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The Great Alaskan RV Travel Adventure Part II

Fairbanks and Surroundings

Trip planner Alaska - the second leg of the great Alaskan
adventure trip: Fairbanks and Surroundings

3 (more) action-packed days of fun and adventure.

The second leg of Trip Planner Alaska is relatively stationary - meaning we remain in Fairbanks and enjoy the thrills the city has to offer.

Fairbanks is Alaska's second largest city, but most folks consider it the premier destination for pure fun and adventure. Fairbanks is a summer wonderland of long, warm days, an ideal backdrop for the endless fun and adventure. We could easily have extended our stay here, there was so much to do.

Aurora Borealis

Here are some of the attractions the city has to offer:



Nenana is a must-visit. This quaint 'Tom Sawyer-ish' little town is located just after Denali Park, about 60 miles south of Fairbanks on the Parks Highway.

Basically a dusty, sleepy riverside barge-stop left over from a bygone age, riverboats are still loaded with cargo for delivery to other towns along the Tanana River.

The riverfront is also where you can see the cultural center, with its own little museum and Native craft shop. The oldest building in town is the picturesque 1905 log cabin church on Front Street. Stop in at the visitor center on the Parks Highway to learn more.


Strolling Around Downtown Fairbanks

The first thing to do, prior to starting your little self guided tour of downtown Fairbanks, is to pick up a copy the walking tour booklet. You can find it at the log cabin visitor center on the corner of 1st and Cushman. It will help you get your walk organized and also help you find places of interest that normally you wouldn't glance at.

Among the city highlights are Golden Heart Park, a waterfront plaza near the center. Other places of interest include Fairbanks most impressive building, the white clapboard 'Church of the Immaculate Conception'. Built in 1904 the buildings rare and authentic interior decorations include a pressed tin ceiling and stained-glass windows - a one-of-a kind example of gold rush sacred decor. Another interesting building - a church as well - is the St. Matthew;s Episcopal Church. This old log church with its rope-pull bell was built in 1948 to replace the original structure that was destroyed by fire. The church was erected in 1904 by missionary and dogsled explorer Hudson Stuck, who also arranged the first climbing expedition to Mt. McKinley.

Alaskan Vista


The Aurora Borealis, The Northern Lights

If you visit in summer, you won't have much chance of seeing the dazzling Aurora Borealis. Named after the Roman goddess of dawn, the enthralling ribbons of light were long thought to be refracted and reflected light. Current research, however, seems to conclude that the Aurora is caused by radiation emitted as light from atoms in the upper atmosphere as they are hit by fast moving electrons and protons.

Best Time

The best time to view the 'Northern Light' is from December to March, when they are the most dazzling. One of the best times to look for the Aurora is at the time of a new moon, when the sky is at its darkest.

The aurora is most active late at night or early in the morning, when the sky is clear and the air chilly. The best time to watch is in spring and fall, especially February, March, September, and October. One of the best times to look for the Northern Lights will be when it is dark because of a new moon.

Photographing The Aurora

A sturdy tripod and wide angle lens are a must - actually, the wider the better but should be less than 35mm (at 50mm you begin at 15 seconds star trails begin to show and you don't have much sky in your picture). If your lens can open to f/2.8, your exposure time should be about 20 to 30 seconds on 100 ASA film. You will need to experiment to get the best shot, so if you are visiting - shoot a lot of frames at different exposure times.


Riverboat Discovery

Rated the best boat trip in North America (by the riverboat operators, I would imagine), the Riverboat Discovery has been operated since 1950 by the Binkley family.

The 3.5 hour hour cruise on board an authentic Alaskan sternwheeler takes you back in time to when everything moved at a much slower pace. As the steamboat's wheel churns up the water, you'll probably find yourself on the deck, scanning the treeline on the riverbank for signs of wildlife. The boat heads out to Nuchalawoya - the 'Wedding of the Waters' - where the cool waters of the Chena meet the silt laden Tanana. This creates an awesome site, as the current of the glacial Tanana creates clouds of silt which rise and fall as they come into contact with the clear Chena river. The boat stops en-route to give everyone on board a chance to visit the traditional Athabascan Chena Indian Village, where you get a chance to shop for traditional souvenirs.

The trip is interesting and a lot of fun, but priced at $ 47 for adults and $ 32 for children it seemed a little expensive to me, even when considering they give you a free coffee and doughnut during the ride.


Chena Hot Springs

Just one hours drive east from Fairbanks, the Chena Hot Springs resort is a winter favorite for residents of Fairbanks and a summer favorite with tourists.

The 100 degree temperature of the indoor and outdoor mineral bath stand in sharp contrast to the outdoor air. This is the perfect place for a relaxing soak after a long day of active adventure.

The hot springs were discovered in 1905 by gold prospectors in the area, and were used to ease the rheumatism brought on by grueling work and poor diets. By 1912 Chena Hot Springs had become the premier resort of interior Alaska.


Pioneer Park

Built for the State's Centennial Exposition in 1967, the 44 acre Pioneer Park was later renamed Alaskaland, which was deemed more appropriate. The name was changed back to the original Pioneer Park in 2001.

The park serves as a community park but also serves as a theme park that emphasizes the history of Fairbanks. The park contains a taste of just about everything Alaskan, from a riverboat to a salmon bake to a Native village.

Free parking is available while visiting, and RV parking is available at an extra charge.

In addition to tourist attractions open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Pioneer Park is also home to the Alaskaland Civic Center and Theater, and the Farthest North Square and Round Dance Center, which are both open year round. There are three museums, a 40-foot antique carousel and an old-time saloon.

A total of 29 cabins were moved to the site to form Gold Rush Town. The cabins form a unique walk through Fairbanks' history. They include the Kitty Hensley House, Doc Stearn's cabin, Judge Wickersham's House, the original First Presbyterian Church, Alex McRae's dream cabin as well as other cabins.

Georgia Lee's house, thought to have once been an establishment of ill repute, is headquarters to the park office. The building started out in Nenana in the 1920's, but was moved to Fourth Avenue in 1928. After its move to Pioneer Park, its interior was refinished "in the stylish manner reminiscent of its heyday".

Denali Park

The other cabins have also been refurbished as close as possible to their original condition and are occupied by local merchants offering an assortment of refreshments, gifts, and Alaskana.

In addition to Gold Rush Town, Pioneer Park includes covered picnic shelters and a large grassy field and playground area for travelers to stretch their legs and relax. The park is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, although certain buildings are utilized year 'round.

Other attraction in the park include:

The Riverboat SS Nenana

The riverboat which once sailed Alaska's rivers is permanently docked at the park & features a diorama of the points of call in its heyday. The Nenana is listed as a National Historic Landmark, and has been the subject of a five-year structural restoration project.

Alaska Salmon Bake

The Alaska Salmon Bake, located at the west end of Pioneer Park, in "Mining Valley" is known statewide for its generous portions.

Native Village
The Alaska Native Village Museum takes a look at Alaska through the Athabascan culture. It houses such Native artifacts as a wolverine parka and traditional tools. A mural depicts life along the river

Many other attractions are available and the park is well worth a visit, not to mention it being a great place to park your RV.


Eldorado Gold Mine

If you liked the Riverboat Discovery tour then you will probably like this as well, as it stems from the same source.

Another attraction operated by the Binkley family, here you can participate in a trip through Alaska's gold mining history. An amusement- park- type replica of the Tanana Valley Railroad train takes you for an adventure in Alaska's gold fields of the interior. This is actually an impressively staged educational tour, which includes a trip through a tunnel in the permafrost.

The original Tanana Valley Railroad served over two dozen gold camps scattered throughout Interior Alaska in the early 1900s. Supplies arrived in Alaska on vessels that traveled from Seattle to the mouth of the Yukon River. Freight was then transferred to sternwheelers, which hauled it up the Yukon and Tanana Rivers to Interior Alaska. From there the Tanana Valley Railroad carried supplies to the gold camps

The Eldorado gold mine is located 9 miles north of Fairbanks, off the Elliott Highway, and can be reached by a free shuttle.



Most fishing in the Fairbanks area is in the streams for Arctic grayling, Northern pike, and burbot, and in stocked lakes for rainbow trout, Arctic char, and silver salmon.

You can fish right in the Chena as it flows through town, but I found that getting out of town and hiking away from the road yielded better results. Fishing is also very enjoyable and plentiful in Denali Park, situated south of Fairbanks.

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