Sternwheelers, floatplanes and dog mushing were once the main transportation systems in Interior Alaska.
You can learn about all three modes of transportation and a whole lot more by taking a ride on one of Fairbanks’ most popular attractions — the Riverboat Discovery.
The Binkley family has plied the rivers of the Interior for five generations spanning more than 100 years.
Since the 1950s various versions of the Riverboat Discovery have taken visitors for a true Alaska river ride.
The tour meanders down the Chena River, where passengers can watch a bush pilot take off and land in a small plane. The sternwheeler pauses at Trailbreaker Kennels, home of the family of late four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion Susan Butcher, where you will learn about modern competitive mushing.
Sled dogs were a vital form of winter transportation before the invention of snowmachines — or snowmobiles as they are called in the Lower 48 — as residents of Alaska Native villages traveled and carried mail and freight from village to village.
Continuing down the river, the Riverboat Discovery stops at a replica of an Interior Alaska Native village and fish camp. The tour stops for an hour at the village, where
passengers get off the boat and take a guided tour.
Village hosts relate stories about their history, culture and subsistence lifestyle. Tour a fish camp and learn techniques for catching, drying and storing salmon. You also have the chance to meet sled dogs, mushers and dog handlers during your stop at the village.
On the return trip up the Chena River, you’ll get to taste the Binkley’s salmon dip on a cracker as you enjoy the local scenery.
Your tour begins at Steamboat Landing in west Fairbanks near Fairbanks International Airport. The landing is a replica of a gold rush river port, complete with a dining hall where a hearty miner’s stew, kale-apple-pecan salad and brownie is served for $13.95 for adults and $5.95 for children.
The landing also features a gift shop, museum and ice cream parlor.
If you want to feel what it’s like during an Alaska winter, you can participate in “Alaska at 40 Below,” a specially designed chamber that drops the mercury to mid-winter temperatures in Interior, Alaska. The experience is free, but it does cost $10 to get your picture taken.
Reservations to ride on the Riverboat Discovery are required and can be made by calling 479-6673 or online at www.riverboatdiscovery.com.
IF YOU GO
What: Riverboat Discovery
When: May 11-Sept. 21, two tours daily, 9 a.m.- noon and 2-5 p.m.
Where: 1975 Discovery Drive
Cost: Adult, $69.95; children ages 3-12, $42.95;
children younger than 3, free.
More info: 907-479-6673