If you follow my Instagram (@sarahearnstein), you already know I’ve been in Alaska for the past week and if you’re like anyone else in my life you’re wondering, “Why the hell did this crazy woman go to central Alaska in the dead of winter?!” To answer that simply, I thrive on extremes. I have a (sometimes destructive) “go big or go home” mentality, so if I was going to do Alaska, I was going to REALLY DO Alaska. Also, I’ve always wanted to see the northern lights, and this is peak time for that. Anyway, keep reading below to find out how Fairbanks took me from a cold slap in the face (this says a lot coming from a Chicagoan) to having me legitimately sad to leave.
Let’s start with where to stay.
I’ll preface this part by saying I hate large masses of people. It will single-handedly, instantly put me in a bad mood. I also love places with a unique touch, so I almost never opt to stay in chain hotels if I have a choice. These two stipulations lead me to a list of a few Air BnBs, hotels, and bed and breakfasts for our short time in Fairbanks. We landed on A Taste of Alaska Lodge and all I can say is, if you’re even considering this place, pick it. Just do it. I promise you will not be disappointed.
I could honestly have written an entire post just on A Taste of Alaska itself. It’s in a beautiful location which will take at least an all-wheel drive car to get to, but it will blow your mind at how breath-taking the views are. Think cheesy Christmas card levels of snow-covered pine trees on freshly-fallen, glittering snow. I’m rolling my own eyes right now, but it really is THAT gorgeous. Above is a photo of the lodge from out back. The entire property (180 total acres) was covered in these pine trees and, of course, snow.
Above is a photo of where Austin and I enjoyed the breakfast portion of “bed and breakfast.” During our second morning there, I couldn’t stop repeating “I love this place, I love this place, I LOVE THIS PLACE!” The lodge was so impeccably decorated and really gave off a grandmother’s house-meets-trendy log cabin vibe. Oh, and it was a house rule to take off your shoes at the front door, so breakfast was in your socks – a quirk that quickly won my heart.
The day after we arrived, we met the owner, Kory, and his dad. Kory did it all – he was the front desk associate, the head chef, the concierge, the waiter, and an all around cool dude. He embodied exactly what I’d like in a bed and breakfast host – interested and helpful, but not all up in your business. He asked us what we were up to that day, gave recommendations on where to go, and remembered long enough to ask us how it went the next day. He also makes a mean blueberry pancake and Alaskan halibut (yes, he will cook you dinner if you ask nicely and employ his son to help serve you).
As if I haven’t already sold you on Kory and A Taste of Alaska, they also kept the coffee fully stocked at this adorable station (left). This is truly the way to my heart, so kudos to you, Kory.
If you’re thinking of making your way to Taste of Alaska, they have options for either individual cabins or a room in the main lodge. Austin and I stayed in the main lodge which I was thankful for when it came time to just go upstairs for breakfast without going outside, but I will highly consider trying a cabin rental the next time we visit.
One of the main reasons I listed above for wanting to visit Alaska this time of year was to see the northern lights, and we were lucky enough to get an amazing show both nights we were there! The lodge proved to be a perfect backdrop for Aurora Borealis photos and every guest has access to the yurt out back to stay warm while waiting for the main event. Just make sure you bring a tripod or something sturdy to set your camera on as most of my photos were a bit blurry with the long exposure shots.
Now onto things to do.
We knew we wanted to do some dog sledding in Fairbanks and Austin ended up getting the last open reservation at a place called Black Spruce Dog Sledding and I’m SO glad he did.
There are plenty of other places around the area, but we had such a good time at Black Spruce and our guide, Luther, made it an incredible experience. He introduced us to all the dogs (and some puppies!), gave us some background on dog mushing in Alaska, let us help harness the dogs, and then took us on a ride. The whole thing was about two hours long, but I could have spent all day with those puppies. We even stopped half way along the ride to take pictures (all expertly posed by Luther, himself). See below for these masterpieces.
These two people (Kory and Luther) and their respective businesses (A Taste of Alaska and Black Spruce Dog Sledding) made me fall in love with the winter wonderland that is Fairbanks, AK. I’ll list a few of the other places we went below for you to consider the next time you find yourself in the middle of Alaska.
My restaurant recommendations for this area include the Pump House and Ivory Jacks. Please please please, go to the Pump House and get their seafood chowder. Just do it. Don’t ask questions. It’s amazing. I don’t care if you don’t like clam chowder, you’ll like this. Ivory Jacks is a local bar/restaurant we passed on our way to Black Spruce and it’s just what you’d expect out of a rustic, Alaskan bar. Great fried halibut here.
We also went over to Chena Hot Springs on our second day. This is a resort that has geothermal hot springs – in other words, natural outside hot tubs. Chena Hot Springs actually made the short list of places we considered staying, but there were a lot of mixed reviews online which I understood when we arrived. Its packed. Remember what I said before about hating masses of people? This was exactly that. We took a dip in the hot springs, but didn’t stay for more than a half hour because there were so many people packed into this area that it wasn’t enjoyable after a while. However, it was really neat to see and experience, so if you can go on an off-time, I’d highly recommend making the day trip.
A few last tips while visiting Fairbanks for the first time:
1. We opted to rent a car. Not 100% necessary as most tours will pick you up and they have Uber, but it gave us more freedom which was ideal for us.
2. If you do rent a car, the cord that sticks out of the hood is to plug the car in over night to keep the engine from freezing. Also, your car-knowledgeable boyfriend will laugh at you if you see the cord and ask if the car’s electric.
3. The northern lights typically appear between 10pm and 2am. We saw them around 10:30pm both nights, so be ready and just sit outside. They come fast and leave even faster. I also recommend a nap around 3pm.
4. I know I mentioned this already, but bring a tripod and learn your camera before you start to take pictures. I did neither of these things, and only got a couple good pictures. If you aren’t from certain parts of the world, pictures of Aurora Borealis are sometimes once in a life time opportunities.
One thing I will say about everyone we met in Alaska: They LOVE what they’re doing and they love sharing with visitors. From Kory to Luther, to Sandra we met in a gift shop, they all absolutely love the crap out of their lives and didn’t hesitate to share their stories and their favorite local places. I became addicted to asking people why they moved to Fairbanks because it always involved them following some internal pull toward the Alaskan wilderness and that kind of courage was inspiring.
There are few times in my life that I can remember feeling such great sorrow for leaving a place as I did Fairbanks. It’s an odd feeling of leaving a part of myself in a town over 3,000 miles from my home, but excitement that I found this town in the middle of Alaska that I fell in love with. Until next time, Fairbanks.
Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!