Want to visit Santa at the actual North Pole? Forget about it! The security screenings are ridiculous. And unless you hire a team of flying reindeer, you’ll have to drive those roads that you’ve seen on Ice Road Truckers. And with global warming and all, you know that road is going to crack, and your rental car will end up in a frigid lake. Good luck getting the rental insurance to cover that damage.
Fortunately, there’s an alternative to the North Pole. It’s North Pole, Alaska. And Santa is more than happy to visit you here, at his expansive operation on the outskirts of Fairbanks.
This place is just as good as the actual North Pole, minus hoards of elves, who are still complaining about the production switch from wooden toy firetrucks to Xbox Ones. Santa Claus House, just off the Richardson Highway, instantly transports you into the spirit of the season — even if it is early June, like when I visited.
There’s no missing this place from the road. A giant Santa stands watch outside, checking a traditional, analog list, even though such things have been replaced by iPads in recent years.
Once you step inside, you suddenly understand how Santa is able to make his seemingly charitable efforts into a lucrative operation. Funding clearly comes, in large part, from the sale of an inconceivable quantity of Christmas ornaments and other souvenirs.
Odds are, you’ll catch Santa hanging out here as well. He’s ready to take your Christmas requests year-round. But give it some serious thought. You really want this meeting with Santa to count.
Sure, Santa Claus House is a giant tourist trap, but it’s also one of the places you simply must visit, if you’re in the neighborhood. And the truth is, I thought the prices on souvenirs were pretty reasonable.
Once you’ve sat on Santa’s Lap and paid Santa’s cashiers, take a quick drive around North Pole, Alaska, and you’ll see that the town really has committed to this Christmas thing. Light posts are decorated for the holidays, year-round…
… and you can even get to see the real North Pole! This pole is on display at a roadside park on 5th Avenue. It’s one of two poles made to mark the actual north pole. The other one was pushed out of a plane, back in the 1950’s, while this one ended up in a junk yard. It was rediscovered and restored in 1972, and put on display in 1976.
[tmt_info =””]To find the north pole in North Pole, Alaska, head south on the frontage road from Santa Claus House. At the entrance to Richardson Highway, take a right, onto 5th Avenue, then watch for the pole on the right. [/tmt_info]
No one can experience all the niceness of Santa Claus, without the urge to get a little Knotty afterwards. Drive on down the Richardson Highway…
… and keep an eye out for the Knotty Shop. Yes, it’s another tourist trap/souvenir shop, but it’s loaded with interesting items…
… many of which are made from knotty pieces of pine.
The Knotty Shop also displays more Alaskan wildlife than you’ll likely see in the actual wild — all stuffed and positioned in an impressive diorama.
You’ll have the most fun in the parking lot…
… where that same knotty wood has been used to create some massive sculptures of Alaskan creatures, like moose, bear, and of course…
… actual life-sized Alaskan mosquitoes.
If you recover from such a mosquito attack, continue driving south on the Richardson Highway. You will have passed Eielson Air Force Base, just before arriving at the Knotty Shop, so there’s a good chance that a few low-flying military jets will keep you entertained for a while. Mountains are distant from the road along this stretch…
… but you will find a few good viewpoints, as you parallel the Tanana River. I’ll show you much more of this drive, on upcoming pages.
Here’s a look at the drive from Fairbanks to Santa Claus House in North Pole…
… and North Pole to the Knotty House and beyond, on Richardson Highway: