Fairbanks is Basecamp Alaska

Fairbanks is basecamp Alaska. That’s the best way to put it. Everywhere of note, especially in Central and Northern Alaska is reachable from Fairbanks. Plus, the city has a lot to offer in and of itself. My third visit to Alaska brought me to Fairbanks for the first time and the whole massive state opened up for me.

Fairbanks is Basecamp Alaska

Alaska is a complicated state to travel around. The distances are great, the weather is unpredictable, roads are few and booking planes, float planes and other activities and means of transportation can be confusing. That’s why I chose Fairbanks.

beautiful Alaska

Fairbanks is more central than Anchorage and Juneau. This is very helpful because you can drive more places quicker. Fairbanks has a great airport plus a small plane and float plane airport to get just about anywhere in the state. Plus, Fairbanks has above average tourist facilities like decent hotels, restaurants, supply stores and even several Starbucks! As I said, Fairbanks is basecamp Alaska!

landing into Fairbanks at 1am

I arrived late into Fairbanks direct from Seattle along with my best friend Dennis and Godson Lincoln. We immediately checked into Pike’s Waterfront Lodge right by the airport and very comfortable. They had a good breakfast spread plus they were very friendly and accommodating. However, the rooms could use an update.

Pike's Waterfront Lodge room

After breakfast we headed over to do a scenic and educational river cruise called the Riverboat Discovery. I was happy to do this with a 9-year old but I wasn’t quite sure how it would translate for Dennis and I but I have to say we both really enjoyed it.

riverboat

It was a 3-hour tour (insert Gilligan’s Island jokes here) on an old-fashioned riverboat run only on the big wheel in the back. It was reminiscent of something you’d see in New Orleans on the Mississippi River. There was an emcee that was a former radio host in Fairbanks. He was really good for information and also some laughs.

on the boat

The boat was comfortable but the main attractions were along the river. They’d obviously mastered this tour and everything was setup perfectly. People who lived along the river would be mic’d up and explain what they do. One stop was a salmon farm; another was a dog-training center where they trained dogs for the Iditarod.

Iditarod dog training

This was actually really cool because it was the house and family of the late 4-time Iditarod winner, Susan Butcher. Her daughter led the demonstration and did a great job. Lincoln loves dogs, so he loved watching them race and then jump in the river to cool off. I thought it was pretty cool too!

salmon farm

Finally we stopped at a Chena Indian Village to give us a taste of Athabascan Indian culture. This was great because we got to see reindeer up close. My Godson loved it and they had some really cool demonstrations of typical attire, animals and hunting techniques. It was really interesting.

Traditional attire

After lunch we headed about 20-minutes out to the Tanana Valley Railroad to do some gold panning. Again I was excited for Lincoln to do this but was apprehensive for us but we both really enjoyed it. It’s crazy how you’ll find some gold flakes after panning. It takes a while but is a lot of fun and very interesting.

Panning

The setting is cool too because it puts you back into the Klondike Gold Rush times. Of course there’s a gift shop but what’s cool is they’ll weigh the gold you find and tell you its value. Between the 3 of us we found $25 worth of gold. Lincoln kept it as a souvenir.

Lincoln and his golden souvenir

After checking out of Pike’s Waterfront Lodge and a quick fuel up at Starbucks, we were off on a long drive to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Google Maps said it was an 8-hour drive but in truth it was only about 5 hours of actual driving although it took us 6 hours with stops.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

The last 60 miles or so are on a gravel road once you enter the park. This takes you past some amazing scenery-don’t forget to look around but be careful on the narrow 2-way roads. Finally you’ll arrive at the information house where you park your car. They’ll phone your lodge in either McCarthy or Kennecott and they’ll meet you on the other side of the footbridge.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

We stayed at Kennecott Glacier Lodge in the small abandoned mining town of Kennecott. This place was fantastic and amongst the best national park lodges I’ve stayed at although the National Park Service does not run it.

Fairbanks is Basecamp Alaska, Kennecott Glacier Lodge

Kennecott is a great little town to walk around in and check out. It won’t take you long as it’s really only one street with a bunch of interesting old buildings on it. Finally you’ll get to the old copper mill, which looks much like it did in the 30’s.

Copper Mill in Kennecott

There is also a shuttle from Kennecott to McCarthy. McCarthy is a cool little town and I do mean little to check out for an hour or so. They have a general store, a saloon, restaurant and a small hotel. It’s probably not much different than it was 100 years ago and well worth a visit.

McCarthy, Alaska

After a great night’s sleep at the Kennecott Glacier Lodge, myself, Dennis and Lincoln headed out on a half-day glacier hike with St. Elias Alpine Guides. It was the highlight of the trip to that point for me.

On Root Glacier

Lincoln is 9 and had never been on a glacier and although it’s a 2.5-mile slog each way, the glacier is well worth it. Root Glacier is an easy glacier to access and walk on. It’s stunning and surrounded by some amazing mountain scenery including a couple of massive glaciers in the background.

Root Glacier

Our guide Ben was easy going and good with Lincoln. I loved it even more because he and Dennis enjoyed it and we got some great pictures. I had never traveled with a child before so it was a blast for me to see how excited he was getting those crampons on and ‘walking on water’ as he said!

Root Glacier

Then it was the long drive back to Fairbanks, as I had to drop Dennis and Lincoln off at the airport. I then checked into the Bear Lodge at Wedgewood Resort before my early morning flight up to Bettles to continue my Alaskan journey. As I said, Fairbanks is basecamp Alaska and everything is so close and easily accessible. More to come!

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed following your Alaska trip and look forward to other posts. I too want to visit every national park and was inspired by your journey. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I went to Fairbanks last summer. Nice town and a base camp is a good way of describing it. You don’t go to Alaska for Fairbanks but it’s a great place to get to other places from.

  3. Dominique says:

    I want to go to Alaska so bad! Have you seen the northern lights? When’s the best time to see them?

    • I have but not in Alaska although I plan to go this winter back to see it in either January or March. I hear March is the best time but you still need to get lucky with a clear sky.

  4. So nice you got to do this trip with your Godson, I’m sure he’ll remember it forever.

  5. Christopher W says:

    I haven’t been to Fairbanks, I’ve only been to Anchorage and Juneau and did a cruise. I’d love to explore the backcountry and national parks like you did. I love nature and want to experience the real Alaska like in Into The Wild. Was that really the bus you featured in your IG Stories? If so, that’s awesome, I loved that film.

    • I was told the bus at the 49th State Brewery was bought at auction after the film was completed and it was the bus used in the film. I was told the original bus is still out in the wild somewhere about 35 miles down a dirt road that is hard to access. It’s become a bit of a tourist attraction but it’s still very out of the way and hard to reach.

  6. Cheryl Fertig says:

    What a great trip to be shared with a best friend and his son!
    Tanks:)

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