Sunday, February 10, 2008
GETTING THERE: Organized trips to Brooks Range originate in Fairbanks, Alaska. Several carriers fly from Washington to Anchorage and/or on to Fairbanks, including United, Alaska and Northwest airlines. Our round-trip fare (per person, including taxes and fees) from Washington to Fairbanks was about $850.
WHERE TO STAY: Given the vagaries of the weather, plan to spend a few extra days in town in case of delays. Fairbanks is a sprawling outpost on the edge of the frontier. Accommodations run the gamut, from the stylish Springhill Suites by Marriott (575 First Ave., 800-314-0858, http://www.springhillsuites.com), where doubles in summer start at $229 per night, to friendly, comfortable B&Bs. We stayed at the conveniently located Townsite Gardens Bed and Breakfast (1003 Eighth Ave., 907-455-8288, http://www.mosquitonet.com/townsite), where a double was about $110 plus tax.
WHERE TO EAT: A good dining option, though pricey, is Lavelle's Bistro, in the Springhill Suites hotel (907-450-0555, http://www.lavellesbistro.com). Entrees run from $16 to $40. Local favorites include the Wild Iris Cafe & Saloon in the Fairbanks Golden Nugget Hotel (900 Noble St., 907-452-5141, http://www.golden-nuggethotel.com), where entrees are $9 to $25, and Gambardella's Pasta Bella (706 Second Ave., 907-457-4992, http://www.gambardellas.com); entrees from $12 to $25. There's also an all-you-can-eat Alaska Salmon Bake (Pioneer Park in downtown Fairbanks, 800-354-7274, http://www.akvisit.com); $31 for a full dinner.
WHAT TO DO: One must-see attraction is the spectacular new Museum of the North at the University of Alaska (907 Yukon Dr., 907-474-7505, http://www.uaf.edu/museum; $10). The Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge has well-marked hiking trails for wildlife viewing as well as a visitors center; bring mosquito protection (1300 College Rd., 907-452-5162; donation suggested). If you have the time, other activities include river cruises on sternwheelers, panning for gold and visiting the Alaska Pipeline; contact the Log Cabin Visitor Information Center for details (550 First Ave., 800-327-5774, http://www.explorefairbanks.com).
If you need last-minute sporting goods, go to Big Ray's. It is conveniently located downtown, and its prices can't be beat (507 Second Ave., 800-478-3458, http://www.bigrays.com). Beaver Sports, also good, is more upscale (3480 College Rd., 907-479-2494, http://www.beaversports.com).
OUTFITTERS: Outfitters offer three general types of trips to Brooks Range: backpacking, hiking from a base camp and rafting. All require camping. Prices for a 10-day raft trip start at about $3,500 per person and typically include food and guides, common gear (e.g., rafts, life jackets, utensils), perhaps some personal gear (e.g., tents) and plane service between Fairbanks and Brooks Range.
We traveled with Wilderness Birding Adventures, based in Eagle River, Alaska (907-694-7442, http://www.wildernessbirding.com). The cost, $3,500 per person for a nine-night Kongakut River trip, included round-trip air service between Fairbanks and the refuge, food, two expert guides and all common gear. We were responsible for all personal gear (clothing, tents, sleeping bags), although the outfitter had some gear available for rent.
A list of authorized guides and air taxi operators for ANWR, plus a superb overview and description of the refuge, can be found on the refuge Web site, at http://arctic.fws.gov.