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One of the most famous landmarks near Fairbanks, Alaska is Cleary Summit, which stands over 2,200 feet above sea level. Located a short drive north of Fairbanks, Cleary Summit is a popular tourist destination during the winter months, with many people traveling there to see the Northern Lights. It is also popular during the summer as a place to watch the “midnight sun,” a period around the summer solstice in which the sun doesn’t set.
If you are planning a trip to Fairbanks, Cleary Summit is worth adding to your travel itinerary no matter what time of year you are visiting. Here is a short guide on getting to Cleary Summit.
How Do I Get to Cleary Summit?
Located 20 miles northeast of Fairbanks, Cleary Summit is noted for its high elevation, which allows visitors to take in views of the Tanana Valley, Denali (Mount McKinley), and the White Mountains when the weather is clear. It also has several lodges and ski resorts available to visitors. Due to its distance from the city, Cleary Summit has no light pollution, making it an ideal place to view auroras, which can be obscured by the light generated by cars, streetlamps, and buildings.
Cleary Summit is located along the Steese Highway, which connects Fairbanks with the city of Circle, one of the oldest gold mining towns in Alaska. To reach the Steese Highway, drive north to Alaska Route 2, which the Steese Highway is signed as for the first 11 miles of its length. This section of the highway will take you to Fox, where you transition to Alaska Route 6, the remainder of the Steese Highway; Alaska Route 2 continues north as the Elliot Highway.
The section of the Steese Highway leading to Cleary Summit has a number of pullouts, which allow motorists to safely park and take in the gorgeous views. One of the most notable pullouts is at mile 16.6, the Felix Pedro Monument Area. This monument is dedicated to Felix Pedro’s discovery of gold in 1902, which spurred on the settlement of Fairbanks, and is clearly marked with signage and features a large parking area for unobstructed views of the surrounding countryside.
Two more pullouts can be found at mile 17 and mile 19. They offer additional views of the wildlife and terrain of the area. Stopping at pullouts is important, particularly during the winter, because parking on the side of the road can be dangerous due to the presence of wildlife and other motorists. For safety reasons, if you are traveling on the Steese Highway or any other similar road in Alaska, you should only stop at pullouts if you are interested in taking pictures.
Cleary Summit itself can be found at mile 20 along the Steese Highway. The summit itself has a dedicated public area for aurora viewing and other outdoors activities. In particular, many tour operators and other tourists can often be found at Cleary Summit. If you are traveling to Cleary Summit to view auroras during the winter, you should turn off your headlights as soon as it is safe to do so in order to avoid spoiling the view for anyone else.
In addition to the aurora viewing location at Cleary Summit, the area also hosts a number of cabins, aurora viewing lodges, and ski resorts, so you have plenty of options depending on the kind of trip you want to make. Further along the Steese Highway are a number of other settlements and landmarks, such as the Steese National Conservation Area and Circle Hot Springs.
If you are traveling to Cleary Summit on your own, exercise caution while on the road. Alaskan weather is known for shifting on a dime, so bring warm, multi-layered clothing even if you are traveling during the summer, as well as a survival kit in your car. Obey speed limits and stay alert for moose and other wildlife that are known to roam in the vicinity of the Steese Highway. While the Steese Highway is generally safe to travel, you should take precautions in order to keep yourself safe.
Fairbanks is a common jumping-off point for many visitors to Alaska because it is located near many important natural landmarks, such as Murphy Dome and Chena Hot Springs. Cleary Summit is one such landmark, offering beautiful views of Denali and other features of Alaska’s landscape, as well as allowing great views of both the Northern Lights and the midnight sun. Its close distance to Fairbanks means many tourists can visit Cleary Summit and be back home quickly.
If you are planning a visit to Cleary Summit, drive carefully, come prepared, and depending on the time of year, observe etiquette when arriving at pullouts and aurora viewing locations. Stopping by Cleary Summit will serve as a highlight of your Alaskan trip.