Sixty miles out of Fairbanks, Alaska, a visit to Chena Hot Springs is a unique and classic wild Alaska experience. Included in our Northern Lights Alaska tour, a stay at this historic resort is a true arctic treat. Read on, and you’ll feel what it’s like to visit.
Your experience begins almost as soon as you start traveling on the Chena Hot Springs Road. For about one hour, you’ll experience firsthand the rugged landscape of the Chena River Drainage. Your route will crisscross the North Fork of the Chena River and eventually Monument Creek, as you venture back into the White Mountains. During the drive, keep your eyes on the lookout for moose, beaver lodges, foxes, and other wildlife. Surprisingly, you are traveling through the beautiful, rugged and vast boreal forest, which spans from Alaska and clear across Canada, north of the Earth’s 50th parallel. It’s a mixture of birch, aspen, black and white spruce, and willows that are mixed into a series of thickets, meadows, marshes, rising domes, all intermingling with meandering rivers.
The first hint you are near the resort is the historic Alaska Railroad train on the left side of the road. Next, you are greeted with the resort sign along with a glimpse of the sled dog kennels as you cross Monument Creek. Shortly afterwards, the resort unfolds into your view. The Aurora Ice Museum, green houses, and campground facilities are on your right, the resort’s Visitor Center and Moose Lodge in front of you, and the airfield on your left. You will quickly appreciate the rustic beauty and charm of the resort.
Chena Hot Springs Resort Lobby
Check-in is quick and, after getting settled into your room, you gather at the rustic restaurant for a fabulous meal as a group. Don’t let the old trapper cabin ambiance worry you. The food is delicious and plentiful for such a rural location. The vegetables are mostly grown locally on-property in the resort’s greenhouses throughout the year. Locally sourced fish and other meats augment the variety of options on the menu.
Exploring Around Chena Hot Springs
Enjoy exploring the resort before your Aurora Experience. Walk along Monument Creek or the Nature Trail. There are a couple of duck ponds behind the Moose Lodge along with quaint bridge crossings, leading to cabins and walking trails. Soak in the hot springs, or just relax and rest up for the evening. The Aurora Experience at Charley Dome is exciting and cold all at the same time. Beginning with a fun off-road ride in a SUV up the mountain is packed with steep grades and tight corners, you soon arrive at Charlie Dome. There are two large yurts at the top, along with multiple restrooms to use throughout your experience. The yurts are stocked with plastic folding chairs, games, books, and plenty of hot chocolate, cider, instant oatmeal, and Cup-a-Noodle soup. Eat and drink to your hearts content to keep yourself warm and energized. There isn’t a bad view at the dome. You have 360-degree views of the White Mountains and the stunning Alaska sky. There are a few rises away from the yurts that you can use for your viewing. You are welcome to take a chair out of the yurt to use throughout the evening. Your return will be a quick ride down the mountain.
Nature Trail nearby the resort
One of several creeks along the Nature Trail
Your next morning begins with a late breakfast (11:00 AM if you need to sleep in that long!). The group enjoys the Ice Museum tour where you see and experience the works of two world champion ice carvers. This husband and wife team have created some amazing sculptures. If you choose to imbibe and experience the Apple-tini (these and other libations available for purchase), it is a great cap for the experience.
Ice Museum at Chena Hot Springs
Your afternoon is free to explore and enjoy the resort. Optional activities range from snowmobiling, dog sledding, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, a guided tour of the greenhouses and geothermal plant (free), spa services (book in advance), or soaking in the hot springs.
The trails around the resort are plentiful and scenic. From short walks around the resort to longer hikes on the various trails, there is plenty to do during your afternoon. The Nature Trail is a wonderful short hike that passes a beaver pond with two lodges along with views of Monument Creek. Its bubbling song will accompany you along about half of the hike. Exploring on the Monument Creek trail offers other unique experiences. If you start at the end of the airstrip, within the first mile, you’ll get to see two huge beaver lodges and a dam on Monument Creek, along with multiple spots to enjoy the creek. Both trails had ample animal activity, including snowshoe hairs, squirrels, birds, and possibly moose. Their tracks might be seen in multiple areas. Both trails have minimal elevation gain and loss and are great ways to explore the valley. If you want to challenge yourself, you can ascend up the Ridge Trail to the Aurorium. Climbing up out of the valley, this trail leads to an alternative aurora viewing site that overlooks the Chena Resort.
Cross country skiing is one of the activities
Soaking in the Hot Springs
If you choose to enjoy the main experience of the resort’s namesake, which is the hot springs, remember to bring the following items to make it a great experience. Wear your boots and some type of coat over to the pool house, but also take sandals and a beanie. The beanie is needed to keep your head warm while soaking in the springs, as well as not having ice form on your hair. It can cool off quickly while soaking in the pools. One other recommendation is to hydrate with water or juice or something while soaking. You will sweat and will need to replace what you lose. The hot springs are refreshing and well worth dipping in during your stay! If you stay out late enough, there is the chance of seeing the Aurora while in the hot springs.
More Aurora Viewing
The evening of the second day is yours to enjoy. You can book a second Aurora experience at Charlie Dome if you want a second opportunity. There is also a sunset tour that travels up to Charlie Dome that you can enjoy. Otherwise, enjoy your evening exploring the resort. Just a few steps away from the lodge and you will be outside of the lodge’s lights and be able to enjoy views of the sky on your own.
The Ride to Charlie Dome to see the Northern Lights
Northern Lights as seen from Charlie Dome
From 1905, people have been enjoying the hot springs and experiencing the multitude of adventures offered in the area. Chena has done many things over the years to repurpose old mining equipment, generate their own food, electricity, and hydrogen on property to reduce their carbon footprint and impact on the environment. Southwest Adventure Tours is pleased to partner with them during our Northern Lights Alaska tours. This is one place we can truly say, your Adventure Awaits!
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Welcome to Chena Hot Springs
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