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Fairbanks, Alaska

Land of the midnight sun

Interacting with the reindeer at the Running Reindeer Ranch. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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The land of the midnight sun is much closer than you might expect. Flights on Alaska Airlines from Seattle are a less than a four-hour nonstop flight. Heading out on an early morning flight can have you exploring by 9:30 a.m., giving you a full day on your trip. Fairbanks International Airport is easy to navigate. I was off the plane, picked up my luggage and signed for my rental car in 30 minutes.

Start your day in Fairbanks and explore some of the local attractions. Make your first stop at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center. This one-stop shop will help you plan the perfect trip. Make sure to see all the exhibits. The downtown Springhill Suites makes a good base for the next two nights. It is right across the street from the Chena River and the onsite restaurant, Lavelle's Bistro, one of the few fine dining locations in the city and worth the splurge. There are plenty of shops and restaurants within walking distance.

The Brinkley family has been in the tourism business since 1950 and they have mastered the art. Make sure to visit their two attractions in Fairbanks which give you a good overview of the history and culture of the area. First up is Gold Dredge 8. If you are a fan of the television show Gold Rush -- about gold mining in Alaska -- you will love it. A short train ride takes you to the dredge, and you learn about the area and gold mining on the ride, along with some fun, live entertainment. Once you arrive, you have the opportunity to pan for gold, which is fun, and they even warm the water up so your hands don't get cold. Once complete, you can have your gold weighed and valued. The extensive gift shop has the best prices on Alaska souvenirs that I saw during my trip.

The Riverboat Discovery is a voyage into the heart of Alaska. The Brinkley family gave a lot of thought into this three-hour trip and the experiences you will encounter. Begin the trip with a Bush Pilot demonstration, and then enjoy a dog-mushing demonstration at four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher's kennels. Your cruise will then stop at an Athabascan Indian Village where Native Alaskans will give you a guided tour, sharing how their ancestors lived. Having the younger guides share their heritage really makes this a special tour. Both of these tours get busloads of tourists doing the land portion of their Alaskan cruise, but the Brinkleys know how to handle the crowds. I have to agree; and when on a short trip, this is a great way to experience some of the highlights of a trip to Alaska.

For day two, drive to Denali National Park, which is about a two-hour drive from Fairbanks. It is a beautiful scenic drive and makes a perfect day trip. There are facilities along the way, but I recommend packing a picnic lunch or bringing snacks. The park definitely lives up to the hype, and I saw the requisite Alaskan moose which was kind enough to walk right down to the side of the road. Wildlife viewing is incredible in the park. Denali is the only national park with a kennel of sled dogs. Make sure to visit the kennels and see one of the demonstrations. There is also an opportunity to interact with the dogs.

Plan a later flight home and make reservations for the Running Reindeer Ranch tour, which will be the highlight of your trip. Take a magical walk with reindeer in a boreal Alaskan forest while learning about these fascinating animals. Interacting and petting the reindeer is truly a special experience. For more information, visit:

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