Have you ever spontaneously planned a trip somewhere that you absolutely know nothing about? That’s exactly what we did when we booked a trip to Fairbanks. Honestly, the only thing I knew about Alaska was from what I saw on the TV shows Alaska State Troopers and Yukon Men. I had no idea what to expect when we arrived in Fairbanks, as no one I knew had ever been there before.
When we landed in Fairbanks and got our rental car, it was past midnight and no one else was on the road. I can remember it being cold and seeing snow on the ground. We were not surprised by this at all, as when you think about Alaska one of the first things that comes to mind is cold weather. After a long flight from Seattle, we were starving but nothing was open since it was so late. We stopped at a McDonalds and the lady at the drive thru hit on me.
The next morning we woke up and looked out of our hotel window. Fairbanks still looked deserted and it was a dreary day. We tried to look up some different places to get breakfast, but we ended up going to the local Denny’s. Denny’s was mobbed and we were surprised at the diverse amount of people that were coming in and out. After breakfast, we were on our way to the Chena Hot Springs Resort.
On the way to Chena, we were nervous that we were going to hit a moose on the only road that led to our destination. We never saw a moose, or any wildlife for that matter, but we did see a lot of secluded homes on the side of the snowy road. It took a while to get there and we quickly realized that we would be doing a lot of driving while in Alaska. We made the mistake of not packing a lunch or any snacks, as we did not pass any place to stop on the way.
When we arrived at the resort, it did not look like something that would be classified as a resort. I am not bashing it by any means, as the employees were very helpful and welcoming. We toured the Aurora Ice Museum and our guide stayed and talked to us about the different things we could do while we were in Fairbanks. The museum was cool, literally, as the temperature was below freezing and the 50 degree weather outside felt amazing after being in there.
During our drive back, we passed a bad car accident along the side of the road and I recognized the Alaska State Trooper we saw from the TV show. We were able to find a nice restaurant called Banks Ale House. The food was good and so was the beer that was brewed in Alaska. Our trip took nearly the entire day and we were still exhausted from our flight.
That night, we sat in the hotel bar and struck up conversation with the bartender and another man. We talked to them about how we planned on making the drive down to Denali National Park the next day. They explained that the drive was beautiful but we needed to be extremely careful of wildlife on the highway. They also explained that many of the animals have not made it over the mountain yet and that we probably would not see any bears. This was a little bit disappointing, as I wanted to see as much as possible.
Since we planned this trip for the purpose of capturing the Northern Lights, we checked the forecast while at the bar and it stated that it was unlikely we would be able to see them that night. When we woke up the next day, we had heard that the lights were visible in some areas and that we missed them.
The drive to Denali National Park was long. It took about three hours to get to the entrance and it was a ghost town. Since it was not a popular tourist time, none of the businesses and restaurants at the base of the national park were open. Once again, we did not pack a lunch and were starving by time it was time to make the trek back.
Denali National Park and Preserve was amazing. They allowed us to drive our car down the only road for as long as the road was open. We were one of the only cars in the park and we were able to drive slow and stop along the side of the road to take in the views. It was cold, but not as cold as you would expect being in the Alaskan wilderness. Given the opportunity, we would definitely travel park during a time when the entire road through the park is open.
Once again, the Aurora Forecast for that night was low and we did not get a chance to venture out and see them. It was beginning to look like we did not plan to stay long enough to see the lights and we were disappointed.
The following day, we ran out of things to do. We found a nice spot to grab breakfast and send out some post cards to our friends and family. Our plan was to try and see the lights when it got dark, but that didn’t happen until about 11:00 pm. We simply ran out of time because we had to return our rental car and catch our 2:00 am flight. What is most frustrating is that the lights were active that night and we would have had a great view of them. We missed them because we were stuck sitting in our airport terminal. At that point all we could do is laugh about how much we suck.
Overall, our trip to Fairbanks was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. I would go back to Alaska in a heartbeat and I definitely am not giving up on seeing the lights. All we needed was some good luck and better planning. We will be a lot more prepared for our next adventure!