alaska railroad

Travel Alaska From Fairbanks To Anchorage

In Fairbanks, Anchorage, Talkeetna, Hiking, Denali National Park, Blog, Wildlife, United States, Alaska, Camping & Glamping, Activities, Road tripping, Parks, North America, Soaking, Interests, Food & Drink, Destinations, Thrills by ajauntwithjoy@gmail.com18 Comments

Back in 2015, I had an incredible opportunity to work a seasonal wildlife job up in the arctic of Barrow, Alaska. I was on a rotation of working for 2 weeks, then having off for 2 weeks, and so on. For the majority of my time off, I stayed in Anchorage to travel Alaska.

One of my most memorable trips was traveling with my sister between Fairbanks and Anchorage, with stops in Denali and Talkeetna. There were so many amazing things to see and do. And even more amazing food along the way! Plus, I’m pretty sure I found the coolest accommodation options out there (check out the treehouse below)!

Whether you have just a few days to travel Alaska or a couple weeks, this post is the perfect itinerary!

BEST TIME TO GO? May to September


A couple things to note
 — This trip took place within the last week of August, which is right at the end of Alaska’s high season. Fall colors were beginning to show up, but we also encountered snow flurries in Denali. Be prepared for any weather changes at any time of the year, and if you’re going in low season do your research in advance on when certain things close or shut down! Also, we didn’t rent a car, but instead relied on various forms of public transportation. Details are all below!

Alaska Map

Fairbanks

Fairbanks is one of the largest cities in Alaska and is most known for being an absolutely incredible place to view the Northern Lights. The aurora borealis can be seen on average for more than 200 days per year within the city and its surroundings! Fairbanks is also home to Alaska’s front-runner University, so expect a slightly younger (“college-aged”) vibe. This means a lot of cafes, breweries, and fun events!

Lodging

Sven’s Basecamp Hostel — Sven’s is probably the best hostel in Fairbanks. Or at least the most unique! I stayed in a wall tent here, but there’s also a tipi, private cabins, a campground, or a TREEHOUSE! You can have bonfires, rent bikes, play volleyball, or take advantage of the close proximity to public transportation.
fairbanks hostel wall tentfairbanks treehouse Billie’s Backpackers Hostel — Billie’s Backpackers Hostel is run by an older woman named Billie who often reminds guests of their grandmas. She’s opened her awesome-looking house to travelers looking for a “homey” vibe, with easy access to the Alaska Railroad Depot, public buses, and the airport. There are dorm bedrooms, tent spaces, or what we stayed in — a glass gazebo!
fairbanks hostel gazebo lodging Chena Hot Springs Resort — Guys. This is an absolute DO NOT MISS. One of the biggest highlights of our entire trip was this resort. Located about 60 miles outside of Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs Resort has it all. Lots of lodging options, a restaurant, natural hot springs, a famous ice museum and bar, dog sledding, hiking, ATVing, horseback tours, flightseeing, ETC! The Northern Lights are best seen here from late August to May, and some hotel rooms will even give you a wakeup call in the middle of the night if the lights are on display! We opted to stay in a cute cheap yurt here.
hot springs yurt lodging fairbanks hiking

Food

Chena’s Alaskan Grill — Probably the most memorable food I had on this trip. My mouth is watering just thinking about the Pear & Gorgonzola Bruschetta appetizer. And that smoked salmon BLT with their signature blackberry limeade drink — YAAHHHM! This excellent restaurant is always changing up their menu. It also offers an outdoor patio that sits on the banks of the Chena River.alaska foodsmoked salmon BLTLemongrass Thai Cuisine — Surprisingly enough, Thai food is actually extremely popular here in Fairbanks! New Thai restaurants are constantly popping up around the city. Lemongrass serves authentic Thai dishes while taking advantage of the fresh Alaskan seafood and locally grown produce, making it stand out against other Thai restaurants.

Hot Licks Homemade Ice Cream — This little local favorite has been serving up award winning ice cream since 1986. They have Alaskan flavors such as blueberry and cranberry. And coffee or tea flavors such as mocha truffle and matcha. You might want to stop here a few hundred times! Oh right — they also have beer and liquor flavors too!

Activities

Aurora Ice Museum & Bar — At the Chena Hot Springs Resort is the famous Aurora Ice Museum, complete with an ice bar inside! You’ll get giant warm parka’s to wear before you enter your tour to walk around the sculptures. There are ice “hotel rooms” set up, each with a different theme, an ice tower, and an igloo where you can play an ice xylophone. Sit on caribou fur stools while sipping an Appletini out of an ice martini glass!ice barice barice museum

Great Fairbanks Pub Paddle — Ever go bar hopping by canoe?! Head to Alaska Outdoor Rentals & Guides in Pioneer Park to rent a canoe, kayak, or stand up paddleboard. You can float down the Chena River to the Pump House and get a shuttle back to Pioneer Park with your rental. The pub paddle to the Pump House takes about 1.5 to 2 hours. You can paddle up to other riverside bars and restaurants for drinks or appetizers along the way!

Large Animal Research Station — If you’re visiting Alaska to see its diverse wildlife, you”ll love a visit to the University’s Large Animal Research Station. Because Reindeer and Muskoxen. Need I say more? Visit the link for info on their guided tours and opening hours.caribou Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge  This waterfowl refuge is more than just a field where you can view migratory birds. Its also got hiking trails (where some have spotted moose!), guided nature walks, and a gift shop. Most visitors to the refuge are there to view and photograph the thousands of migrating Sandhill Cranes that stop here to rest. The only amphibian in Interior Alaska, the Wood Frog, is found here too!

U of Alaska Museum of the North — If you’re curious about Alaska’s Native cultures, its wildlife, or its natural wonders, this is the museum for you! It’s filled with art exhibits and offers educational films on things like the Aurora or the life of a Bowhead Whale. Probably the coolest exhibit was learning about the ancient dinosaurs of Alaska!fairbanks museum

alaska museum

fairbanks museum

Denali National Park

Denali National Park & Preserve is 6 million acres of jaw-dropping and rugged scenery in Alaska’s interior wilderness. The most noteworthy landmark here is Mount Denali. This mountain stands at about 20,310 feet making it the tallest peak in North America. There’s only one road that winds through the park, and most visitors only see Denali via the busses that frequent this road. But it also offers extensive hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, flightseeing, a dog sled kennel, and so much more!

Lodging

Denali Mountain Morning Hostel & Cabins — Probably my favorite lodging experience of this entire trip (although Chena Hot Springs was a close second). This hostel has your typical dorm room option, but it also has wall tents and cute wooden cabins — each one uniquely built. They have a free shuttle that takes you to and from Denali National Park. There’s also a gift shop onsite and a cafe across the road. My sister and I stayed here in a wall tent and thought we’d be freezing, but it was actually one of our warmest stays — even with the snowfall we woke up to the next morning! This is definitely a place I’d love to come back to and rent a cabin at next time.alaska cabin alaska cabin alaska wall tent glamping Wonder Lake Campground — If camping’s your thing and you have the time, reserve a spot at Wonder Lake Campground. At mile 85, this is at the last section of road deep within the park. It takes an 11 hour drive roundtrip from the Visitor Center, and is one of the closest lodging options to the base of Mount Denali!
Read more about my stay at Wonder Lake.denali camping Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge — If you like hotel comforts, this lodge is a great choice. The park entrance is only 1 mile away and you can take a $5 roundtrip shuttle to the Visitors Center, the Wilderness Access Center, or Horseshoe Lake! The deck that overlooks the Nenana River, the specialty dining available, complimentary wifi, and dinner theatre entertainment are all great aspects of staying at this lodge.

Food

Morino Grill — Right near the visitor center, this grill is the perfect pit stop to fuel up before or after an all-day adventure. Get my favorite, the Nenana Chicken Panini, and enjoy a coffee from the cafe as well!denali food 229 Parks Restaurant & Tavern — This restaurant is located under 10 minutes outside of the park and is one of the best around! The menu changes based on season and a lot of ingredients are harvested on location! Talk about fresh and sustainable!

Activities

Sled Dog Kennels — Denali is the only national park that has a working sled dog kennel! Since the 1920’s Denali has used a working sled dog team for things like accessing remote areas, contacting winter visitors to the park, transporting materials and supplies, etc. Meet the dogs and watch a sled dog demonstration at the kennels. You can also adopt a retired dog!sled dog kennel sled dog kennel Wildlife Viewing Via Bus — There are many hop on hop off buses that stop at various campgrounds and “rest areas” throughout the park. The busses were the best way to see wildlife in the park. Keep in mind that in the first half of the park road you likely won’t see grizzly bears, as that section isn’t their habitat. So if you’re hoping to see bears, make time to head further into the park. One of the best places I saw Dall’s Sheep was atop the rocky mountain across from Igloo Creek Campground. Moose and Caribou are pretty widespread throughout Denali. We were lucky enough to see a Lynx crossing the road too!denali shuttle bus denali brown beardenali wildlife denali wildlife Hiking For All Levels — Right near the park entrance is the popular Horseshoe Lake Trail. It’ll take 1–1½ hours roundtrip and you’ll see views of the Nenana River. The Savage River Loop Trail is also a popular one, taking 1½–2 hours roundtrip, and is great for kids. You’ll see more of the tundra wilderness and hopefully Dall’s Sheep, Caribou, and Marmots! At the end of the park road is the easy 2 mile Wonder Lake Trail, which brings you to a lake that reflects Mount Denali (if it’s visible that is). See these google photos of Wonder Lakefall river trailhiking

Talkeetna

The only way to describe Talkeetna is quirky. This small “town” (it’s actually only a historical district) has less than 1,000 residents. The mayor is an orange cat named Stubbs. Yes. A cat.

Talkeetna’s downtown area is just one short street, containing historic buildings and shops, with the train station nearby. Local artists and musicians bring it a far out and vibrant atmosphere. Not to mention, the town used to host a Moose Dropping Festival each year! You won’t want to miss out on stopping here.

Lodging

Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge — Our bus from Denali brought us right to this gorgeous lodge where we caught their complimentary shuttle van into Talkeetna, a short ride away. This lodge instantly grasps your attention when you walk in to see huge windows directly facing Mount Denali. It also has an award-winning dining room and a large river rock fireplace.alaska lodgeDenali Fireside Cabins & Suites — Ranked as a TripAdvisor top hotel, these rustic cabins and suites are close to downtown and the railroad station. Each one comes with a cozy gas fireplace.airbnb cabinAirbnb Cabin or Yurt — Any Airbnb search for Alaska is filled with rustic cabins and yurts. Especially in Talkeetna. If you’re new to Airbnb, sign up here to make your free profile and get $40 to go toward your first stay (applies to anywhere in the world, but you should totally start Airbnbing in an Alaskan cabin!).talkeetna alaska cabin

Food

Talkeetna Roadhouse — Built around 1917, this historic restaurant and lodge is famous for its big breakfasts. Also for its homebaked breads and bakery items!

Mountain High Pizza Pie — This colorful pizza place is open year round and also serves up locally brewed beer! They have both indoor and outdoor garden seating, and a long list of heavenly pizzas — including gluten free options!alaska pizza Denali Brewing Company — With a great atmosphere, this brewpub serves up creative beer and cocktails as well as some rockin’ pub food. The blueberry mojito and the razzery meads look yummy too!alaska beer brewery

Activities

Flightseeing — Talkeetna is the gateway to flightseeing and mountaineering around Mount Denali! K2 Aviation is the best in the biz. They have 4 different flightseeing options and you can also opt to do a glacier landing! They even film your flight! For their flight options or more mountaineering info, check out their site in the link.talkeetna plane River Rafting — Three rivers surround Talkeetna, making it the perfect area to river raft in! You can find tons of raft tour companies along the main street, but if I had to pick I’d go with Denali View Raft Adventures. They have some of the cheapest prices and their cardigan welsh corgi is the company’s mascot! This raft company is run by a young and highly experienced couple who are both local Alaskans, and promise a personalized experience.

Find The Mayor — Stubbs, the honorary mayor of Talkeetna, probably enforces things like legalizing catnip and making sure your dog is leashed. That’s because, again, he’s a cat. He also happens to be a pretty big tourist attraction. He’s most likely found in his mayoral office, aka Nagley’s General Store on main street.talkeetna mayor

talkeetna alaska

Anchorage

Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city and sits on the Cook Inlet. It’s known for the surrounding wilderness and for its cultural sites. Nearby, you can find the Chugach Mountains and picturesque glaciers. In town, it’s not uncommon to see a moose on the side of the road or in someone’s backyard! Most visitors to Alaska stop here for a night or two in route to Denali, Seward, or the Kenai Fjords, but it’s definitely worth staying a bit longer in!

Lodging

Spenard Hostel International — This budget hostel is in a great location, only 1.5 miles from the airport and on a direct bus route. I stayed here on and off for over 2 months, and found it a good experience every time. The most convenient feature was having a bus service to/from Denali, Seward, and Homer coming right to the hostel’s front door!anchorage alaska lodging Alyeska Resort — For a much more boojie lodging experience, head 40 miles south of Anchorage to the Alyeska Resort. It’s got an aerial scenic tram, a 4 diamond award-winning mountain-top restaurant, a spa, and a mountain for skiers!

Food

Spenard Roadhouse — This restaurant and bar is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. The food presentation is pretty and every single thing on that menu looks amazing. Some favorites include the Bacon Jam Burger, the Reindeer & Chevre Pizza, or the Southern Fried Chicken. They also have a great bar with bourbon flights!

Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria — I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more extensive pizza menu. This place was packed for lunch so it was clearly popular, and nearly every local Alaskan recommended it to me before I arrived. We got The Backpacker pizza and it was bomb!

The Deck at Lake Hood — This lakeside spot has the perfect view of the floatplanes that fly in and out of Lake Hood. And with weekly featured cocktails and nightly entertainment, it’s a great place for after-dinner drinks. You can also order food from one of the restaurants inside the hotel onsite.anchorage floatplane

Activities

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center — This conservation center cares for hundreds of displaced Alaskan wildlife, and offers FREE tours and educational programs to the public. You can watch certain feedings, enrichments, and trainings and get some great photos!alaska wildlife Turnagain Arm Drive — The Turnagain Arm is one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in America. It leads you by the mountainous Chugach State Park, the Alyeska aerial tram, a beluga whale lookout point, and the Portage Glacier.

Anchorage Summer Market & Festival — Alaska’s largest open-air market is open on Saturdays and Sundays from May to September. Over 300 vendors sell fresh produce, treats, crafts, and Alaskan souvenirs. There’s also a wide variety of entertainment.

Additional Resources And Tips

Transportation Since we didn’t have a rental car, we relied on public transportation. In Fairbanks, we used the roundtrip resort shuttle from our hostel Billie’s Backpackers to the Chena Hot Springs Resort. From Fairbanks to Denali, we took the Denali Star Train, which brings you directly into the park near the Visitors Center. From Denali to Talkeetna, we picked up an Alaskan Coach at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge through AK Tour & Travel. It brought us to the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge where we used their free shuttle to get downtown. From Talkeetna to Anchorage, we used the Alaska/Yukon Trails Bus which brought us right to the Spenard Hostel.

And because the weather in Alaska can always change at the drop of a hat, I strongly suggest downloading the WeatherBug App. See all it can do and read my sponsored review about it here : Reviewing The Best Weather App For Travelers And Outdoor Adventurers.

alaska railroad

alaska snow

My sister and I waking up to snowfall in Denali!

Where would you go or what would you do in Alaska? Tell me in the comments!

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Comments

  1. I currently live near Chicago, Illinois. I put in for a job at/in Eielson AFB, AK.
    Could you daily commute even in winter from Eieslson to Fairbanks or North Pole?

    Would I make it in a 2012 Toyota Prius C? It is a hybrid, car, 2wd/fwd? I know I would at least need an engine block heater. Do most apartments have engine block heater plug ins?

    Last I see dry cabins, but for about the same price I can get an apartment with running water and a bathroom. How is that?

    Anything else you want to share please do. Thank you and I will have more questions to follow.

    1. Author

      I’m not sure that I’m the right person to ask for these types of questions, but I found you some info on google about the Eielson AFB winter driving : http://www.mybaseguide.com/air_force/56-620-13424/eielson_afb_winter_travel

      I’ve never stayed in an apartment in Alaska so I have no idea if they have engine block heater plug ins or not or what that even is haha And I’m not sure why an apartment with running water would be the same as a dry cabin unless they are in different areas of the city with different housing costs. It’d probably be way better to choose one with running water then so you don’t have to use a compost toilet or haul in your own water, right?

  2. When I picture Alask I usually see it constantly covered in snow. Looking at your pictures clearly, I need to update my visual aid. I am definitely sold on the mountain views! Just stunning!

    1. Author

      Hahaha I feel like a lot of people think of Alaska like that. I mean, you’ll still find snow at the top of mountains in the summer, but sometimes you’re walking around in a tanktop and shorts in 80 degree weather too!

  3. It’s actually a great and useful piece of info.

    I am happy that you shared this helpful information with us.
    Please stay us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

  4. This all looks so fun! I would definitely try to stay in the tree house if I could ! Alaska is on our list of places to visit for sure.

    1. Author

      Right?! I’m so sad they didn’t have the treehouse advertised when I booked my wall tent there! Guess I’ll just have to go back. Oh darn. hahah Can’t wait for you to go to Alaska! I always get so excited to hear about other people’s trips there!

  5. I moved here three years ago and love it so much! I live in Anchorage and have visited all of these places (some multiple times!) but now I want to go back to stay in all of those cute little yurts you mentioned! Denali is definitely the best place I’ve ever been, although I’m obsessed with Seward too.

    1. Author

      Lucky you, getting to live in Alaska! I’m in love with this state and I love visiting for work every summer! Denali is freaking gorgeous, but Seward is still on my “Places I NEED to Visit ASAP” list. People always tell me I’d love Seward and Homer. Guess I’ll have to plan that for next summer ;)

  6. Love it! I worked in Denali in my early 20s and used the Alaska RR a lot. In fact, part of my job was to greet passengers off the Alaska RR train. Anyway, first time I ever had Thai food was in Fairbanks. That made me laugh.

    1. Author

      BAHAHA I love that the first time you ever had Thai food was in Fairbanks! I couldn’t believe it was such a THING there! I absolutely loved my time in Denali, though it was a bit short. I’d like to go back again for more than just a few days! Working there must’ve been an awesome experience!

  7. I love everything about this post; the pics of the basecamp hostel look so cool. Bar hopping on a canoe is a whole new level I’d love the explore further!! There’s so much excitement in Alaska

  8. Alaska is such an amazing place! That’s awesome you had a wildlife job up in the arctic! Two of my friends just moved to Fairbanks, and I’m hoping to visit sometime. The tent and glass gazebo you stayed at in Fairbanks look really neat. Also, a treehouse!? I love that the resort you mentioned has hot springs and an aurora ice museum. I’m also totally sold on the pub paddle! The Museum of the North sounds like a museum I would find fascinating. I would definitely make sure to check out the wildlife areas, too. My friends just visited the Denali sled dog kennel yesterday! I got to stay at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge once with my family; it was lovely. Ha ha I’m glad the cat is still mayor! Sorry for my long comment. This is exactly my style of vacation! Beautiful photos, too!

    1. Author

      Hahaha don’t apologize for a long comment! I love it!
      I’m so happy you were diggin this post! I really hope you get to go visit your friends in Fairbanks soon!
      There’s still so much more of Alaska I want to see. It’s just so quirky and stunning! Plus I never had time for that pub paddle, so I clearly need to go back haha!

  9. Never really thought about traveling to Alaska… and now I totally want to! Such adorable little cabins, and gorgeous outdoor adventures!

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