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“Ice Fishing + Aurora Tour = Rip-off”
Review of Chandalar Ranch

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Chandalar Ranch
Taipei, Taiwan
Level 6 Contributor
104 reviews
47 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 65 helpful votes
“Ice Fishing + Aurora Tour = Rip-off”
Reviewed January 27, 2014

Never been ice fishing before, my friends and I signed up for the ice fishing + aurora viewing tour at Chandalar Ranch. For $175, it's definitely one of the worst tour I've attended.

The tour started early morning. We were first transported in a Ford E-series van. When the last three guys joining the tour arrived, despite the van is already full, the owner Keith literally "stuffed" them in the van. After arrived at the lake, Keith gave a 3-minute demonstration of how to ice fishing, drilled holes, then just sit there and mind his business for the whole time. While nobody (there were around 15 people in the tour) caught any fish, he just sit there and did not even bother to check how everyone's doing. Of the entire 9 or 10 hours we spent with Keith and his family, they spent less than 15 minutes (combined) talking with us.

For food, we were promised "authentic Alaskan cuisine" when we booked the tour. We got a Safeway sub for lunch, and baked fish + salad with thousand island dressing + water-downed OJ for dinner.

As for the aurora viewing, it's a good spot, but overrated. I highly recommend travelling the extra 30 miles to Chena Hot Springs Resort.

  • Stayed March 2013, traveled with friends
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Helpful?
12 Thank Jim L
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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41 reviews from our community

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English first
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Level 3 Contributor
11 reviews
3 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 10 helpful votes
Reviewed October 11, 2013

I did not stay at Chandalar Ranch, but came there as part of a tour led by Ben Boyd to see the aurora. I was there from around 11pm-2:30am. There is a very nice living space upstairs filled with couches and a large TV- it was a perfect place to warm up in between taking pictures of the aurora! There is a porch upstairs and a field downstairs where I was able to take pictures. I also really enjoyed talking with George, the son of the owner. He helped me set up my camera to take pictures of the aurora (he even pulled up my camera's manual on his Ipad!).

  • Stayed October 2013, traveled solo
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1 Thank Ariella L
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Honolulu, Hawaii
Level 3 Contributor
16 reviews
6 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 15 helpful votes
Reviewed September 29, 2013

We did not stay at the ranch as overnight guests, but paid a $30 per person fee for the opportunity to hang out from 9:30 pm until 2:30 a.m. in the morning, waiting for the aurora to appear (we drove from Fairbanks in our rental car). It is a great location, with a large field and wide open view of the horizon looking northward, mostly dark and surrounded by forest areas, and no headlights from passing vehicles -- good conditions if you want to photograph the aurora. Our ranch hosts that night were owner Keith Koontz and his son, George, and we had friendly, informative conversations with each of them off and on.

The big community room upstairs was a safe, warm, dry place to pass the time, with store-bought cookies and hot beverages, great cultural entertainment (native Ben Boyd performing an impressive Indian hoop dance), interesting videos to watch about the aurora, Eskimo culture and more. The time passed quickly and comfortably, compared to our earlier, fruitless hours-long vigils in various residential areas and dark parking lots recommended by guidebooks and locals as free viewing spots.

There is no guarantee of seeing the aurora on any given night, but we were very fortunate to see a great show from about 1-2 a.m., when the heavy cloud cover finally opened up, even with an almost-full moon in the sky. While digital photography allowed us to see the colors and patterns more clearly, there were moments when the shimmering, moving lights were extremely clear to the naked eye. The Aurora Forecast for that night was only a "2" and we would have missed out on all the action, had we given up based on that prediction.

To give yourself a good chance to see the lights, in a comfortable place, at a reasonable rate, this is the place to be. Even if you are not lucky enough to see the lights, Ben's hoop dance and the videos are worth some consolation value.

  • Stayed September 2013, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
6 Thank Marcus P
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
San Francisco, California, United States
Level 1 Contributor
4 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 7 helpful votes
Reviewed May 7, 2013

I stayed here a week in December so that I could view the Aurora Borealis. You really need to plan on staying here for atleast a few days to maximize your chances of seeing a great night time display. While here there was one amazing display and a two or so good ones.

The ranch is about 30 minutes drive away from Fairbanks and is not walkable to any where. A rental vehicle is advised.

With that said, the room was comfortable, the host family kind and inviting, the home is lovely, and the wifi is rock solid.

I would stay here again.

Stayed December 2012, traveled solo
Helpful?
4 Thank Emily K
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Washington DC, District of Columbia
Level 2 Contributor
6 reviews
5 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 6 helpful votes
Reviewed December 1, 2012

We just came back from Chandalar Ranch this Thanks Giving and saw the beautiful northern lights there!! It is inexpensive to stay here, Keith and Velama are very nice and friendly. They have good locations too!

Room Tip: Better to choose a private room
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  • Stayed November 2012, traveled with friends
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3 Thank Shushu_Mia
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Coolangatta, Australia
Level 3 Contributor
16 reviews
3 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 12 helpful votes
Reviewed November 25, 2012

Nested in the spuce trees the Chandalar Ranch is about 30 or so miles out of the town of Fairbanks in Alaska.

Make sure to book in advance as the owner tends to charge what ever he feels like at the time. The prices ranged from $70- $100 per night depending on his mood. We booked in advance and paid a deposit and then the owner tried to charge us extra until we showed him our receipts from Hostel World. So book and pay in advance is my advice. He charged an Italian group $100 per night, us $70 per night and some German girls $80 per night. It's over priced for what you are getting, and he relies on location and the Northern Lights to sell the rooms.

Be prepared that the bathrooms are a little horrible and there are no doors what so ever to protect your modesty. Shower curtains is about it for the toilet and shower and there is a strong sulfur smell.

The accommodation is separate in a downstairs part of the house and there is a large communal cooking area. So be sure to take your own food and drinks as there is nothing provided. Make sure to label every thing.

The rooms are very basic and consist of a few bunk beds and not much else, so during the day there is not much to do. Take movies to watch if you don't have a car. If you do have a car, nearby Chena Hot Springs is worth a look.

As for the Northern Lights, which is the main reason that we were there, make sure to research what time of year is best to see them. We happened to be there in a full moon and we didn't see much at all.

It was OK for a few days, but I think that I would not have chosen this place to view the lights, knowing now what I do about it.

Room Tip: Make sure to pay ahead as the owner changes the price depending on his mood.
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  • Stayed September 2012, traveled with family
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Helpful?
6 Thank amanda0308
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Chandalar, Owner at Chandalar Ranch, responded to this review, January 18, 2013
Hello Amanda,I was sorry to see your comments about Chandalar Ranch! I will try to address your comments.
First of all the room rates were not based on my mood! We raised our room rates on August15, 2012. If a guest had booked by the old rates prior to this date we gave them that rate. Also the rate varies by where and how long the guests stay. The hostel bunk room is $40.00 per night if guests stay only one night, but goes to $35.00 per night if they stay 2 nights or more and one night is free if they stay 7 nights. The private rooms are $100.00 for 1 or 2 persons and $20.00 for each additional person per night. The cabins are $80.00 for 1 or 2 persons and $20.00 for each additional person.
I think that you must have booked with Hostel World prior to the August 15th date. Most of our bookings that are not booked direct come through Hostelbookers and they charge the guests 10% as the deposit. When our guests pay we subtract this deposit from their bill. Often guest will stay longer than they have originally booked and so it is neccessary to see their paper work when calculating the final bill.
As to activiteis, we are next to the Two Rivers cross country ski area where you can ski or snowshoe in winter and take hikes on the nice trails in summer. We furnish the skies and snowshoes free as well as bycycles in summer. We are in hiking distance from the Chena River for fishing and nature watching or you can join one of our tours..We also have wildlife on our little lake and often see fox, moose, sandhill cranes and a number of different kinds of ducks.
We have free wifi in the lodge, Netflick and satelite TV with two TVs.
As to the Northern lights , I saw one of the best displays ever a few years ago when the moon was full and at it nearest orbit to the Earth. I am not an expert, but have been viewing the aurora for over 50 years and I think you have an equal chance of seeing it from Mid-August to Mid-April.
Best Regards,
Keith
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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
San Diego, California
Level 5 Contributor
23 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 28 helpful votes
Reviewed August 29, 2012

I am a traveler who is willing to rough it out. In fact, I despise luxury when I am traveling/backpacking as it spoils the experience for me.

I say this because if you expect 5 star accommodation, Chandalar Ranch is NOt for you. It provides basic accommodation. Rooms are on a share basis and the bathroom is very basic. But I was perfectly ok with all that since the whole point of staying here is to see the lights, for which you will be up and awake anyway! The bathroom curtains are actually very funny since they only cover one half and unfortunately its the wrong half that is hidden from view!!

The folks who own this place are very warm. The old lady there pretty much runs the place and she is very nice. Her son, George is very interesting company (if he is around) and is a very knowledgeable guy. I had some nice conversations with him.

Over to the most important aspect of the place: it is a great place to view the lights but study your vantage point carefully. You will not see this during the day, but one side of lodge faces an area where a set of street lights (or something) are on all night and will completely destroy your picture (it does not light up the night scene, but it is very irritating to see the northern lights with another set of artificial lights in the corner of the picture).

But if you choose your spot carefully, these street lights will remain hidden from view. If George is around, ask him since he has got some great shots and he obviously knows the place very well.

The family also offer other activities like dog-sledding etc.......I believe they also arrange airport pickups.

All in all, for the price, it just cannot be beaten. An added benefit is that Chena Hot Springs (which I feel is over the top expensive) is only an hour away. So you can enjoy the springs during the day and see the lights as well, without parting with a fortune.

  • Stayed March 2012, traveled with friends
    • Value
    • Location
    • Sleep Quality
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Helpful?
7 Thank Psychoanalyst
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Chandalar Ranch

Property: Chandalar Ranch
Address: 5804 Chena Hot Springs Rd, Fairbanks, AK 99712-3511
Location: United States > Alaska > Fairbanks
Hotel Style:
Ranked #16 of 24 Specialty Lodging in Fairbanks
Number of rooms: 5
Also Known As:
Chandalar Ranch Fairbanks, Alaska

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