Imagine this scenario: Tired from your flight, drive, or rail journey to Fairbanks, you finish the remaining 25 miles to Borealis Basecamp in relative silence, thinking only of a good meal and warm bed, never mind the promise of northern lights, thanks to alerts from your smartphone app.
The vehicle makes a left turn from the Elliott Highway and continues, slower now, through a boreal forest of spruce and birch. Everything human is hidden from the road, save for a few markers to indicate cabin driveways.
At the end of the road, you look beyond the car windshield and see several structures that, for lack of a better term, resemble the “dogloos” so popular with pet owners. Light filters through, however, creating a gossamer glow in the sharp winter night, and it’s the only light for miles.
This is Borealis Basecamp, a wintertime sanctuary nestled on a hill overlooking the White Mountains and Wickersham Dome. Here, no matter where you look, everything is designed to maximize the famous aurora borealis, or northern lights, while minimizing the frivols of modern life Outside. It’s unique, simple, and is all but guaranteed to expand your horizons, quite literally, when it comes to aurora-viewing Alaska.
A property so new it is still under construction (which is why I went up for a quick trip last week – full disclosure – I am doing some content work for the company), Borealis Basecamp nonetheless has enough of the bugs worked out to accommodate willing guests in nine domes for overnight visitors, or three domes for those wanting to make an evening tour.
The dome approach is an innovative one and seeks to take advantage of the 200+ nights of active aurora borealis happening around Interior Alaska. Made of fiberglass with 16-foot transparent ceiling/window combinations that allow for crystal-clear viewing, Borealis Basecamp domes are cozy options for those reluctant (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?) to stand outside all night in negative temperatures hoping and praying Mother Nature plays along with the northern lights thing. These are the structures used by polar expeditions and research in places much colder than this, and it’s an impressive thing to see them along the hillside of camp.
Each dome sleeps two in twin beds, although they can be configured to a single king. Kids or an extra guest or two can also sleep on the floor if they wish. A small kitchenette space and bath complete the space, and it’s plenty comfortable. But the windows are the superstars of Borealis Basecamp.
Giant saucer-shaped windows, stretching 16 feet across the dome all but demand one reclines on his or her back to gaze out at the expanse of day or night. Relax? How could you not?
Meals are for now catered from Big Daddy’s in Fairbanks and served in the dining yurt, but GM Jeremy Rogers says the company is expanding in 2018 to include a larger lodge with an equally-large kitchen. Big Daddy’s is delish, however, serving up favorites like ribs, king crab, pasta, and a particularly toothsome portobello mushroom dish that I ogled from across the room.
When the aurora is not out, Borealis Basecamp staff work hard to provide opportunities for family fun in this version of Fairbanks’ “100-Acre Wood.” Snow machine tours, dogsled rides, ice fishing, fat biking, and photography are all options available to guests. Snowshoes can be rented, or bring your own, and the cross country skis; there’s miles of trail available for outdoor enthusiasts. Don’t have polar gear? Don’t worry, the Borealis Basecamp team has everything from helmets to mittens (check about sizing for kids; I did not see any gear for littles).
Rates? On the high side for some families, but that said, the opportunity to stay in a house that looks like an igloo, in the middle of Alaska, with a magical light show out your window — is priceless indeed.
Dome rates: $389/night with a 2-night minimum stay to maximize the experience
Aurora-viewing ONLY (evening tour with Aurora Expeditions):
- In dining yurt, $35/pp age 6 and up (under 6 free)
- VIP dome rental, $60/pp age 6 and up
- VIP dome (private use): $135/pp age 6 and up
- VIP dome (private) and dinner: $180/pp age 6 and up (call for meal rate for kids under 6)
Borealis Basecamp plans to expand over the course of 2018 to add a lodge space for dining that includes a full kitchen and executive chef.
A shuttle service from Fairbanks (airport, train station, and hotels) is available with advance notice for a small fee.
Interested in visiting? Visit the Borealis Basecamp website (note: word reconstruction is underway as we speak).