Interior Alaska may get cold during the winter months, but residents know how to stay warm: dipping into Chena Hot Springs near Fairbanks.
About Chena Hot Springs
Chena Hot Springs is an unincorporated community in the Fairbanks North Star Borough that is renowned for its hot springs at Chena Hot Springs Resort. The resort and campground are located at the end of Chena Hot Springs Road, a forest-flanked paved road that parallels the Chena River, 56 miles east of the Steese Highway and Fairbanks. From Mile 26 to Mile 51, drivers pass through Chena River State Recreation Area, a 397-square-mile preserve that includes the Chena River valley and nearby alpine areas. The recreation area is home to some of the best hiking, canoeing, public-use cabins, and fishing in the area.
Although there are year-round residents in the area, Chena Hot Springs is a privately-owned, 440–acre, year-round resort. Gold miners discovered the springs in 1905 and by 1912 Chena Hot Springs was the premier place to soak for residents in the booming town of Fairbanks.
Things to do
The springs are at the center of a 40-square-mile geothermal area and produce a steady stream of water that, at 165 degrees, must be cooled before you can even think about soaking in it. The facility has several indoor and outdoor tubs, Jacuzzis, an indoor family swimming pool, and outdoor Rock Lake – a boulder-ringed artificial lake that provides a wonderful and relaxing vantage point for watching northern lights in winter.
Complimentary geothermal renewable energy tours are offered daily that showcase the resort’s renewable energy projects using geothermal power. In the summer, visitors also enjoy hiking, horseback riding, ATV tours, mountain biking, gold panning, flightseeing, and even massage therapy. Sled dog kennels at Chena Hot Springs offer tours of the facilities that are often home to more than 50 dogs. Dog sled rides are offered year-round with teams running across snow-covered trails in the winter, with a custom wheeled cart replacing the sled in the summer.
As if that weren’t enough, the resort is also home to the Aurora Ice Museum, the world’s largest year-round ice museum with its very own ice bar. Completed in 2005, the museum is constructed from more than 1,000 tons of ice and snow. Inside is a gallery of ice sculptures, a two story observation tower with a circular staircase, a polar bear bedroom, a Christmas tree bedroom, an igloo, and an ice outhouse. Tours conclude with a stop at the Ice Bar with its ice-carved martini glasses and caribou fur-covered stools.
With calm waters and easy public access, the nearby Chena River is one of the most popular rivers to float in the Fairbanks area with a variety of day and multi-day trips that are possible in either canoes or rafts. A series of boat launches are located along Chena Hot Springs Road and canoes can be rented in Chena Hot Springs or Fairbanks. The river is also renown for its catch-and-release arctic grayling fishery, along with four road-accessible ponds that are open for fishing, stocked annually with rainbow trout and arctic grayling.
Well away from the city lights of Fairbanks, the resort is one of the best places in Alaska to view the northern lights. Generally, by late summer the aurora begins to appear and can be enjoyed by those willing to stay up after midnight. By mid-September the lights are dazzling, and in the winter the most popular activity is soaking in the outdoor hot tubs while watching the northern lights overhead. The northern lights can be seen in the area from August through April.
Staying Near Chena Hot Springs
With so much to do in the Chena Hot Springs area, you may want to plan an overnight trip – especially if you want to maximize your chances of seeing the northern lights in winter. Chena Hot Spring Resort offers a wide variety of comfortable lodging options, including a lodge, cabins, yurts, family suites, campground, and an RV park. If you prefer to be off-the-beaten-track, there are seven public use cabins located throughout Chena River State Recreation Area that can be reserved online in advance.
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