Here are some of the biggest community events of the year in Alaska's cities and towns. Event plans can change, so don't set up your vacation around any of these dates without checking for current details. Fishing derbies go on in almost every coastal town in the summer.
The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race (tel. 907/452-7954; www.yukonquest.com). Many mushers say this rugged 1,000-mile race is even tougher than the Iditarod. It runs between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, trading the direction each year. Starts February 4, 2012, in Whitehorse.
The Anchorage Fur Rendezvous Winter Festival (tel. 907/274-1177; www.furrondy.net). The citywide winter celebration includes community events, fireworks, craft fairs, dog-sled rides, and other fun.
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race (tel. 907/376-5155; www.iditarod.com). The world's most famous sled-dog race starts with fanfare from Anchorage; then the teams are loaded into trucks for the Iditarod Restart, north of the city, the real beginning of the race, where the historic gold-rush trail becomes continuous for the dogs' 1,000-mile run to Nome. The start and the finish in Nome are the biggest sporting and cultural events of Alaska's year, drawing world media attention and turning Nome into a huge party for a few days (they even play golf out on the sea ice). Along the way, visitors can stay in remote lodges and fly bush planes to see the checkpoints (with plenty of advance planning and a big budget). In 2012, the race starts March 3.
The Nenana Ice Classic (tel. 907/832-5446; www.nenanaakiceclassic.com), Nenana. This is a betting pool on the date of spring breakup that has happened every year for the last 9 decades. The kick-off is Tripod Days, when a "four-legged tripod" that will mark the ice going out on the Tanana River is erected during the first weekend in March, with a celebration of dance performances, dog mushing, and other activities. The ticket buyer who guesses the minute the tripod will move, usually about 2 months later, wins the jackpot, typically more than $300,000.
The Alaska Folk Festival (tel. 907/463-3316; www.alaskafolkfestival.org), Juneau. April 9 to April 15, 2012. This is a communitywide celebration, drawing musicians, whether on the bill or not, from all over the state.
The Kachemak Shorebird Festival (tel. 907/235-7740; www.homeralaska.org), Homer. The festival includes guided bird-watching hikes and boat excursions, natural-history workshops, art shows, performances, and other events. Early May.
Little Norway Festival (tel. 907/772-3646; www.petersburg.org), Petersburg. This festival celebrates the May 17, 1814, declaration of the independence of Norway from Sweden. The town has several days of community events. The festival takes place on the third full weekend in May.
Kodiak Crab Festival (tel. 907/486-5557), Kodiak. This Memorial Day weekend event is the town's biggest of the year, including fun events, the solemn blessing of the fleet, and a memorial service for lost fishermen and other mariners.
The Sitka Summer Music Festival (tel. 907/747-6774; www.sitkamusicfestival.org), Sitka. Since 1972, this chamber music series has drawn musicians from all over the world for most of June. Performances take place Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with other events all week, over 3 weeks in June.
Midnight Sun Baseball Game, Fairbanks. A century-old summer-solstice tradition: a game without artificial lights beginning at 10:30pm. The local semipro baseball team, the Alaska Goldpanners (tel. 907/451-0095; www.goldpanners.com), has hosted since 1960. June 21.
The Last Frontier Theater Conference (tel. 907/834-1614; www.pwscc.edu), Valdez. The conference brings playwrights and directors from all over the nation to the community for a week of seminars and performances. June 10 to June 16, 2012.
Independence Day. Most of the small towns in Alaska make a big deal of the Fourth of July. Seward always has a huge celebration, exploding with visitors, primarily from Anchorage. Besides the parade and many small-town festivities, the main attraction is the Mount Marathon Race, which goes from the middle of town straight up rocky Mount Marathon to its 3,022-foot peak and down again. Seldovia, Ketchikan, Skagway, and Juneau also have exceptional Fourth of July events.
The Southeast Alaska State Fair (tel. 907/766-2476; www.seakfair.org), Haines. Held for 4 days in late July, this is a regional small-town get-together and music festival, with exhibits, cooking, a logging show, a parade, and other entertainment.
The Alaska State Fair (tel. 907/745-4827; www.alaskastatefair.org), Palmer. The region's biggest event of the year is a typical state fair in some ways, but you won't see vegetables this large anywhere else. The good soil and long Valley days produce cabbages the size of beanbag chairs. Try to imagine a 19-pound carrot. Held the 12 days up to and including Labor Day.
Alaska Day Festival (tel. 907/747-8806), Sitka. Alaska Day, commemorating the Alaska purchase on October 18, 1867, is a big deal in this former Russian and U.S. territorial capital city. The festival lasts 4 days, with exact dates changing annually.
Sitka WhaleFest (tel. 907/747-7964; www.sitkawhalefest.org), Sitka. Over a weekend in early November, during the fall and early winter period when humpback whales congregate in Sitka Sound, experts from around the world present a 3-day symposium, and there are whale-watching tours, concerts, an art show, a run, and community events.
The Alaska Bald Eagle Festival (tel. 907/766-3094; www.baldeaglefestival.org), Haines. Five days of seminars and special events mark an annual congregation of 3,000 eagles near Haines. Mid-November.
Anchorage International Film Festival (www.anchoragefilmfestival.org). As many as a dozen screenings a day feature films from every corner of the world and include the obscure, the bizarre, and the profound. Two weeks beginning December 7, 2012.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.