24 Apr Adventures at Chena Hot Springs in Fairbanks, Alaska
One day many, many years ago, I read about a magical hot spring located in the remote lands of Alaska. Trees heavy with snow, steaming waters, and icicles growing on heads of hair, gave way to an otherworldly winter scene, and I knew we had to visit someday. Lucky for us, I couldn’t get that scene out of my head. When we booked our winter visit to Alaska, I realized that winter wonderland happened to be located within driving distance of our destination: Fairbanks. It was settled. We just had to make our way to Chena Hot Springs for a memorable winter adventure.
Our initial plan was to drive out to the lodge for the day. We were planning on soaking in the hot spring and touring the ice museum and then returning to our hotel in town. But, after perusing the hotel’s website, I happened upon a northern lights tour that piqued our interest. Before we left for the day, we decided to pack a few extra items just in case we decided to spend the night. And it’s a good thing we did because we ended up with an unexpected overnight visit!
Chena Hot Springs Resort
The route to the hotel was simple, but with the snowy weather we encountered, the roads were pretty treacherous. Chena Hot Springs is located around an hour and twenty minutes from Fairbanks, but it took us two hours to get there even with our 4WD vehicle.
Because of the roads and the fact that we were thinking about heading out on a late into the night northern lights tour, we decided upon arrival that we would check to see if a room was available. Luck was on our side, and we snatched up one of the remaining rooms open for the night. It was a splurge for us, but we figured it was the safest, and let’s be real, most fun option. Visiting prior to peak tourism season definitely has its rewards!
We opted for the more affordable option, the Fox Room. There is also a more updated (and more expensive) lodge option called, Moose Lodge, and a more basic option which is a cabin with no running water. Our room was comfortably in the middle. It was basic, but cozy, and most importantly, had a bathroom. It also came with unlimited access to the pool and hot spring.
The hotel has an on-site activity center where various tours can be booked. The center is open 24 hours for guests to hang out and relax, and the activity desk is open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. The Aurora Café is also located in the activity center. The café serves coffee, snacks, soups, salads, and sandwiches.
We decided to have dinner at the Chena Hot Springs Restaurant—the fireplace just looked too inviting! I ordered simple and went with the Chena’s Special Salad and the tomato basil soup, and Micah ordered a burger. We both fell in love with the soup, and it’s no wonder why. Many of the vegetables used at the restaurant are grown fresh in the onsite greenhouse. Both the salad and soup were deliciously fresh and full of flavor, even in the middle of winter!
Word to the wise: when you are at Chena Hot Springs, you won’t have an easy time getting phone or internet service. During our visit, we didn’t have any cell service and internet costs $1 for 10 minutes or $8 per 24 hours per device. It appears that a couple of phone servicers currently work at the resort, but we found both our phone service and the 10 minutes of internet we purchased almost non-existent. But that was ok, it was nice to be cut off from the world for 24 hours!
Once we were checked into our hotel, our first order of business was to visit the year-round ice museum. Almost everything inside the museum is made of ice. The museum uses geothermal energy to stay a consistent 25°F (-7°C) all year long. During our visit, the weather outside was around 40° colder outside than inside, so the temperatures actually felt quite comfortable in our normal winter gear. Parkas are available if necessary, though.
To visit the museum, you have to purchase a tour ticket from the activity desk. Tours are offered 5 times throughout the day, and they ask that you arrive 15 minutes prior to your tour start time. Our tour started out with facts and a brief history of the museum. Then, we were led inside and were able to see how the ice glasses were created and the sculptures were made.
After learning all about the sparking world in front of us, we were set free to roam. The museum is on the small side, but the glowing sculptures and designs made it worth the visit. There are a couple of ice bedrooms, an igloo, ice bells that you can play, and more.
While the sculptures were amazing to look at, the main feature inside the museum is the Aurora Ice Bar. The bar, bar stool, and even the glasses are made from ice. Unfortunately, you can only order one type of drink, an appletini, and it has to be pre-purchased with your tour ticket. It was so weird to sip from a glass made of ice—it felt as though it was melting every time it touched your lips!
Chena Hot Springs and Pools
The main reason we wanted to visit the resort was for the Chena Hot Springs, and it did not disappoint! We’ve been to hot springs around the world, and this has been one of our favorites to date.
Sitting outside amongst piles of snowcapped rocks, was the star of the resort: the natural hot spring lake. Steam floated slowly off the top of the water, and neon lights gave off an eerie glow. To reach the pool, we rushed down a long, covered corridor in nothing but our swimsuits before we submerged ourselves in the toasty water. The -20°F (-28°C) air provided a sharp contrast to the 106°F (41°C) waters. It was a mesmerizing assault to our senses.
The longer we soaked in the steamy pool, the colder our ears became. Eventually, our hair started to freeze. Tiny icicles grew on our heads until we were wearing full crowns of ice. Once our fingers were pruned to the nth degree, we finally managed to pull ourselves away.
In addition to the hot spring, there is an indoor pool and hot tub, as well as an outdoor hot tub. The hot spring lake is only accessible to visitors over the age of 18, but the rest of the pool house is open to visitors of all ages. Access to the pool area was included with our overnight reservation, but all day guests are able to access the pool house for a fee. Dressing rooms and rentable lockers are located at the pool house, and towels are available for rent, as well.
Aurora Viewing Tour
We were dying to see the northern lights while we were in Alaska, so we joined the 4.5 hour Aurora Viewing Tour during our stay. The tour begins with a ride up the mountain in a giant snow coach. Your end destination is a yurt with a toasty warm fireplace, snacks, and games available while you wait for the lights.
Unfortunately, we had back luck and cloudy skies during our tour, so the lights weren’t visible that evening. It was still a great time though, and you can read all about our aurora tour (and other northern lights adventures) in our post about searching for the northern lights in Fairbanks.
Chena Hot Springs Resort offers a wide range of other adventures in both the summer and winter. In the winter you can pick from activities such as snowmobiling, dog sledding, sunset snow coach tours, northern lights tours, and gear rentals for snowshoes, skis, and ice skates. Summer adventures include dog cart rides, ATV tours, horseback riding, hiking, and bike rentals. Kennel tours, ice museum tours, the hot springs, massages, and flightseeing tours are available year-round. So, it goes to show, no matter which season you visit, there is definitely an exciting adventure that awaits!
Have you ever been to Fairbanks or Chena Hot Springs Resort?