Contrary to what you might assume based on its name, the town of Circle is 50 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Miners who named the town in 1896 thought they were near the imaginary line.
Circle is located at the end of the Steese Highway, 162 miles northeast of Fairbanks in Interior Alaska. This community of 94 residents is an interesting little wilderness town that lies on the south bank of the Yukon River 14 miles downriver from Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Circle provides one of only two road-based access options for the preserve.
Much of the original town has been devoured by the Yukon River, but you can get a feeling for the town’s history by walking to Pioneer Cemetery, which has headstones dating back to the 1800s. To find it, head upriver along the gravel road; beyond a barricade is a trail that leads into dense underbrush, and the graves are off to the left. From a public campground and park at the end of the Steese Highway you can take in the mighty Yukon and view the fish wheels scooping up salmon in late summer and the distinctive flat-bottomed river skiffs used to negotiate the river.
After gold was discovered in Birch Creek, Circle became a bustling log-cabin city of 1,200 with two theaters, a music hall, eight dance halls and 28 saloons. It was known as the “largest log-cabin city in the world” until the nearby Klondike gold rush reduced the town significantly and the Steese Highway reduced its importance even more.
Things to do
The Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve offer excellent nearby recreation. Several free, public-use cabins are available in the preserve. Other popular activities include floating the Charley River. The Alaska Public Lands Information Center in Fairbanks provides planning assistance and information for the logistically challenging preserve.
Birch Creek canoe route
The Birch Creek canoe route begins at Mile 94 of the Steese Highway, where a short road leads down to a canoe launch on the creek. The wilderness trip is a 140-mile paddle to the exit point, at Mile 147 of the highway. The overall rating of the river is Class II, but there are some Class III and Class IV parts that require lining your canoe.
To explore Pioneer Cemetery and its headstones that date back to the 1800s head upriver along the gravel road in Circle. Just beyond a barricade is a trail that leads into dense underbrush, and the graves are off to the left.
From a public campground and park at the end of the Steese Highway you can view in the mighty Yukon and view the fish wheels scooping up salmon in late summer and the distinctive flat-bottomed river skiffs used to negotiate the river.