The vibe: Scandinavia chic meets Alaska practical
Location: 2640 Himalaya Rd., Fairbanks, AK | View on Google Maps
The AFAR take
Tucked away in a boreal forest in Interior Alaska, north of Fairbanks (Alaska’s second largest city, population 30,000) and far from urban light pollution, Borealis Basecamp feels off the grid while offering all the comforts of an upscale lodge. When it opened in 2017, the retreat quickly became a coveted spot for northern lights chasers. The collection of 28 geodesic igloos was built in the same way as the accommodations of scientists in Arctic environments, but with extra creature comforts. Each igloo has a ceiling made with repurposed 16-foot-wide helicopter windows offering views of chartreuse- and magenta-hued northern lights from bed. In winter 2022, Borealis Basecamp added a collection of modern cube-shaped cabins with floor-to-ceiling windows that make for easy sky scanning.
Who’s it for?
It’s an ideal stay for northern lights hunters hoping to see a spectacular solar show. The Alaska tourism bureau estimates the aurora borealis is visible 240 nights a year in Fairbanks. Given that Borealis Basecamp is about 30 miles away from the city’s light pollution, your chances of seeing them at the retreat are even higher. Size-wise, the igloos are better for couples (they’re popular with honeymooners), whereas the cubes have an additional sleeping loft (similar to the top bunk of a bunk bed) suited for small families of three.
Though Borealis Basecamp is named for the celestial ribbons of light that paint the sky in the winter, the property is also open all summer, making it a good basecamp for outdoor adventurers hoping to discover Alaska’s tundra sans snow and under the midnight sun.
Hidden in a private 100-acre boreal forest a 45-minute drive north of Fairbanks, Borealis Basecamp sits on the southern edge of a wilderness area made up of both federal and tribal lands, which stretch for more than 100 miles to the White Mountains. The camp is surrounded by birch trees that, in the winter, are entombed in hoarfrost, while stunted black spruces bow under the weight of winter snow and ice. In the summer, blueberry and salmonberry bushes bear fruit as the ground transforms into dry, spongy vegetation made up of root matter and various types of moss.
Though Borealis Basecamp is named for the celestial ribbons of light that paint the sky in the winter, the property is also open all summer.
The 28 geodesic fiberglass igloos each have a king-size bed, a small kitchen area with a sink and mini-fridge, and a bathroom with a shower and a dry flush toilet that uses Mylar liner bags instead of water to move waste. Each accommodation has a 16-foot-wide window that spans most of the ceiling.
Owner Adriel Butler added the eight new cube accommodations to offer a more thermally efficient option that still showcases in-room views of the night sky. Each features a king-size bed, a separate lofted sleeping area, and a kitchen nook. The bathrooms have flushing toilets with soaking tubs, rainfall showers, and heated towel racks. Floor-to-ceiling windows make up the northernmost wall of each accommodation, and in the summer, automated blinds help to block out the midnight sun.
This summer, Borealis Basecamp will add a collection of “double cube” lodgings that will fit at least five people. Half of the space will look like the existing cubes, while the other half will have a couch that can be converted into a queen bed, a two-person indoor sauna, a soaking tub, and a walk-in shower.
The food and drink
The restaurant, Latitude 65, is in an oversize yurt with picture windows that face the snow-topped White Mountains. Where possible, the restaurant sources locally—no easy task in such a remote part of the state. Salmon, halibut, and crab all come from local fishermen, while chicken and beef are raised on a free-range organic farm in Fairbanks. In Alaska’s short growing season, starchier vegetables thrive, so expect vegetables to be of the root variety. Throughout the summer and fall, chefs and staff forage around the property for blueberries, cloudberries, mushrooms, chaga, fiddlehead ferns, and more. Ingredients appear in salad dressings, on cheesecakes, and as garnishes alongside entrées like halibut cassoulet and pan-seared sockeye salmon.
On the surprisingly robust beverage menu, most beers come from local craft breweries sourced from 49th State Brewing in Anchorage, HooDoo Brewing in Fairbank. The wine list includes a range of price points and features harder-to-get options that will impress oenophiles, like California-based Daou Vineyards. The specialty cocktails are an ode to Alaska—one evokes the colors of the northern lights.
Each evening, the staff creates a bonfire at a firepit next to the restaurant and lays out s’mores fixings. Hors d’oeuvres are served in the lounge. Warm drinks like coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are available throughout the day in the reception area.
Staff and service
Casual and knowledgeable.
There are very few steps on the property—the igloos have roughly six steps up to the door, and the cubes have none. The dirt pathways and the snow and ice, which tend to cover walkways in the winter, may pose a challenge for guests who use wheelchairs.
Going above and beyond
In this part of the world, the solar show often doesn’t start until after midnight, so aurora seekers spend much of their time getting into nature through different activities, the most popular of which is a morning with the handful of staff who are Iditarod mushers. The outing includes a playdate with the puppies (who live off site but ride in with their mushers each day). It follows with a discussion on what it means to be a sled dog racer, including what a day on the trail involves and how mushers care for their dogs. Then guests meet the working dogs—armed with treats to dole out—and go on a half-hour ride with them through the boreal forest and over the tundra. In the summer, guests can still see the dogs—they just can’t go for rides.
Other excursions include a hike with reindeer (which walk alongside visitors and nibble on lichen), snowshoeing (or trekking in warm-weather months), and a snow machine (snowmobile to Lower 48ers) or ATV tour on a snowcat to the top of a nearby ridgeline for sunset s’mores and champagne.