11 innings of baseball at almost 2 am (the sunset at 12:34 am and rose at 2:56 am) in daylight was awesome.

What to do in Fairbanks

We went to Silver Gulch Brewery before attending the Midnight Sun Game in Fairbanks, Alaska.
We went to Silver Gulch Brewery before attending the Midnight Sun Game in Fairbanks, Alaska.

We essentially had two whole days in Fairbanks – the day of the Midnight Sun Game and the day following (I flew out on the 22nd in the afternoon).

There isn’t a whole lot to do.

We checked out the Alaska Pipeline (just north of the city), the city of North Pole (just southeast of the city) and some breweries. The food scene wasn’t great.

You can view the Alaska Pipeline just north of Fairbanks, Alaska.
You can view the Alaska Pipeline just north of Fairbanks, Alaska.

The Alaska Pipeline was pretty cool. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but it was neat to see.

While we did go to Silver Gulch Brewing, the northernmost brewery in the United States, my favorite thing we did was visit HooDoo Brewing. It was a small little brewery with a great outdoor area. The beer was fantastic and cheap. I even brought home a four pack of their Kolsch! I would strongly recommend checking this spot out.

HooDoo Brewing in Fairbanks was one of the highlights of my trip to Alaska.
HooDoo Brewing in Fairbanks was one of the highlights of my trip to Alaska.

Final Thoughts

This clearly isn’t an article about points and miles, but I wanted to throw up a piece on my quick trip up to Alaska. It’s a breathtaking state, and if you like outdoors and hiking, I can’t imagine there being a better place.

If you’re a sports fan, add the Midnight Sun Game to your bucket list – it’s really phenomenal. Just make sure you don’t spend too much time in Fairbanks as the entertainment and food options are very limited.


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