Don’t miss the Riverboat Discovery in Fairbanks (Local Review)

Last Updated on April 9, 2024

The Riverboat Discovery is a wonderful tour you don’t want to miss if you’re traveling to Fairbanks on your trip to Alaska during the summer months.

I’m a former Alaskan and resident of Fairbanks, and I still work in Alaska part of the year as a tour director. Over the past twenty years, I’ve taken hundreds of people to the Riverboat and been on this tour many times. It never gets old, even after many visits! I’ve never had a guest who didn’t love it or a client who booked it independently (including those who are skeptical of tours!) who didn’t thank me for the recommendation.

Why is the Riverboat such an amazing experience? For one thing, it’s a family owned business for three generations, going back to the busy days of riverboats on Alaska’s rivers. Their hospitality and experience really shine through when you join them for a few hours on the river.

In addition, the Riverboat goes up the Chena River and takes you to places you wouldn’t be able to get to any other way, like the impressive confluence of the Chena and Tanana Rivers. The recreated authenitic Athabascan Chena Village visit is another element that makes this a unique and unforgettable tour.

Listen to my interview with Wade Binkley of the Riverboat Discovery about three generations of life on the river:

Where is the Riverboat Discovery located?

The Riverboat Discovery is located in Fairbanks, Alaska, along the banks of the Chena River, not far from Fairbanks International Airport.

You can take a taxi or ride share easily to the riverboat landing, or park here if you have a rental car. If a trip on the Riverboat is included in your cruisetour or group tour in Fairbanks, transportation will be provided.

The Riverboat Discovery docked at. the Riverboat landing. There are many pink wildflowers in the foreground. It's a sunny day.
The Riverboat Discovery docked at the landing.

What river is the Riverboat Discovery cruise on?

The Chena River, which flows through Fairbanks to the Tanana River, where the Riverboat cruise turns around.

Who is the Riverboat Discovery experience best for?

Honestly, the Riverboat Discovery is an ideal experience for everyone! I have taken hundreds and maybe thousands of people to the Riverboat and I cannot think of a single person who didn’t like it.

Whether you’re traveling on your own to Fairbanks or part of an organized tour or cruise tour, any age or ability level, this tour is a sure bet for a relaxing and fun morning or afternoon.

What to expect on the Riverboat Discovery

The side of the middle deck on the Riverboat Discovery, with the Chena River and some trees and houses visible around it.
The Riverboat Discovery on the Chena River.

First of all, the Riverboat is big. There is plenty of room to move around on all four decks and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. If you’re sitting indoors there is plenty of room to stand outside as well if you want to go out for photos or fresh air.

There is a galley with snacks and drinks on the first floor and plenty of restrooms.

The tour is about three hours long and takes you downstream on the Chena River to where it meets the Tanana River, with really impressive views of the Tanana at the turnaround point.

The mouth of the Chena River where it flows into the Tanana River seen from the deck of the Riverboat Discovery. There are low sand bars with brush and trees along the sides of the rivers. It's a partly cloudy day
View of the mouth of the Chena River where it meets the Tanana River, from the deck of the Riverboat.

In the middle of the tour you will have the opportunity to visit Chena Village. Chena Village is a created village at the site of an Athabascan fish camp. Here you will learn from young local Native Alaskan guides all about the culture and traditions of the Athabascan people, both modern day as well as in the past and how those traditions have adapted since settlers came to Alaska’s interior.

You’ll see how salmon are smoked and preserved as well as other ways of preserving food for Alaska’s harsh winters, and all about traditional dress. It’s a fun and educational experience that also allows for time to explore the village on your own.

A log cabin with a porch and a grass roof with moose antlers on top. There are several colorful hanging baskets in front and a sign says "Chena Village Alaska"
One of the many recreated buildings at Chena Village, a unique place to learn about Athabascan culture.

You’ll also pass Trailbreaker Kennel, home of the late Susan Butcher, a four time Iditarod winner. Susan’s husband Dave shares about the kennel and the sport of dog mushing and does a cart run with his dog team. Usually you also get to see at least one puppy running around! You’ll also get to learn Susan’s inspiring story and legacy.

A green lawn on the bank of a river with a log cabin and many sled dogs. A man is standing near the dos giving a presentation
Dave Monson of Trailbreaker Kennel shares about sled dog racing and the legacy of his wife Susan Butcher before doing a run with his dogs for guests on the Riverboat Discovery.

If you’re interested in shopping, give yourself a little time before or after the tour since their gift shop has an excellent selection and really good prices.

Accessibility and Mobility

The Riverboat Discovery and the landing are fully wheelchair accessible. The Riverboat has four levels and the upper levels are only accessible by stairs, but there is plenty of space on the first level. Make sure to let them know if you’ll be using a wheelchair, that way they can help you with boarding very efficiently.

When does the Riverboat Discovery operate?

The Riverboat Discovery is a summer experience in Fairbanks. After the ice breaks up and the river has enough water the Riverboat starts operating, generally in mid May. It continues until early fall, usually mid to late September.

How long is the Riverboat Discovery cruise?

The Riverboat Discovery is about three hours. The morning Riverboat is 8:45 am-11:45 am and the afternoon is 2pm-5pm.

Is there food on board the boat?

Yes! They have hot dogs and chili on the boat for purchase and in the morning they have complimentary coffee and blueberry donuts (yum!). They have a few other snacks available for purchase as well.

They also serve lunch at the landing between the morning and afternoon trip, which is super convenient. They have salads, sandwiches and wraps. There is also a sit down lunch from 11:45 am – 1pm offering a set menu of stew, roasted vegetables, salad and dessert.

Is there wifi or cell service?

There is no wifi on board the boat, however there is decent cell service on the river where the riverboat goes. This does depend a bit on your cell provider and if you can roam in Alaska on your plan if you’re a visitor.

Are there restrooms on board the Riverboat Discovery?

Yes, there are lots of restrooms on the Riverboat, with flushing toilets and running water. There are also restrooms at the landing.

What to wear for the Riverboat Discovery

In mid summer, Fairbanks is generally very dry and often quite hot. Most days in mid June through early August are in the 70s and 80s, occasionally hotter. There can be rain showers or cooler weather any day, so I always recommend bringing and extra layer or a rain jacket.

The boat ride is generally not as windy as boat tours on the open ocean, since the boat isn’t moving as fast.

In early and late season it can definitely be raining or chilly. If you start in the morning and it’s cold, it might be warm in the afternoon so make sure you have a couple of layers to stay comfortable.

Costs and Booking

If you are visiting Fairbanks as part of a cruisetour or other organized tour, check to see if the Riverboat Discovery is already included as part of your time in Fairbanks. If not, you can book it on your own (or possibly through your guide, check with them).

If you’re traveling on your own to Fairbanks, you can book directly through their website.

Jennie Flaming on InstagramJennie Flaming on LinkedinJennie Flaming on PinterestJennie Flaming on Youtube
Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite. I lived in Alaska for many years and I still spend lots of time there every year visiting friends and working as a tour director. I've been a guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington, am a field editor for the Milepost and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast about Alaska Travel as well as the Washington State Hiking Podcast. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you here!