Riverboat Discovery
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Riverboat Discovery

Judging from the comments we hear at the Ranch Motel, this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Fairbanks, and perhaps even the state.View of moving paddlewheel on Riverboat Discovery III.

The Trip
The four-hour ride on the Riverboat Discovery III, with its open sun deck and heated glass enclosed decks, is more than just a tour of the Chena and Tanana rivers; it is a short course on Alaska complete with a humorous and entertaining narration which covers the gambit of anthropology, culture, geology, glaciology, history, with even a little hydrology and engineering thrown in for good measure!

Flying & Mushing
On the way down the Chena River, passengers see a Bush pilot perform a short-field takeoff and landing from a riverbank strip. Further along, there's a lively lecture from Jessie Royer, protégé of the late Susan Butcher (four-time Iditarod champion)  or David Monson (Susan’s widower) and the senior members of Trail Breaker Kennels, Susan’s kennels.

Native Village
Visitors view the wedding of the clear Chena River with the silty Tanana River, then the sternwheeler turns around on the Tanana River, and passengers disembark at Old Chena Indian Village, where Native guides give an hour tour of cabins and crafts on shore. The village, is a quite accurate replica, and gives tourists a hands-on experience with Native culture, including an up-close view of an Alaska native parka (see photo this page). Restrooms are available. On the way there, and again on the way back, there is opportunity to view and learn about fishwheels and wildlife.

Discovery is equipped with video equipment, so even if the site is not clear from the boat, at least it's on screen. There are convenient restrooms on board, two full service snack bars, a gift shop, and it is wheelchair accessible. Complementary coffee and doughnuts are the rule.

Family Business
The Binkley family has operated sternwheel riverboats in Alaska since the Gold Rush of 1898. Years before the guided trips down the river, Jim Binkley's father and uncles pioneered Alaska's rivers during the territory's formative years. Tours were first offered in Fairbanks in 1950 by Captain Jim and Mary Binkley.

There have been very few interruptions in the reliable riverboat's itinerary. 

Extraordinarily low water levels in the Chena river in 1998 year forced the riverboat to turn around near Cripple Creek, after about a half-mile on the Chena River, and return to Steamboat Landing off Dale road.

But all was not lost. Passengers were loaded onto motor coaches to "portage" to the home of musher Susan Butcher for an "upgraded" show, then to Old Chena Indian Village and fish camp.

The low water problem was due to a dry summer, very little groundwater, and a general lack of snow for the preceding two years.

In 1999 and 2000, dredging of the river bottom solved the problem.

Steam Boat Landing
While at the riverboat's docking area on the shores of the Chena River, visitors have the chance to browse through Steam Boat Landing, a replica of a gold rush-era town in early Alaska which is mostly a gift shop.

A Family Tradition
Daughter-In-Law Judy Binkley heads the Discovery Trading Post gift shops, as VP of Retail Operations. The three Binkley sons, Skip, Jim Jr., and Johne, are all licensed riverboat captains. 

The youngest Binkleys join the crew at age five to continue the family tradition started by their great grandfather, Charlie Binkley. Grandchildren Ryan Binkley and Kai Binkley earned their US Merchant Marin Officer's Licenses in 1997 and 1998 respectively, with Kai becoming the youngest female to be certified by the US Coast Guard as a sternwheel riverboat Captain. 

Wade will become a captain this summer, and Scott, Jon, Jacque, and James Binkley already serve as deckhands. 

Schedule, Prices
The Discovery III departs twice daily between mid-May and mid-September, at 8:45 a.m. and at 2 p.m. A third tour departs at 6:30 p.m. on selected days throughout the season. Cost is $49.95 for adults; and $34.95 for children ages 3 to 12. Children under 3 ride for free. Active military can obtain discounted tickets through the ITR office on Fort Wainwright.

Steam Boat Landing is off Dale Road. Head out Airport Way toward the Airport. Turn right onto Dale Road just beyond Pike's Landing and follow the signs.

For more information call Riverboat Discovery (907) 479-6673, or visit their website.

Sign points the way to Riverboat Discover dock. (Scroll to see other photographs of the Riverboat Discovery tour.)

This way to Fairbanks' Premier Tourist Attraction!




Riverboat Discovery III, taken the summer of 2000.

Riverboat Discovery III,
(parked at Chena Village)
Fairbanks, Alaska summer of 2000. (Click for larger view.)




Thumbnail of the original Riverboat Discovery paddlewheel boat.

Discovery I, as seen from the deck of Discovery III. (Click to view larger.)




Cabin at entrance of Chena Village

Chena Village, where visitors can disembark and learn more about native culture. (Click for larger view.)




Daily Sailings


Mid May to Mid September

8:45 a.m. & 2:00 p.m



Children 3-12

Military see text, "Prices"




Children under 3 are free

Don't Miss The Boat
Reservations are Necessary!



Cache seen through the trees at Chena Village.

Trapper's cache in Chena Village. 




Front view of a beautiful native Alaska fur parka - photo taken on riverboat trip.

Real Alaska native parka modeled in Chena Village by one of the native tour guides. (Click to view larger.)




Rear view of beautiful native fur parka.

Back of the same parka. (Click to view larger.)

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