Summer is a popular time in Alaska. The ice and snow have melted, the sun is warm, and cruise ships can easily ply the coast and passages. But winter has its own beauty in this northernmost part of the United States.
We visited for one weekend to explore Fairbanks, a town in the middle of Alaska. There are a few things you can do in Fairbanks during the winter, but be prepared for cold, cold weather! Let’s start with a way to take the chill off.
Chena Hot Springs is privately owned and is located about 60 miles southeast of Fairbanks. There’s no easy way to get there except to drive. You can also choose to book a room or cabin at the Hot Springs Resort, but this will get pricey.
Plan your day according to how long you want to enjoy the springs and what else you want to do. The resort has an ice museum, dog sledding, and dog mushing, among other things. Some of these activities are only available at certain times of day, so check their website for details.
The drive from Fairbanks is very pleasant, though you do have to take some care because some of the road isn’t plowed and skidding can be a definite concern. There were few other drivers on the road despite it being a sunny Saturday. There was, however, a moose that came barreling across the road behind us! We were a bit freaked out; in a moose vs car incident, the moose will win! I had never seen a live, wild moose though, so that was pretty cool.
We arrived at the Springs around 4 p.m. We took a quick glance at the dog kennels (we had missed the kennel tour and dog mushing, both of which take place earlier in the day) then went for the hot springs.
The springs are accessible through a large building which also houses a pool and a couple of hot tubs. The main attraction, the Rock Lake, is 18+ only, though the indoor pool is for all ages. A daily swim pass for adults is $15 and includes access to all the bath facilities, as well as the lockers and shower. Towels are another $5. Swim suits are required! Flipflops are also a good idea because you leave your shoes at the front (where you pay and get your towels) and then have to walk to the locker area and the springs.
Tips: Remember to bring quarters for the lockers, because you need to pay every time you lock up your stuff, and this isn’t the deposit kind where you get your quarter back when you open the door. Also, the showers are definitely no frills, so bring some toiletries. No hair dryer for the ladies, though of course some creative people used the hand dryers to fairly good effect.
We stayed there the entire evening, enjoying the relaxing warmth. However, let’s not forget that this is Alaska: our wet, exposed hair formed ice crystals. The experience was very strange, but quite delightful. David made an effort to try out different “hairstyles.”
The Rock Lake is quite large and open till midnight, but it definitely started to get very crowded around 8 p.m., so I’d suggest going a bit earlier in the afternoon to get maximum enjoyment.
Afterward, we had dinner at the resort’s restaurant, and then came out to find an aurora in the sky. I’d say it was about as perfect an afternoon as it’s possible to have in Fairbanks.