Now that we’ve just started a new year, I’m remembering all the fun things we shared as a family in 2015. Our favorite memories are from our wonderful family vacation to Alaska, including the Alaska Disney Cruise and sightseeing around the Kenai Peninsula. Another highlight was our visit to Fairbanks, Alaska, because where else can you both visit with Santa at the “North Pole” and even walk a real live reindeer?
North Pole Visit with Santa
When my husband and I had last visited Fairbanks, Alaska, we had enjoyed seeing Santa at his workshop in the town of North Pole, a suburb of Fairbanks. This time it was all the more exciting with our two little ones in tow! Driving from our hotel in downtown Fairbanks, it took about 20 minutes to arrive at Santa Claus House which is open all year and home to both Santa himself and his reindeer friends.
Children can enjoy seeing the reindeer in the fenced area next to the large house, and each indoor stable has the reindeer’s name over the door. Afterwards, we headed inside and enjoyed a nice long chat with Santa, as there were only a few people there when we arrived. Both little ones loved the idea of seeing Santa in July and asked him lots of questions about his reindeer and living at the North Pole. After we took lots of photos, he gave them each a hug and a candy cane. They both then enjoyed looking around the huge Santa-themed gift shop, and we bought several t-shirts for the family to wear with “Believe” as the theme. The homemade fudge and hot cocoa were also a hit. Even though there was no snow on the ground, both children loved taking turns climbing into Santa’s sleigh outside the house and pretending to drive it. While we were there for under an hour, it was well worth the visit. They loved getting to see Santa in the summer!
Walking Your Own Reindeer
While we loved seeing Santa’s reindeer, we wanted to get more intimate so we drove to Northwest Fairbanks to visit Running Reindeer Ranch, a private reindeer ranch at the opposite end of Fairbanks, about 40 minutes away from North Pole. While there are a few reindeer farms in both Alaska and the continental U.S., this was the only place that I found where you could walk your own reindeer through the woods – and I had verified that the owner would let my four and eight year old little ones hold the reins uh…leash. I had booked our tour about five months prior, as the reindeer ranch is also a private home so all tours must be pre-booked and groups are kept to a minimum. We were joined by just one other family, for a total of 10 guests. The owner, Jane, explained how her daughter had wanted a pet and, after much debate, reindeer were chosen due to their acclimation to the Alaskan climate.
We spent much of the two+ hour tour meandering through the birch forest adjacent to her backyard and taking turns leading 11 year old Ruby (the family matriarch) on a leash with Ruby’s six children and grandchildren following along. It was amazing to walk along the path, surrounded by reindeer strolling along, occasionally stopping to munch on lichen. If I had only thought to bring our Santa hats, but it really didn’t matter as the photo of my little ones walking Ruby still ended up on our Christmas card (and it was very popular with our family and friends)!
After about an hour of relaxed strolling through the birch forest, we returned to Jane’s home and helped round up the reindeer into the corral before enjoying homemade cookies and lemonade. Jane is extremely knowledgeable and a good storyteller as well so even my children, who were the youngest participants by far, liked hearing about how the reindeer shed their antlers and loved getting to hold a pair of them on their heads to see how heavy they would be (quite heavy, as it turns out). They particularly loved hearing how Jane helps train the calves before they are sent to Santa at the North Pole. This tour, which cost $50/adult and $30/child, ended up being one of our favorites from our three week visit to Alaska!
More in Fairbanks and Beyond
I would also recommend visiting the University of Alaska ‘Museum of the North’ in Fairbanks, which has a fascinating gallery on Alaska, including videos and objects from various Alaskan native groups. The almost nine foot tall stuffed brown bear is one of the most popular exhibits in the museum. We also really enjoyed riding a replica of the Tanana Valley Railroad to Gold Dredge 8, used in the early 1900s to drill for gold and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Getting to pan for gold was also part of the tour and fun for the whole family.
On a side note, you can actually touch the Alaskan oil pipeline from their parking lot. For a change of pace, the scenic Chena Hot Springs Resort, open all year, is located about 60 miles away from Fairbanks and is a wonderful location to view the beautiful Aurora Borealis displays in the winter. If you’re planning a trip to Alaska, make sure Fairbanks is on your itinerary – it’s well worth the visit!