The Riverboat Discovery tour in Fairbanks was the perfect “first” excursion to do in Alaska. It gives you a taste of everything Alaskan and leaves you wanting more. In just four hours, you’ve seen a bush plane take off and land, learned the difference between caribou and reindeer and witnessed an endearing display of Alaskan-style friendliness and entrepreneurship.
This tour down the quiet Chena River was started in 1950 by the David Binkley, and his great-grandson Ryan was our captain. Binkley started the tour after a travel agent told him that their needed to be something for tourists in Fairbanks. (Even now, Fairbanks seems to be more of a gateway than a destination, as there’s not too much there.) They recently upgraded to a larger riverboat that's state-of-the-art despite it's quaint appearance — they had lots of video monitors so you could get a better look at the attractions below.
Shortly after we boarded the boat, we observed a bush plane demonstration. The little plane, which looks like a toy plane in the picture on the left. The plane took off and landed right in the water — pretty cool.
Then we ambled down the river for a while. The narrator seemed to know who owned every house and we'd all wave to any of the residents who were outside. Welcome to Alaskan friendliness. Often we didn't see anyone — welcome to Alaskan solitude!
Next up was a demonstration from the Trail Breaker Kennel, which was owned by the late Susan Butcher, a four-time Iditarod champion. The sled dogs were running all over their their exercise obstacle course, which was so cute. Then they harnessed a group to an ATV without a motor, and took a run around a trail. One of the things on my list to see in Alaska were sled dogs, and this was terrific. After the course, the dogs jumped into the river to cool off.
A little later on in the tour, some caribou showed up to graze on the riverbank. I thought I had the jackpot of a close-up caribou sighting, but it turned out that they were actually reindeer (i.e. domesticated caribou) that belonged to the Chena Indian Village, where we would later spend an hour learning about how the Athabascans lived. The demos in this re-created village were of high quality, as was this entire tour.
Of course, these are just my favorite parts of the Riverboat Discovery tour — as it's pretty long, there were plenty of other things that we saw. I definitely recommend it to visitors to Fairbanks!
Comped but never compromised: I’m on an Alaska Twitter Press Trip with Princess Cruises, but I’m free to write whatever I want.