How to Befriend a Reindeer in Alaska

February 15, 2024   5 Comments »

How to Befriend a Reindeer in Alaska

December 14, 2015 5 Comments »

You know Daisy and Rufus and Jasper and Olive,
you know Rocky Cupcake and Buttercup,
But do you recall
The most famous reindeer of all…

Meet Rudy the Reindeer living far north in Fairbanks Alaska.

Drive Slow When Arriving at Running Reindeer Ranch

As I pulled into the driveway two big balls of brown fur ran out in front of my car and I hit the brakes in a panic. I let out a sigh of relief, it would have been pretty bad if I had hit a reindeer as I entered the Running Reindeer Ranch!

I was here to go on a walk with reindeer through the boreal forest, I think I had been dreaming of this moment since I was 8 years old.

Back then I would beg my mother in December to take us to Bergner’s department store in Peoria to see the reindeer in the basement. They kept them inside the store in a little pen with hay bails. I thought it was the coolest thing ever despite the smell. Now I look back on that experience as an adult and question what Bergner was thinking about keeping animals in the store – but I digress.

Surprising Reindeer Behavior

As reindeer roamed freely in the Running Reindeer Ranch yard and around the cars the owner, Jane, greeted us and started filling our heads with fascinating reindeer facts.

Running reindeer ranch fairbanks
Reindeer roamed freely around the yard grazing.

Contrary to the movie Frozen – reindeer have no teeth. They also don’t kick. They are excellent swimmers – and they have hollow hair follicles that help them float. They make a clicking noise as they walk as tendons in their feet stretch across their foot bones (hence the song – Up on the rooftop click, click, click). Their summer antlers are covered in velvet and are extremely sensitive. As the velvet sheds, they actually eat the velvet as there are great nutrients in it…ewww.

ummm….TMI Jane.

Want more reindeer facts? Check this out!

Reindeer as a Family Pet

It all started when Jane’s 12-year-old daughter, Robin,  asked if she could have a horse. Allergies and other practical concerns led Jane to say “no.” Persistent Robin turned her attention to goats (Jane – absolutely not) or sheep (Jane – um, that would be “no,” again). Jane suggested considering an animal acclimated to the Alaskan interior. A drive by the University of Alaska Reindeer Research Project planted the seed that would germinate through two years of research and fundraising.

Finally, in October of 2007 Ruby and Moon were brought to Jane’s home, and the Running Reindeer Ranch was created.

“They are actually great ‘pets’ – reindeer are domesticated,” Jane explained with a knowing smile. In fact, they are so gentle Jane told us stories of them coming in the house if they leave the door open. Or using them as a pillow as she reads a book outside.

Reindeer are domesticated animals
Reindeer roam freely around the house – they are great pets.
Reindeers are gentle Running Reindeer Ranch
Reindeer walking on the deck of Jane’s house. They are part of the family.

How to Walk with a Reindeer

Jane did introductions of all the reindeer with little notes about their personalities and then told us how the walk would work. We would each get to lead the herd at some point – but basically, we would walk and they would just follow us through the woods, sort of like a dog.

Had I known this I wouldn’t have wasted all the time asking my parents for a puppy – I would have asked for a reindeer, they are much cooler.

“If we are in a situation where they all come running towards us – stand still. They will go around you and they know where their antlers are,” Jane said. I was skeptical about standing still with these large creatures running towards me, but I figured it would be good practice for bear sightings too when you are supposed to stand your ground.

Oh, Alaska – how I love you.

Learn insider tips for experiencing the Northern Lights in Fairbanks

Find the Boss Reindeer

The way the herd moves along is by being ushered along behind by the boss reindeer.

“It takes two things to be a boss reindeer – one is a set of antlers and the other is an attitude, ” Jane explains.

Even though Ruby happens to be their smallest reindeer, she’s definitely the boss. What she lacks in size she makes up for in attitude and presence.

This means that Ruby was put on a lead rope and we would be using her to ‘control’ the herd. Yet I really question how much control we had in reality!

Walking with Reindeer in a Boreal Forest

walking with reindeer fairbanks alaska
Out for a walk with the herd. We lead from behind with Rudy.

We slowly wandered through the beautiful boreal forest around Jane’s property and the reindeer simply followed along grazing, it felt surreal – and so much better than the Bergner’s Department Store basement!

We each took turns ushering Boss Ruby along on the lead. She stayed in the back and seemed to keep everyone in line. If they got too far away from her you knew that shortly they would all come running…and this was your chance to have nerves of steel.

Cookies and…

And just like at Santa’s house, Jane served us cookies and lemonade (milk isn’t quite as enticing as lemonade in the Alaskan summer!). We sat and talked about reindeer, antlers, breeding, and personalities. Jane even read us a reindeer book. I felt as if I were 8 all over again.

On Ruby, Olive, Jasper, Rufus, Daisy, Buttercup, and Rocky Cupcake!

Jane at Running reindeer ranch
Jane reading her favorite reindeer book over cookies and lemonade.

Discover Alaska in the fall – where to go for autumn colors

How You Can Walk with Ruby the Reindeer

The Running Reindeer Ranch is located outside of Fairbanks Alaska and operates year-round except for Christmas when the reindeer have other ‘important’ work to do.  I even went and walked with the reindeer in the winter when I visited a couple of years later!

Running Reindeer Ranch website –

Lodging in Fairbanks – I stayed at the Pikes Waterfront Lodge in Fairbanks.  It has a beautiful lodge feel and all of the rooms looked out on the Chena River where you could watch the paddle boats pass by.
Read reviews of Pikes Waterfront Lodge on Trip Advisor
Book a room at Pikes Waterfront Lodge


My time with Rudy the Reindeer was organized by Travel Alaska – however, all opinions here are my own.

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