Fact: Reindeer are the coolest Arctic creature, ever. Who would have thought a hooved, antlered, slightly slimy-nosed member of the deer family (Cervidae) could attract so much attention, Santa Claus aside? Turns out, people are flocking to Fairbanks and the Running Reindeer Ranch to meet, greet, and touch these interesting critters, and I am now a willing member of the club.
Located in the beautiful Goldstream Valley area of Fairbanks, a bit north of town, Running Reindeer Ranch is owned and operated by a local family who sort of fell into the business several years ago. Mom Jane refused to buy her daughter a horse, but was willing to consider another animal more suited to harsh Interior Alaska winters. Reindeer fit the profile, and in 2007, the family acquired their first pair, a delightful couple named Ruby and Moon, and an idea was born.
Today, the little herd numbers five; Rufus, Willow, Ruby, Olive, and Jasper, and a visit to the ranch means a close encounter with each. Not confined to their well-maintained paddock area, the reindeer spend time lounging among scenic birch trees and the placid landscape of Jane’s property, in part, she explained, so they can do what reindeer do; forage, rest, and look cute.
But there’s more. Guests can take a walk with these reindeer, as an ad hoc member of the herd. Winter or summer, anyone can take a hike through the beautiful, mostly-flat property, learning about the history of these amazing animals, enjoying the scenery, and listening to the click-clack of the hairy beasts’ feet as they adeptly navigate the trail. Kids, especially, will enjoy sinking their hands into the deep, rich coat of these animals, or noticing the flat, paddle-shaped feet that allow reindeer to stay on top of the snow, much like a modern-day snowshoe would. Jane is a well-educated guide, too, offering wonderful information and tales of reindeer over the past 7,000 years since their domestication by man. The half-hour walk goes quickly, and by journey’s end, visitors will feel a connection to their antlered hosts, and hop in cars with a whole new appreciation for the concept of “livestock” in Alaska.
Jane doesn’t rush her tours, knowing, as a mother, that kids (and adults) learn by asking and doing. We felt antlers, inspected hooves, and listened to an interesting cacophony of sounds coming from the slightly intrusive Jasper, the teenager of the bunch. Delightfully unhurried, spoiled by bright sunshine and warmish winter temperatures, nobody wanted to leave.
Running Reindeer Ranch offers tours for $35/adults, $20/kids 3-12, with kids 3 and under, free. Plan on walking through a chilly forest in the winter (dress for arctic weather), and a bug-infested forest in the summer (load up on bug spray and wear long sleeves and pants). A camera is a must, as these reindeer, while not tame in the traditional sense, are quite photogenic and happy to oblige most photographers. Psst: if you visit this summer, you’ll likely get to see a wee calf! I would recommend very young children be placed in a backpack or front pack; the trail is not suited for strollers.
Jane will provide cookies and cocoa after your winter walk, and cookies and juice post-summer stroll. Do sign her guest book and take note of the worldwide assortment of visitors before you add your name as a guest of this wonderful experience.
Find Running Reindeer Ranch on Facebook, Twitter, and via their website, HERE. Call 907-455-4998 for directions and additional information. The ranch is about a 20 minute drive from downtown, a bit more if you stop and take photos of the lovely Goldstream Valley.
Take a cue from the reindeer; don’t rush. Look at the mountains, the trees above your head, and the forest floor, below. Relax. Swish bugs from your eyes with a minimum of fuss, and just be present – in Alaska.