This Friday, Anchorage’s famous winter festival begins. Fur Rondy, short for Fur Rendezvous, is a wacky, 83-year tradition celebrating life and winter in the North. Before Anchorage became the metropolis it is today, it was a small town where, in the winter, hunters and trappers would bring their skins and furs to trade. In the 1930s, an enterprising Anchorage citizen thought he’d create a winter sports tournament around the time that the trappers had their “Rendezvous”, and the event grew from there. Now, it’s the country’s premier winter festival, but it still includes oddities that celebrate the quirky and indomitable spirit that defines Alaskans. Take, for example, the Outhouse Races. Yes, that would be outhouses on skis, competing for prizes such as Most Realistic, Best Architecture, and, um, Cleanest. Or how about the Miners & Trappers Ball, featuring the Mr. Fur Face beard and mustache competition (as well as best miner or trapper costume). As it’s a festival, there are also carnival rides, food trucks, arts and crafts vendors, and city-wide events that celebrate the coldest months—most of them held outdoors. We’re a hardy bunch, we Alaskans, and the weirder the better, in our opinion.
But you don’t have to brave winter to have a good gander at Alaskans’ strange habits. We show plenty of it off in the summer, too. So if you’re planning on a summer getaway, don’t despair—there’s plenty of weirdness to be found across the state in the warmer months.
Seward Mermaid Festival
Release your inner mermaid in Seward May 18-20. The second annual festival features a Mermaid & Pirate Pub Crawl as well as a vendor & merchant crawl—take your festival passport, get a stamp at each bar or shop, and win a prize! The festival is held in conjunction with the Harbor Opening weekend, traditionally the kick-off to the summer season and a way to shake off winter for good. Or, at least, for a season. Dress in your mermaid best, as there will be a mermaid costume contest, a mermaid-themed cruise with Major Marine Tours, as well as live music, food trucks, crafts vendors, face painting, kid activities and more.
Kodiak Crab Festival
Crab is King, or so the saying goes. Right? Kodiak celebrates king crab and the men and women who catch it every year at the Crab Festival, with events like the Survival Suit Race, in which the winner is the fastest person to don a survival suit and swim through the harbor to the waiting emergency raft. (It’s harder than it sounds.) Or the Predicted Mile race, in which participants predict how long it will take them to run a mile, and the winner is the person who finishes closest to their prediction—no watches or phones allowed! Other events include the Fish Toss, the Arm Wrestling Championships, and the Rubber Duck race. The festival culminates with the Blessing of the Fleet—an annual tradition where each passing vessel is blessed and sprinkled with Holy Water by a Russian Orthodox priest. The festival is held May 24-28 this year, over Memorial Day weekend. While you can’t drive your travel van to Kodiak, you can take it onto the Alaska State Ferry. Catch the ferry in Homer on its way to Kodiak.
The tiny gold rush town of Chicken, Alaska, sits in an active gold mining region but is as remote as they come, located 68 miles up the unpaved Taylor Highway and boasting (yes, boasting) no cell service. But come the weekend of June 15, the town transforms into bluegrass central. Billed as “Music on Top of the World,” the bluegrass festival has been held for several years at the Chicken Gold Camp RV Park, where outdoor stages boast forests and gold dredges in the background. Chicken is nothing if not self-deprecating, poking fun at its name whenever it can—like midway through the festival, when a bush plane flies over the crowd and drops Peeps marshmallows for everyone to enjoy. This year, the festival happens June 15 – 17.
Summer Solstice Festivals
In the Land of the Midnight Sun, the longest day of the year is a big reason to celebrate. On Summer Solstice, June 21, Fairbanks’ annual Midnight Sun Baseball Game begins at midnight. Fairbanks is just 140 miles south of the Arctic Circle, so while the sun drops below the horizon for a couple of hours, it never gets dark. The game is played without ever turning on an artificial light, and when the game ends, the sun is beginning to rise. The Sunday before Solstice, this year on June 17, Fairbanks also hosts its annual Midnight Sun Festival, a one-day street fair featuring live music, street vendors, food trucks, games, gold panning, a climbing wall, and more. The small town of Moose Pass also hosts one of the more popular solstice festivals in the state, featuring live music, local arts & crafts vendors, a beer garden, bake sale, kids games, and more family fun. This year, the Moose Pass Summer Solstice Festival happens on June 16 & 17.
Bear Paw Festival
This Eagle River festival is the largest one on this list. It’s held in Eagle River, just north of Anchorage. It’s a family-focused festival, with events like the kid-friendly Teddy Bear Picnic, the Ice Cream Eating Contest, and the Rotten Sneaker Contest, in which kids compete to figure out whose sneakers smell the worst. The Slippery Salmon Olympics are a popular spectator event: Participants must negotiate an obstacle course while carrying an actual salmon and a cup full of liquid on a tray—without dropping either one. Take in the Human Foosball Game, and the Dog and Owners Look-A-Like Contest, as well as the Chopped Salmon Throwdown, a Food Network-style cooking contest featuring salmon plus a mystery basket of ingredients. And, of course, all the food booths, arts and crafts and live music you can handle. The festival happens July 11-15 this year.
Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Festival
A celebration of boats, the wooden kind! Hosted by the Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Society, this quirky festival includes a night of sea chanteys and fishing poetry at one of Alaska’s more popular dive bars, the Salty Dawg, located on the Homer Spit. Other events include a fish fry, sea chantey sing along, wooden boat building and blacksmithing demonstrations, model boat building and painting for kids, plus displays of historic and handmade wooden boats. The festival dates haven’t been announced for 2018 yet, but the festival usually takes place the first or second weekend in September.
Of course, these aren’t the only festivals in Alaska during the summer, or even the only quirky ones—but they are some of the most unique ones. A travel van can get you to all of them, and can be your home away from home while you’re there. Book a getaway to a summer festival now!