During our trip up Alaska’s Dalton Highway, we decided to break up both the trip both ways. Theoretically, you can make the entire trip from Fairbanks to Deadhorse in a single day. In summer, you’re pretty much guaranteed daylight the entire way, thanks to the insanely long days this far north. But the 495-mile trip means 13-15 hours of HARD driving on mostly gravel roads. Not ideal, especially with a small child in tow. So, we decided to break it up. Unless you’re camping, options midway are few and far between, though. There’s Coldfoot Camp, though they didn’t offer advanced reservations in summer 2020. Thankfully, I found Boreal Lodging in Wiseman, just up the road. This turned out to be a unique spot, which we were really glad to find.
Boreal Lodging, Wiseman, Alaska
- 9000 Dalton Highway, MP 189, Wiseman, Alaska
- Website: https://www.boreallodge.com/
- Features: 4 lodge rooms with shared kitchen and bathrooms; 2 cabins with kitchens and private bathrooms; hiking trails; coffee & tea; Dish TV in day room; limited satellite WiFi
The lodge is normally open May through September. They do accept reservations October and November, and March and April, with sufficient advance notice. Nonrefundable deposits of 50-75% are required; there is also a 5% surcharge on credit card payments. And of course, your hotel/airline loyalty points don’t work here.
In talking to the owners, things book up in fall/winter more than summer. Why? The area around Coldfoot is prime viewing area for the the aurora borealis. The lack of light pollution, and a greater chance of clear skies than up on the North Slope, give you a better chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
Wiseman is just shy of the halfway point of the Dalton Highway, and 14 miles north of Coldfoot. It’s a 6-7 hour drive both up to Deadhorse and back to Fairbanks. The only place to obtain food and gas is at Coldfoot Camp, about a 20 minute drive away. However, Coldfoot usually carries no groceries, nor does Deadhorse, so get everything you need for your full trip in Fairbanks. Remember, if you forget your toothbrush, it’s a 7 hour drive back to Fairbanks to get a new one.
To reach Wiseman, going northbound, turn left just past the Middle Fork Koyukuk River bridge #1. Southbound, turn right just before the bridge. The approximate milepost is 189. It’s another 3 miles down the gravel road to Wiseman; beware, it’s rough and gets potholed after heavy rains. You’ll see this sign as you enter Wiseman.
Continue through town, and you’ll find a reassurance sign just before a sharp bend to the left.
Continue about another 1/2 mile to find the bridge.
Past the bridge, it’s about another 1/2 mile to Boreal Lodging. You can’t miss it; you’ll see the office/owner’s house behind a big pile of moose antlers.
Date of Stay: August 2-3 and 5, 2020
The lodge only has 6 rooms, and the owners (Scott and Heidi) double as Park Rangers at the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfood. Thus, there aren’t set hours for check-in. Scott and Heidi just ask that you contact them a day or two before arrival with your approximate arrival plans. Heidi was still at the office on our drive up from Fairbanks around 7 pm. She also gave us a quick run-through of the property and some things to do in the area. On the way back, she had the key taped to the office door for us.
I also have to give Scott and Heidi extra props for working with me to reschedule our trip. Originally, we planned our trip for mid-June. That ended up becoming a non-starter because much of what we wanted to do in Anchorage and Denali remained closed until July due to pandemic restrictions. Fortunately, Heidi let me have a “do-over” and applied my deposit to our rescheduled trip in August. We greatly appreciated her flexibility!
Boreal Lodging Wiseman – Cabins and Guest Rooms
We booked the “Boreal” cabin, one of two cabins at the lodge. Current rates are $160 per night for two, plus $25 for third and fourth guests. Add $10 to the base rate during the winter season (October through April). The cabin has a very rusting log cabin look – perfectly appropriate for the remote surroundings.
First, some background to keep your expectations appropriate. You’re not just off the beaten path, you’re WAY off it. As mentioned, there’s one gas station and restaurant about 15 miles away. Otherwise, you’re 270 miles from the nearest city of note (Fairbanks). Many of the services you’d expect even in a fairly remote area like Yellowstone simply don’t exist in the Alaskan backcountry. There’s also no cell phone service, and WiFi is very, very slow and limited. Then again, if you came to Wiseman for a working vacation…you probably should re-assess your priorities. Boreal Lodging provides an alternative for those who don’t want to camp, and offers a few more amenities than the work camp-style accommodations at Coldfoot Camp. But it’s still a very much basic level of accommodation.
The cabin measures a cozy 320 square feet, but makes good use of the available space. Step inside, and you’ll find a fully equipped kitchen to the right.
The kitchen comes impressively well equipped. In addition to a full set of utensils and pots and pans, the pantry comes well stocked with various spices, as well as tea and coffee. The tea and coffee comes courtesy of the owners, though the spices are orphaned by previous guests. You’re free to use whatever you want, but the owners kindly request you leave some behind as well. There’s even a French press to make coffee if that’s your thing. One thing to keep in mind – the lodge relies entirely on solar power to keep the lights on. The owners ask you to conserve as much as possible, and not use high draw appliances like blenders. Draw too much power, and you can trip the system. Not something you want to do when the repairman has to drive 270 miles to fix it…
To your left is the living room, equipped with a couch, a couple of tables, and a TV. Note that you can’t actually get any TV signal up here; Fairbanks is 270 miles away, after all. Instead, it’s there to watch DVDs if you brought your own.
Head straight back, and the downstairs bedroom is to the left. It’s small, but comes with a pair of twin-sized beds, and a well-placed power outlet.
Meanwhile, straight ahead at the very back of the cabin is the bathroom. Continuing a theme, it’s tight, but has both a tub and shower. I didn’t expect the tub, but greatly appreciated it for ease of giving the munchkin a bath. The water heater is rather unique; it’s on demand, in that it turns itself on when you turn on the hot water faucet.
There’s also an extra bed upstairs in the loft. To reach the loft, climb the wooden ladder from the living room.
Once up the ladder, you’ll find a queen-size bed, along with a fair amount of storage space. We had enough room to unfold Ashok’s travel crib up here. Watch your head, though; the ceiling is pretty low. There is also an extra outlet up here to plug in your gadgets.
Both Ashok and my mother enjoyed posing from the loft. My son in particular couldn’t get enough of going up and down the ladder.
The cabin has an oil burning space heater for heat. Granted, it’s not terribly cold in August, but still, it kept the cabin plenty warm. One thing to also keep in mind when visiting in summer – the days are ridiculously long. The sun doesn’t set from late May through mid-July. By early August, you still have nearly 19 hours of daylight, with sunrise around 4:30 am and sunset around 11:30 pm. The curtains do their job, but just remember to draw them shut. Lest you fancy the sun shining in your face at really odd hours.
Finally, the unit was clean, and most importantly, everything worked as it should.
Next door to the Boreal cabin is the “Polar” cabin. It has a similar layout to Boreal, except there’s only one bed in the downstairs bedroom; thus, maximum occupancy is three persons.
If you’re looking to save some money, Boreal Lodging also has four standard motel rooms. Each room has two single beds; prices are $90 for one and $110 for two in the summer. Add $10 to each during the winter.
In the middle of the main building is a shared kitchen and common living room.
The main lodge has two shared bathrooms next door.
Boreal Lodging Wiseman – General Location and Property
If you’re looking for someplace to truly get away from it all, this is about as good a place as there is. The property itself is beautiful, situated on the banks of Wiseman Creek. You can enjoy a quiet hike along the creek in both directions. The lodge property itself is plenty large to enjoy a nice walk and enjoy the scenery of the foothills of the Brooks Range.
If you do plan on hiking here, don’t forget the bug spray. Alaskan mosquitoes are a special breed of evil in the summer.
Wiseman itself is a truly beautiful place, nestled in the Koyukuk River valley in the Brooks Range foothills. Think the landscape of the Rockies, but with a fraction of the people. (Because there are very few people crazy enough to actually drive this far north.)
If you find yourself heading up the Dalton Highway, Boreal Lodging in Wiseman is a great option to break up the trip. The family-run establishment offers clean, comfortable accommodations a cut above the other option along this stretch of the Dalton. It’s a great area to stretch your legs for a couple of days headed to or from the Arctic Ocean, or a good spot to watch the Northern Lights.