What is great about visiting Alaska is that there is a lot of living history that you can see. The Riverboat Discovery is no exception and this attraction is rich in history. It is located at 1875 Discovery Drive just five minutes from the Fairbanks International Airport.
The Binkley family’s steamboating tradition goes back over 100 years and five generations. In 1898, when Charles M. Binkley hiked over the Chilkoot Pass with other stampeders, he was not so much in search of gold as he was the chance to build and operate boats on the Yukon and its tributaries. He became a respected pilot and boat builder in the North. His son, Captain Jim Binkley, Sr., followed in his father’s footsteps and piloted freight vessels on the Yukon and Tanana Rivers in the 1940’s.
As transportation systems changed in the north, railroads and airplanes began to carry much of the freight. In 1950, noting the coming changes in the freighting business, Captain Jim and his wife, Mary, began a river excursion business focusing on sharing their love of Alaska and its culture with visitors. Over the coming years, Captain Jim and Mary B’s business grew from the Godspeed, a 25-passenger vessel, to the Discovery III, a 900-passenger vessel. Today, Captain Jim’s grandchildren run the company and Mary B is still active in the business.
In addition to growing their sternwheel business, the Binkley’s have added a gold mining attraction: Gold Dredge 8. The family has developed a tour in the heart of the gold fields where the first gold strikes attracted miners from the Klondike. They have incorporated large-scale industrial mining and the smaller ‘Mom and Pop’ side of mining into an all-encompassing tour that also features the Trans Alaska Pipeline and a replica of the Tanana Valley Railroad.
Although the Discovery III holds 900 passengers, they limit the number of passengers per voyage to just 700. The voyage that I went on had just 461 people on board. The ship sails down the Chena River to where it flows into the much larger Tanana River.
Float Plane Demonstration
Since the 1930’s, transportation by float plane has been essential in Alaska. These very capable aircraft can change from floats for water to large “tundra” tires to skis for snow field operations. Float planes have the ability to take off and land in very short distances.
The Discovery III stops at a point where you will watch a floatplane pilot take off in front of you. The plane will continue as it circles the ships and then comes in for a water landing. The ship’s public address system is switched to the aviation radio where the captain of the ship is talking with the pilot about the operations of float planes.
Trail Breaker Kennels
The kennel was founded in Eureka, Alaska by the late Susan Butcher, a four-time Iditarod champion, and David Monson, her husband and Yukon Quest champion. Built on a reputation of exemplary dog care and hard work, Trail Breaker Kennel became the premier racing kennel in the world. In 1990, Susan and David purchased the property in Fairbanks, Alaska and established Trail Breaker Kennel on the banks of the Chena River.
Today, David, his two daughters and dedicated staff members provide visitors from around the world a look at the lives of mushers and Alaskan huskies in Interior Alaska. For over 20 years, Trail Breaker Kennel has been a favorite stop on the Riverboat Discovery tour. You will see demonstrations on what these amazing trail dogs are capable of.
Chena Village Living Museum
Be immersed in frontier living firsthand with a guided walking tour of a native Athabascan village. You’ll see an Athabascan village with cabins made of spruce logs, a cache used for storing supplies, a primitive spruce bark hut and fur pelts. Our guides will explain how the wolf, fox, martin and beaver were used to provide food and protection in the harsh Arctic climate. They will also share how the Athabascans skillfully survived for over 10,000 years and how they adapted to village life and Western culture in the past century.
Visiting Riverboat Discovery
You can learn more about this adventure by clicking here.
- Tours run two times per day at 8:45 am and 2:00 pm,
- The cost is $75.95 for adults and teens, $45.95 for children aged 3-12,
- Duration: three hours and
- Walkability: easy, the most walking will be at the Chena Villiage. There are stairs aboard the ship to the upper decks.
Related tour: Gold Dredge #8. You can read my review of Gold Dredge #8 here.
The Riverboat Discovery is a great way to not only cruise the Chena River but take a look at life in Alaska both old and new. The Chena village has expert guides that will take you back to life as the native Athabascan people did thousands of years ago. An interesting cultural look back in history.