In North Pole, 14 miles southeast of Fairbanks, leaving your Christmas decorations up year-round is just community spirit. It is home to a popular tourist attraction, the Santa Claus House.
The town motto is “Where the spirit of Christmas lives year round,” and the city center is adorned with candlestick streetlights plus road names such as Santa Claus Lane, Snowman Lane and Saint Nicholas Drive.
North Pole embraces its place in Christmas folklore as home of Santa Claus with a counter on the city website showing the number of days until Christmas. A fully decorated Christmas tree stands all year long at City Hall.
The city of 2,124 people, incorporated in 1953, is home to the Santa Claus House, which sees hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The family owned store sits along the Richardson Highway and is one of the Interior’s biggest attractions.
Originally a trading post that also served as North Pole’s first post office, the Santa Claus House has recently been remodeled. The red-and-white-colored building houses a coffee bar and a large variety of Christmas treasures, including ornaments and knicknacks. Santa himself has long been on the job, but safety restrictions due to COVID-19 are still being weighed and it is unknown if he will be able to make an appearance this summer.
A 42-foot tall, 900-pound plastic Santa Claus statue has stood next to the Santa Claus House since 1983. The property is also home to Antler Academy of Flying & Reindeer Games, Santa’s reindeer team.
Chena Lake Recreation Area
Just south of North Pole, Chena Lake Recreation Area is a popular local spot for fishing, barbecues and walks.
It’s really two parks in one: a riverside area along the Chena River and a recreation area along the shores of Chena Lake.
Both offer amenities including camping sites, picnic tables, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits and water access. The recreation area contains 2,100 acres and is managed by the local government.
The Chena Lake beach is especially popular in the summer when Interior Alaska temperatures can climb into the 80s.
During the summer, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Parks and Recreation Department rents canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, rowboats and stand up paddleboards at Chena Lake.
The lake is next to the Moose Creek Dam, part of the Chena River Lakes Flood Control Project completed in 1979 to protect the area after a 1967 flood destroyed much of downtown Fairbanks and displaced 7,000 people.
At high water levels, flood gates on the Chena drop and divert water into the larger Tanana River.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game stocks Chena Lake with rainbow trout, king salmon and Arctic char. The park rents boats in the summer and ice fishing houses in the winter. Arctic grayling, northern pike, whitefish and burbot swim through the Chena River.
Wildlife sightings are common. In July and August, visitors can watch spawning chum and king salmon from the dam.