What then is frontier? That forgotten country where men and women live with and by and for the land, in self-reliant communities of mutual aid, in a spirit of independence, magnanimity, and trust. — Edward Abbey
We have written before about the tight knit, quirky, and welcoming community that is Fairbanks, but the above quote exemplifies not only Alaska as a whole, but fits Fairbanks perfectly. If you’re looking to experience beautiful, independent, and shear wonder that the Fairbanks community is in the summer time, you’ll need a prime place to stay.
Fairbanks isn’t short on hotels and bed & breakfasts, but you will be hard pressed to find a more comfortable and stunning place than the Alaska Viewpoint Lodge. Tucked away on Chena Ridge, overlooking the sprawling expanse of the Tanana Basin, you couldn’t ask for a better place to relax with a cup of tea and just simply take in the grandness of Alaska.
Five rooms are available, all but one with its own private bathroom. The king-bed suite even has a luxurious jacuzzi tub! Breakfasts are served daily and they will happily accommodate any dietary restrictions you may have.
If you book a room with Alaska Viewpoint Lodge this summer, make sure to ask about discounts. They offer military, senior, Alaska resident, and teacher discounts.
With a perfect rating on Trip Advisor, past guests can’t praise it enough. “It’s like staying at a friend’s house,” one guest from Anchorage, wrote. “Breakfast is ready when you are. The room is comfortable and private. The house is located close to town with a beautiful view (of) Denali and the surrounding mountains. This arrangement is closer to a bed and breakfast than a lodge. Will happily stay again when traveling in the area.”
The allure of leaving the rest of the world behind and losing yourself (hopefully not literally) in the middle of nowhere is what draws many people to Alaska. Not everyone however, is cut out for back country hiking and camping in the untamed wilderness. There is another option to see the Alaskan wilderness and that is by car. Sure you can see a sliver of Alaska from well traveled roads, like the Parks Highway and the Seward Highway. These roads have more towns that offer services along the way. The Dalton Highway, or sometimes referred to as the ‘Haul Road,’ is more of a rugged challenge.
The Dalton Highway is remote and there are really only three places long the 414 mile road to fill up your gas tank: the Yukon River Camp, Coldfoot, and Deadhorse. I know, the last two are pretty ominous names for a town. None of these places are actually proper towns, though people do live there if only seasonally. The Yukon River Camp and Coldfoot are operated by Northern Alaska Tour Company, and it is the only place along the road where you can get a bite to eat, fill up your gas tank, rent a room for the evening, and even pick up a souvenir or two. Accommodations are comprised of the ever versatile atco unit. It may be rustic, but it sure beats sleeping outside with the mosquitoes!
Just north of Coldfoot is an established community called, Wiseman. You can find actual log built rooms here if you want more charm than an atco unit, but the town is exactly what you’d expect for the location. This quite, rustic, and remote town didn’t even connect to the main road until 1990’s and in the 2010 census had a total population of 14. If you want to relax in a piece of real Alaska, this is the place to do it.
The Dalton Highway is always in some state of construction during the summer time. Many pieces of the highway are still just gravel with extremely soft shoulders. It is advisable that you carry at least two spare tires with you if you venture down the road, and a CB radio is a good idea as well. This road is first and foremost for the truckers. Carrying supplies up to the North Slope for the oil workers is their job, and some aren’t too thrilled with slow moving tourists getting in their way, especially on some of the more steep and dangerous passes that can only safely allow one vehicle going up or down at a time. Listening to the radio chatter is not only entertaining, it will keep you safe and in one piece.
If your rental car isn’t up to the challenge of the Dalton Highway (and most likely it isn’t since most car rental agencies forbid the use of their cars on any gravel roads), there is one company you can rent a fully outfitted car complete with spares and a radio. Or you can always let someone else do the driving for you on a Dalton Highway shuttle. Think of it as a glorified taxi service in the middle of nowhere. Use your bathroom stops wisely, there aren’t many available!
The final destination of most Dalton Highway travelers is Deadhorse. This is the temporary oil worker town set up in Prudhoe Bay, which is also made up of atco units, easy to break down and move when the oil runs out. There isn’t much to do here, but the big draw is seeing the Arctic Ocean. Of course you can’t actually see the Arctic Ocean without a booked tour, given you have to cross the oil fields to get there and security is kind of tight. But dipping your toe into an ocean many people never get to see, is well worth the adventure!
If you know anyone in Alaska, especially Fairbanks, you’ve heard them complain loudly about the frigid temperatures this week. You know when an Alaskan complains about the cold, it is some serious business! With temperatures in the interior down to -50F and at some places even colder, it really is something to complain about. Most people stay inside near their heater or fire when the weather gets this cold, but there is an intrepid bunch of die hard athletes that venture out in every kind of weather just to go for a run.
In fact, there are running events held all year in Alaska, and in places like Fairbanks it is a steadfast tradition that will never die. There are racing events held every weekend, but we’ve complied a list of some of the most challenging and most fun winter running events. Are you brave enough to try one of these out?
Susitna 100 – This race will really test your grit! Held in mid February along snow-packed snow machine and sled dog trails, this race is 100 miles through the frozen wilderness of the Susitna River Valley. You have the option to run, ski, or bike and there is also a 50K race if you aren’t up for 100 miles. To top it all off, you’re not just propelling yourself forward through the tundra, but all your gear as well. 48 hours to complete means that you will be pulling along a sled filled with the gear you’ll need to survive. You are your own happy little sled dog!
White Mountains 100 – Maybe the Susitna 100 is too far south and you really want to freeze some toes off. Well, we have you covered with the White Mountains 100, another 100 miler that you can run, ski, or bike. This race traverses the White Mountains north of Fairbanks. Held in late March and in it’s 8th iteration, this race is not for the faint of heart!
George Bloom Memorial Midday Sun Fun Run – Most people rarely use the words fun and run in the same sentence, especially regarding winter running. This run however is more our style. Held mid December in Fairbanks, this run is a leisurely 6.5 miles that loops around the University of Alaska Fairbanks through rolling hills that snake through communities of cozy cabins filled with people staying warm, not running and freezing their eyelashes to brittle icicles. This run is free and a favorite among locals, but the warning that the race is run “regardless of temperature” has us a little suspicious and shivering already.
St. Patrick’s Day Run – Another Fairbanks ‘fun run’ favorite is the St. Patrick’s Day Run. Obviously this run is held on a weekend closest to St. Patrick’s Day, so the weather is a bit warmer, usually. It isn’t unheard of to still get snaps of -30F even in March, but lately temperatures in March are bearable. So grab your green tutu and run a cheery 7.1 miles through snowy trails and make sure to reward yourself with a beer afterward!
Training Sessions – You don’t need an official race to go run in the cold! The Running Club North in Fairbanks has a couple on going training sessions you can torture–I mean reward–yourself with all winter long. The ‘Fahrenheit Be Darned’ group meets on Wednesdays to train through all sorts of winter conditions. -40F? Ice fog? Ice?! No problem, they got this! If you need more of a carrot to get you moving out into the cold, the Hoodoo Goldstream Beer Runs are held every Thursday through the winter. 1 to 3 miles and the promise of a tasty beer afterwards? We are in!
Alaska is nothing if not unique. Places like the Doctor Seuss house and events like the Talkeetna Moose Dropping Festival really speak to the quirky nature of Alaska and its residents. Though, if you live in a climate that spends nine months out of the year in dark sub-zero conditions then you need to have a sense of humor just to survive. We have put together a list of three places to stay that don’t take themselves too seriously and we love them for that!
The Bork Zoo-Retro 60’s Feather and Fur – If you love 60’s architecture, animals, and fun eccentric hosts then this is the airbnb for you! Mike Bork and his wife rent out their fully finished basement to travelers looking for a more local feel when visiting Fairbanks. Full of wood paneling and stone work, plus a fully stocked wet bar, this place will transport you to a time of rabbit ear TVs and beehive hairdos. The Bork Zoo is aptly named, they practically have a full (albeit strange) mushing team with four dogs, four parrots, and an outdoor cat named Bacon. But the hosts are really the reason you should stay here. Mike not only sings and plays the ukulele, but is also a balloon artist, laugh therapist, and a pretty decent chef. If you want a local flavor of Fairbanks, this is the place to stay!
Burly Man Bunkhouse – This bunkhouse brings to mind a popular saying in Alaska pertaining to the once heavily skewed ratio of men to women, and while the number of men no longer overtakes the women, the sentiment is still appealing. You want to find a husband in Alaska? Well, the odds are good, but the goods are odd! The Burly Man Bunkhouse in Seward embodies this wholeheartedly! This cozy cabin in the woods is decked out in full color portraits of rugged Alaskan men in nothing more than their birthday suits doing manly things like hiking in the snow, playing the guitar in a serene field, fishing, and even horseback riding (yeah that made us cringe too!). This place will satisfy your desire for a quiet Alaskan getaway and the added bonus of some delightful eye candy.
Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn – You’ll know you’re at the right place by the cutout of two uncomfortable looking humping bears proudly displayed out front. Yes, Alaskans have a bawdy sense of humor. What can we say? It gets us through those frostbitten -40F nights (and days). Skinny Dick’s was once a saw mill in the 50s. The story goes that the sawmill was bough in 1969 and remodeled into a bar called the Halfway House due to it’s location halfway between Fairbanks and Nenana. The bar was sold in the 80s to Richard “Skinny” Hiland who renamed the place Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn. If you want that local bar feeling with the added bonus of purchasing a rude t-shirt with humping polar bears, this place is a win!