Fairbanks is a good base for day trips into surrounding areas and has an abundance of lodging and dining options. Stay at the budget-priced Golden North Motel, or find more upscale accommodations at Sophie Station Hotel. Fans of Thai food will enjoy a visit to Lemongrass Thai Cuisine, and Lavelle’s Bistro serves gourmet meals in a classy setting.
It’s an easy 1.5-hour drive to Chena Hot Springs, where indoor and outdoor pools are available, along with a year-round Ice Museum that houses amazingly intricate carved pieces by a world-renowned ice sculptor.
Several streams offer good fishing in the area, and the resort has lodging, food, and campsites.
Today’s long day trip goes out the paved-and-gravel Steese Highway to Circle, 161 miles each way from Fairbanks. Heading north, you may want to stop in the settlement of Fox to take a tour of historic Gold Dredge No. 8.
The road climbs over scenic Cleary Summit, down to the old gold settlement of Chatanika (interesting mining artifacts), to Davidson Ditch Historical Site (good for gold panning), over Twelvemile Summit (nice alpine hike), and finally to the Yukon River town of Circle.
There are no accommodations in Circle, so consider camping at Upper Chatanika or Cripple Creek for the night. Hikers can just take the road to Twelvemile Summit for a fun day hike and then return to Fairbanks (170 miles round-trip) for an easier day.
Take a break from travel to spend time in Fairbanks, shopping downtown, enjoying a canoe float down the Chena River, or visiting the Tanana Valley Farmers Market (held Wednesdays and Saturdays) for local arts and crafts, baked goods, and other treats.
Another long trip into the country, this time on the 150-mile Elliott Highway northwest of Fairbanks. The main attractions here are access to hiking trails in the White Mountains and Manley Hot Springs at the end of the road, the last 80 miles of which are gravel.
The historic Manley Roadhouse (www.manleyroadhouse.com)—here since 1906—has rustic accommodations and homemade food.
Time to head north, way north up the Dalton Highway, where flat tires and broken windshields are common occurrences. Don’t try this in a standard rental car; Arctic Outfitters (907/474-3530, www.arctic-outfitters.com) has vehicles set up specifically for travel on the “Haul Road,” which parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline to the oilfields at Prudhoe Bay.
A less stressful trip is to join one of the bus tours—some combine bus travel up with a flight back—from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle (200 miles) or Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse (500 miles).
Lodging is available in Fairbanks and Coldfoot (where most buses stop for the night).
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition