People come to Interior Alaska for the gold-mining history, dog mushing, the northern lights—and Denali National Park. This one-week itinerary includes everything you need to explore this remote part of the state.
Welcome to Fairbanks! As you get settled, take the time to visit Gold Daughters and learn how to pan for gold from a pair of talented women who grew up giving demonstrations to tourists. Don’t miss the Pipeline Viewing Station just across the highway, where you can get up close to the 800-mile pipeline that transfers crude oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.
Next, if you love Christmas, make the 20-minute drive southeast to the year-round Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska. End the day at Pioneer Park, filled with historical buildings, mining equipment, an all-you-can-eat salmon bake, and a hilarious dinner theater show about the history of Fairbanks. Let the front desk at your hotel know you’d like to be woken up if the northern lights come out.
Choose your big adventure for the day: If you want a day of relaxation, head out to Chena Hot Springs for hot springs and an ice museum. If you want a more extreme adventure, you can book a day trip to a more remote area: Fly out to the traditional, isolated village of Anaktuvuk Pass for a day tour to learn more about Alaska Native culture, or get up very early to fly halfway up the Haul Road (aka the Dalton Highway) and then drive back with Northern Alaska Tour Company. You can also hitch a ride on the mail plane to a rural village with Warbelow’s Air. You won’t get to spend any real time in the village(s)—the plane just drops off the mail then takes off again. But getting to flit out to a remote village in a small plane is still a fun, exciting experience for many people.
Book a morning tour at the Running Reindeer Ranch, where you get to take a short nature walk with a herd of reindeer running wild around you; it’s perfectly safe but surprisingly exhilarating, and you’ll learn a lot about the domesticated cousin to Alaska’s wild caribou. Next, stop by the stunning Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Then head downtown to visit The Crepery for one of Fairbanks’s best lunches, and a stop by the Alaska House Art Gallery for a glimpse at the region’s best Alaska Native art.
That evening, make the 2.5-hour drive south to Denali National Park and Preserve, get settled in your hotel or campground.
Take either a narrated tour bus or a shuttle bus ride into Denali National Park and Preserve. The difference is more than just narration; shuttle buses will stop for photo ops and to let people hop on and off, while the narrated tour buses only stop for photo ops. There are many shuttle and tour bus trips into the park every day, each of them of varying length; you get to choose if you want to spend five hours on a “short” trip or twelve hours on a bus ride that goes all the way to the end of the road.
Wildlife sightings are never guaranteed—after all, the animals are wild and wander as they please—but most visitors are still eager for a chance to see bears, caribou, moose, and wolves in the wild. If you take one of the shorter rides, you’ll have time for a short day hike before you check out the restaurants near the park entrance. If you have a car, get dinner at the 49th State Brewing Company in nearby Healy; it has the bus that was used for filming Into the Wild set up so you can take selfies or photos to your heart’s content. It also offers shuttle service to the carless for a nominal fee.
Check out the park’s three visitor centers, if you haven’t already, and visit their working kennel of sled dogs, or book a day tour of your choice. Options include everything from white-water rafting to horseback rides, dog cart rides, ATV rides, and ziplining. Then make the 2.5-hour drive south to Talkeetna.
Once you’ve arrived in Talkeetna, it’s time to book that flightseeing trip around Denali, using one of the small airlines that also ferry climbers back and forth to Denali base camp. If you don’t like small planes you have lots of other day tour options, including a jet boat ride on the mighty rivers nearby, fishing, or ziplining. End your day with live music at the Fairview Inn or a great dinner at Mountain High Pizza Pie, Twister Creek Restaurant, or the Wildflower Cafe; they’re all excellent.
Hop on the Hurricane Turn Train, a delightful narrated trip on one of the nation’s last flag stop trains. When you get back, make it a point to wander the shops along Main Street (they’re all locally owned) before you make the drive back to Fairbanks or south to explore Southcentral.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Alaska.