Located about 55 miles south of Fairbanks on the George Parks Highway, Nenana is a former railroad-construction camp with a reputation far bigger than its population.
Nenana is home to just a few hundred residents, but Alaskans from Ketchikan to Barrow are familiar with it because of its namesake game of chance – the Nenana Ice Classic. Each winter, a wooden tripod is placed on the frozen Nenana River, which runs right past town, and entrants pay $2 to record their best guess as to when the ice will break up each spring. Alaska has no lottery, so the Nenana Ice Classic is as close as it gets, and the pot usually exceeds $300,000 or so.
Nenana is also famous as the spot where President Warren G. Harding pounded the final golden spike into the Alaska Railroad in 1923, marking its completion. Nenana was formally established as a railroad construction camp in 1916; surveyors for the rail line from Seward to Fairbanks originally created the Nenana Ice Classic.
Things to do
In preparation for the President Harding’s arrival, the Nenana train station was built in 1923 along A Street. It was extensively restored in 1988 and is now on the National Register of Historical Sites. It's an impressive building and includes the Alaska State Railroad Museum, which houses railroad memorabilia and local artifacts. East of the train station, a monument commemorates when President Harding drove in the gold spike marking the completion of the Alaska Railroad.
An equally interesting building is the Nenana Visitor Center, a log cabin with a sod roof that is planted with colorful flowers during the summer. The Alfred Starr Cultural Center and Museum houses information on the local Athabascan culture, including the iconic floral beadwork that is the signature of Athabascan artisans.