Bobby and I had been talking about Alaska for a while now. He got to go a few years ago with his parents and when he came back he wanted to take me there the next day. So naturally we started planning our own great Alaskan adventure together. Fast forward a few years, a pandemic and oh ya we moved… we were finally able to pack our bags and go!
We knew we couldn’t see it all in one trip so we narrowed it down to Fairbanks and Denali. I have had Denali National Park on my bucket list for so long now and I was thrilled we were going to get to see it! I can’t really begin to describe in words how beautiful the mountains, trees and moose are in Denali. It is truly like no other place I have seen in the U.S.
I am sure that doesn’t come as a surprise to most of you seeing as Alaska is known for its snowy landscape lined with spruce trees, mountain peaks and flowing rivers and lakes. Our travel guide goes over all of the things we did on our trip in Fairbanks and Denali/Healy. From fly fishing to a bush plane ride over the Denali mountain, Alaska was epic and we cant wait to be back soon to explore more of the last frontier.
1. The town of Fairbanks =
We landed in Fairbanks and began our adventure here! The town feels like you are in the middle of nowhere and well you kind of are. Outside of Fairbanks is the Alaska tundra landscape and the only other place you might fly into would be Anchorage. For us we chose Fairbanks since it was a much closer drive to Denali which was the second half of our trip. Fairbanks has an old world charm to it with little hints of western and Native American impressions on the town. It has some of the cutest places to eat and the best souvenir/gift shops on their main street. When we arrived in late April the snow from winters past was starting to melt and temperatures were around 40-50 degrees during the day and 20-30 degrees at night. We packed layers, jackets and our hiking boots which kept us warm through out the trip. Also this time of year is the start of Alaska’s “midnight summer sun” – the sun does not set for more than two and a half months. It stayed daylight up until 10:30 p.m. – the sun stayed low and golden but never getting pitch dark. It was pretty neat and definitely threw us off our sleep schedule a bit but we managed!
2. Where to eat in Fairbanks =
We really lucked out here in Fairbanks finding some pretty great restaurants to eat at. One of our favorites was the Pump House – adorned with a quintessential cabin like feel and taxidermy animals on every wall it was the ultimate “hunting lodge” looking restaurant. Aside from the look and feel of the place the food was incredible as well. The menu alone had so many amazing dishes we wanted to try – it was hard to pick just one. I ordered a grilled Alaskan salmon on a bed of roasted vegetables and Yukon potatoes. We ended up sitting at the bar since we didn’t have a prior reservation (definitely recommend making reservations – it is very popular) and the atmosphere at the bar was just as fitting to the rest of the restaurant. We got to know our waiter and bartenders really well – some of the nicest and friendliest people we met during our trip.
Other places we ate at and loved were the Blue Roof Bistro, the Crepery, Sunrise Bagel & Espresso, the Banks Alehouse and Lavelle’s Bistro.
3. Where we stayed in Fairbanks =
We stayed right down town at the Springhill Suites Fairbanks. We knew we didn’t care to get an airbnb or something more memorable in Fairbanks since weren’t staying here the longest. But we did enjoy their comfortable and clean suites along with their heated indoor pool. On our first few nights when we had extremely bad jet lag all day we loved going for night swims in the heated pool.
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4. Scenic Drive =
Like I mentioned above our first two days we had some pretty bad jet lag – making us so tired to do anything and get into a rhythm to explore. But when we did get a burst of energy usually around late afternoon we were able to drive around Fairbanks on a few of their scenic routes. This is a great opportunity to try and catch the northern lights or aurora borealis. Although they are more visible during the winter months these scenic routes are known for catching them dance in the sky. Take your pick at any one of these: Steese Highways, Parks Highway or Eagle Summit.
Another great place to drive and stop along is the University of Alaska Fairbanks. We drove to the clearing/look out point to see some amazing views of Denali in the distance. Here is a link to the campus map where you will find “Observation Point 9Q or D-6” in the middle of the map.
5. North Pole =
Fairbanks is also known for being just a short 30 min drive away from the small town of North Pole, Alaska. This little place was a gem for sure. It doesn’t look like much for the outside but the warehouse in filled with the most amazing Christmas decor and souvenirs you could find. This would be a great stop for families and small children. It has an elves station on the inside where children can get a sneak peek look inside Santa’s workshop and a Santa meet and greet pop up as well. This is where we actually found some of our unique souvenirs to remember our trip by like ornaments and mugs. Just outside of the warehouse is the reindeer farm where visitors can meet the cute reindeer and watch them eat, play and sleep. If you’re a Christmas lover or just realizing you have an hour or two in your Fairbanks itinerary to kill definitely come check out the North Pole. It put a huge smile on our face!
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6. Fly Fishing = AK River Tours
It wouldn’t be an Alaskan trip in my opinion if you didn’t at least explore the great outdoors as it was intended to be here! We chose to do so by fly fishing with AK River Tours. Bobby and I love fishing and have done so in the states and on other trips numerous times but we have never experienced fly fishing which is much different than a rod and reel. We booked a half day tour with AK River Tours and met up with our guide Tyson at eight in the morning to begin! Tyson was awesome and had all the gear we needed for the day ready to go. We jumped into our wadders, grabbed our reels and started walking down the river to find a good spot to cast our lines in. It was so much fun getting the hang of fly fishing – Bobby was a natural at casting his line but it took me a little longer to get the motion right. However, once I did I was able to catch about 7 fish within our first hour! I would definitely recommend this company if you plan on booking a fishing trip as well. AK River Tours has a few different options for fishing tours depending on what type of experience you want to have. Also, their team of fishing guides men are amazing! We felt safe the entire time with our guide and he was very kind to help us out and teach us things along the way.
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1. Where we stayed =
For our Denali stay we knew we wanted something that fit the scene and gave us that true “in the mountains” escape and vibe. We found the cutest airbnb called Ranger’s Refuge and it was everything we hoped for this trip. The cabin was perfectly nestled in the snowy trees giving us a serene getaway. It has two floors with the main bed upstairs and a very comfortable pull out trundle bed on the bottom level. Comfortably it could sleep four in my opinion. But for us it was just Bobby and I! It also had a mini kitchen with a stove, oven, sink, microwave and fridge and the bottom level had a little dinette section with a TV and wifi as well. My favorite part of the cabin would probably be the porch and how cute and cozy it is especially with the fire on and a cup of coffee. The only difference here for travelers would be the bathroom situation. Alaska is known for having dry cabin communities meaning most homes outside of the cities are DRY – no running water, plumbing, toilet, shower etc. Dry cabin communities are a product of geology. Parts of the ground remain frozen year-round with Alaska’s extreme climate and winters that presents builders with a lot of problems. We knew all of this going into it while we were doing our research and it didn’t bother us or make things difficult at all. In fact we viewed it similarly to how it would be if we went camping in a tent instead. Our cabin actually had a cute little outdoor bath house and shower house just NOT attached to the main cabin itself as you’ll see in the photos below. Overall, the bathroom situation didn’t bother us at all and we would gladly book our stay with Hannah and Eric at their Rangers Refuge cabin again.
PS: the sweetest airbnb hosts!
You can book your stay here: Ranger’s Refuge – or follow them on instagram @rangersrefuge.
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2. Healy, AK – Moose Sighting – Into the Wild Bus =
Once we left Fairbanks we headed to Healy, AK which is like a small town within the limits of Denali. The drive up to the mountain was amazing and I highly recommend making this short 2 hour trip along the George Parks HWY even if you don’t plan on staying in the area. We must’ve stopped a dozen times to just look out the window, take a few pics and savor it all up. Along our drive we were lucky enough to have a moose sighting! We were so excited because we had never seen moose before. I joke now after our trip that us seeing a moose for the first time is how a northerner must feel when they see an alligator in the south for the first time haha! It was truly amazing and this momma moose was followed by her sweet baby just crossing the road. It was an honor to be in their presence and quite frankly in their home. I still pinch myself that I was able to capture such an epic photo on my DSLR camera. In the moment it felt unreal and later back at the cabin it hit me that that was such a rare moment in nature we were able to witness.
Aside from the epic moose sightings around Healy, AK we stumbled upon our favorite restaurant and meal on this entire trip. The 49th State Brewing Company was just 10 minutes from our cabin and 17 minutes from the Denali National Park visitors center. This place was awesome! It was the perfect hang out spot which I am sure is a lot of fun during the warmer summer months to hang out in their outside section where you can view a replica of the “Into the Wild” bus. The inside was just quintessential Alaska with taxidermy on the walls, wood features everywhere and an amazing fire pit in the middle with a built in tabletop. Whether you’re a meat lover or not they had just about everything like elk, deer, moose, yak etc. I tried the Alaskan king crab legs and Bobby tried the yak burger and we both loved our meals! In fact we loved this place so much and its atmosphere we came one more time for dinner on our last night. The second time around I had the ancho chili king salmon bowl and Bobby had the elk burger – again we both loved our meals!
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3. Bush Plane Tour over Denali =
On our second day in Denali we decided to do something last minute which ended up being the coolest experience ever. We booked a flight tour in a bush plane over Denali National Park with K2-Aviation Company. I think at first Bobby was a little nervous because these planes are small and you’re flying up to 6 miles from Denali’s summit but once we did our research and found K2-Aviation w knew we had to do this! I love flying and I have always marveled at planes so I was so excited for this day. They made us feel so comfortable and safe the entire time and our pilot was amazing at pointing things out during our flight and giving us some amazing local insight/knowledge on the landscape and history of Denali. There are a few different packages they offer and you can even land on the glacier for an epic photo if you’d like. We chose to do the Denali Experience and it was the perfect amount of time for us to see the amazing peaks of Denali.
This location was a bit of a drive from our cabin on the other side of Denali (about 2 hours) but we knew it was something we really wanted to experience so we just made another scenic drive out of it. We ended up loving how cute the town of Talkeetna was and found ourselves stopping along the way to take pictures too. If you book a flight tour here and are hungry afterwards the town is very charming to check out with lots of restaurant options like the Base Camp Bistro or the Foraker Restaurant at the Talkeetna Lodge.
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4. Denali National Park & Preserve
On our last day we decided to spend the whole day at Denali National Park before heading back to Fairbanks to catch our flight home the next day. The entrance to the park is beautiful with a grand sign for travelers to stop and get a photo op like we did! We started at the winter visitors center to get information since technically it was still winter for Alaska in early May – lots of snow was still on the ground even though it was already starting to melt pretty fast. The park ranger informed us that since it was still pretty snowy outside a lot of the park hiking trails were snowed in but we could still see the park by car. So thats we did! We drove through out Denali for about 30-50 miles and saw the most amazing landscapes of mountain peaks and trees.
We also got really lucky this day because we must have spotted at least 5 or 6 moose roaming around the park. It was a real treat once you spotted a moose – everyone would stop their cars, be really quiet and stare out the window marveling at these big beautiful animals. At one point during our drive through the park it even began to snow and snow flurries started falling from the sky. It was a truly magical day and definitely everything I thought it would be and more. Hands down the best way to end our trip!
View more information about Denali National Park & Preserve here.
In one word our Alaskan adventure was EPIC and I can’t wait to go back and explore the southern half of this amazing state. We truly had such a relaxing trip being in the mountains, staying in a cabin, fly fishing, flying over Denali and seeing so much wildlife we were very sad to leave. I hope our travel guide helps you plan your Alaska trip! Let me know if you have any questions or need help with your trip – I hope you have the best time.
– Nickole Haymaker
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