Chena Hot Springs Road
Chena Hot Springs Road offers an excellent wildlife watching day-trip from Fairbanks. The road is paved, well-maintained and runs northeast about 60 miles to Chena Hot Springs Resort, passing many ponds and sloughs. Leaving Fairbanks’ outlying areas, the road passes through low, rolling hills and the flats of the Little Chena River. It begins to follow the Chena River at about mile 25. There are numerous pullouts and viewpoints, and a dozen places that offer river access and views.
The road and river pass through the 254,000-acre Chena River State Recreation Area for a stretch of about 25 miles starting at Mile 26. Camping is permitted throughout the recreation area, which also has four road-accessible, stocked ponds for fishing, located at mileposts 30, 42.8, 45.5 and 47.9. Rosehip Campground offers a short, self-guided nature trail highlighting forest succession and pointing out sign of moose, beaver and red squirrels.
Past Mile 40 the forested slopes show evidence of recent wild land fires, vividly illustrating the process of regeneration.
Wildlife Viewing and Safety Tips
Moose are common in summer and often seen feeding in the sloughs along the Chena River. Flat Creek Slough at about 26.5 mile, Slough Lake at 28 mile, Hodgins Slough at 29.5 mile, the ponds at 42 mile and the slough at 45 mile are good places to look for moose and beaver whose dams and lodges are abundant in the area. Black and brown bears and smaller mammals such as fox, marten, muskrat and hares may also be seen. Songbirds, woodpeckers, waterfowl and raptors such as great horned owls are abundant. Wolves and lynx are spotted occasionally. Wood frogs, Alaska’s far north amphibian, can be seen in midsummer near the water.
The river is accessible from a dozen places and is popular with anglers and paddlers. Grayling can be seen finning in the pools. Chinook and chum salmon swim 1,000 miles from the Bering Sea to spawn in the Chena River in July and August. The fish draw bears to the river and, although they tend to be elusive, tracks, partially-eaten fish and scat are ample signs of their presence.
Chena Hot Springs Road is within the range of the Fortymile Caribou Herd, and at times caribou can be seen near the end of the road. Caribou also may be seen in alpine areas accessible by trails from the road.
In winter, visitors to Chena Hot Springs are often treated to the melodious song of the American dipper. Year-round residents of the Interior, these grey wren-size birds can be seen and heard foraging in the stream near the outdoor pool.
Take the Steese Highway, which begins on the east side of Fairbanks and leads north. Chena Hot Springs Road branches off the Steese Highway about five miles north of town.
Chena River cabin at the Chena River State Recreation Area (CRSRA) has a ramp up to the porch and a ramp from the cabin to the latrine. North Fork Cabin, in the same park, also has road access, but is not fully accessible. The CRSRA’s Twin Bears camp has 12 rustic cabins, mess hall and recreation hall. Ramps exist between three cabins, mess hall, recreation hall and main latrine.
For more information on the CRSRA, contact the Northern Area Office of Alaska State Parks (907-451-2695 (www.dnr.state.ak.us/parks/units/chena/index.htm) in Fairbanks.