Driving to and Exploring Fairbanks

Fairbanks made my destination list for a few simple reasons. First of all, I guess you could just say that I wanted to celebrate Christmas in July. And, if you visit North Pole, you could celebrate Christmas any month of the year. You will feel particularly in the spirit if you visit Santa Clause House. This was my destination of choice at the North Pole. It is a large gift store adorned with Christmas murals on the outside and ornaments, Santa, and souvenirs on the inside. The North Pole is located about 12 miles to the south and east of Fairbanks. The total travel time between Anchorage and Fairbanks without any delays is a little over six hours. This was the longest day of driving on my trip. I did not experience any delays driving, and I thought the roads were well attended to. Most of the drive is two lanes, but there are relatively frequent areas for passing on most of the highway system. The Parks Highway will take you from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Again, if you didn’t read my other post, The Milepost website is a great resource for mile markers along your trip. The Alaska Rail also runs between Anchorage and Fairbanks. A ride on the Alaska Rail did not fit into my trip. However, if you are considering this, I believe the Coastal Classic from Anchorage to Girdwood and then Seward may be the most scenic.

At Santa Clause House, I walked around the outside first looking at the murals and visiting the very large Santa. There is also an area with reindeer a short walk away. Inside the store, there are Christmas trees along with every possible ornament and decoration you could ever want. The souvenirs are abundant. One fun thing you can do is purchase postcards, and the store will mail them out. They will then be postmarked from the North Pole. If you would like, they will even keep a bin to be sent out as Christmas mail. For those with children, Santa is available not just during Christmas, but year round.

Chena Hot Springs. My next stop was at Chena Hot Springs. I considered staying here, but it didn’t have the same appeal as A Taste of Alaska Lodge, which I will discuss below. After viewing the property, I was happy with my decision to stay elsewhere. They do have a lot of activities readily available. For this reason, it may be well suited for some, particularly a family. I really wanted to visit the ice museum; however, it had been closed the entire week of my visit due to elevated temperatures. Keep this in mind. The springs themselves looked okay. They aren’t terribly large, and it was fairly crowded. After visiting the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, I wasn’t enticed to get in the water. All things considered, I don’t believe Chena Hot Springs is a must do. If the ice museum was open, maybe things would have been different. I wouldn’t return here on a future visit.

A Taste of Alaska Lodge. This property is located about 20 minutes outside of Fairbanks proper. It is positioned on 280 acres of land with expansive, unobstructed views. Upon arrival, I called Lily from the phone inside the main lodge. She gave instructions on my room and the hours for breakfast. Breakfast is included in your stay. The price per night was very reasonable, and I stayed in a room inside the main lodge. There are some beautiful private cabins here, but they were all booked when I made my reservation. After checking in, I felt like I had the property to myself. I started by exploring upstairs in the breakfast area. The windows showcase stunning views and the photographs from here were beautiful. In the hallway downstairs and in my room itself, there are all kinds of quirky antiques and random objects. Looking through everything was entertainment in and of itself.

The room had two beds and a small bathroom. It gives a cozy feel. Other than the bed not being terribly comfortable, I thought the lodge was extremely unique. I would stay here again and recommend it over the Chena Hot Springs property if you are looking for quiet and solitude. From Saturday check in through breakfast the next morning, I felt like the property was mine. If you have a drone, this is a great place to fly or just take photographs. Fairbanks was also where I noticed the fewest mosquitos. It was actually feasible to sit outside the room and have a drink without getting eaten alive. If you want to pick up something local, I recommend trying the Alaska Brewing Company’s hard seltzers and beer. The Cherry Grapefruit flavor of their seltzer seemed far better than the usual Truly or White Claw.

For dinner, I drove into Fairbanks to have a meal at Lemongrass. This is a Thai restaurant. It may seem strange to have Thai food in Alaska, but this is definitely a popular spot. It was absolutely packed on Saturday night. I had a very short wait before being seated. Everything here was fantastic. You cannot go wrong. They offer a small selection of wines and beer with an extensive menu.

After dinner, I drove to the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. The Museum of the North on campus is really the showpiece. This building is modern and beautifully designed. I arrived after closing, but the outside of the building is most definitely photograph worthy.

To recap, I feel one evening in Fairbanks offered me just the right amount of time. For those who love Christmas, stop at Santa Claus House. For those who love solitude and beauty, stay at A Taste of Alaska Lodge. The drive from Anchorage to Fairbanks is rather lengthy at just over six hours. In my opinion, it offered the least scenic driving views. If you are considering the Alaska rail, think about taking a southern route like the Coastal Classic. I don’t think Fairbanks is a must see for those that are on a more limited time frame.

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