Hey Adventurers! I am recently back from my fall Alaskan adventure! Departing from my new norm of separating National Park visits into their own post(s), this will be a singular post (in two parts, evidently.)
So this trip was actually booked at about the same time as my late May/early June trip, roughly Feb/March, so definitely a trip that was on my radar from a long time! The goal of this trip was 5 days to see the Alaskan fall foliage and tundra color changes, the Northern Lights, and hike one particular trail in Denali National Park (hopefully seeing Denali!) that I did not get to do 5 years ago! Before I get into the nitty gritty, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
Now for the details! The flight pattern inbound was Tampa to Seattle to Fairbanks. I got another great shot of Mt. Rainier coming in! The flight was in the afternoon and we got to Fairbanks at around 1 AM. The airport in Fairbanks is small but actually pretty nice for the size. Getting a cab was difficult…yes, I know, the time, but this is a pretty busy airport at all times, so it was a bit surprising. Anyway, soon I was catching some zzzs in the airbnb, Turo vehicle at my disposal for the morning!
Fairbanks is a HUGE city in Alaska. As in, second largest in the state, has a major highway, has all the stores one would need, and has a healthy running water system (haha). That being said my neighborhood is about a third of the entire Fairbanks population of about 30,000 people! So anyway, after waking and stocking up on delicious Alaskan beer and quick visit to Downtown Fairbanks, it was off to the North Pole! That’s North Pole, Alaska, the town, mind you…about 15 minutes down the road from Fairbanks. I stopped at a kitschy Christmas store (because, of course?) and then afterward it was off to Chena Hot Springs!
I want to make a quick note right now about the spectacular color of Alaska this time of the year! The tundra was a fiery red and the trees a brilliant golden color. Every place I saw looked amazing! I think the week I was there was the perfect week for the colors! It seemed that Tuesday was prettier than Monday, Wednesday was prettier than Tuesday, Thursday was a wash, and Friday was not as pretty as Wednesday was. I feel like the peak happened while I was there, I might be wrong, but it was beautiful in any event! Most of the pictures are going to display the awesome colors but they may appear muted as it was pretty cloudy every time I took a picture!
Chena Hot Springs is about 70 miles outside of Fairbanks and marks the furthest north I have ever been. At a little north of 65 degrees latitude, the arctic circle is only a couple dozen miles north! (But this is the end of the road here, so getting to the arctic is more time consuming and requires a lot more travel!) This spot is a very different and definitely old school Alaskan spot that features…a hot spring! They also have a resort, an Ice Museum, a bar/restaurant, and sundry other touristy things to do. The Ice Museum is definitely a spot to check out if there. It is 30 bucks a person which includes a drink at the Aurora Bar inside and the use of a parka. The drink is no good, but it comes in a martini glass made of ice, which you can smash outside! Now, for the main draw: the hot spring itself! It is entirely natural and was found about a hundred years ago when the area was wilderness and some guys noticed the steam rising in the distance and eventually found it. The pool is not overly large but it is hot (some spots, very hot), and is quite relaxing. There is a pretty strong sulphur smell if that bothers you. Do not expect cell signal here, although there is wireless inside the buildings. The whole area is nestled in some small mountains and is quite beautiful, especially with the colors this time of year.
On the way home, I stopped at a pizza joint, The Hungry Robot, and got a …pickle pizza…It was interesting and different. I have never heard of a pickle pizza so I make mention of it for that reason…if you ever stop by you can make judgement for yourself! The next morning was checkout of the Airbnb and the drive to the Denali area!
At this point we need a reminder on the sheer size of the state of Alaska, and the remoteness. My trip earlier this year was focused on the Kenai Peninsula area and the remote area to the west of Anchorage. To drive from Seward (where I stayed two nights in June) to Fairbanks takes about 9 hours without stopping! Also bear (ha!) in mind that is a pretty small area of the state as well! The drive from Fairbanks to Denali is desolate, though quite pretty and peaceful (at least during the day), but you aren’t going to find many options for stopping for any reason other than the occasional pretty spot for a picture! This road is called the George Parks Highway and is only about 50 years old. It is the only road running directly north/south between Anchorage and Fairbanks. The road is one lane each direction, paved but in constant need of repair, has no reflectors, has faint stripes, and of course has no lighting of any sort. Road signs are very, very infrequent. Before this road one would have to take a route that is not as convenient. To be certain, about 55 miles south of Fairbanks is the town of Nenana (population 482), a little further down is Clear, AK (population 61), and Anderson (population 177). That’s it until Healy. A little outside of Fairbanks, though, there is the wonderful not safe for work tourist spot called Skinny Dicks. A stop there ensured a morning (ahem) beer at the bar and a fun shirt and conversation with the owner!
I had an AirBnb set up in Healy (population nearly 1100!). Healy is notable for being the concessionaire employee town that is close to Denali national park. There is a grocery store! Of note, the grocery store has one of the few gas stations you will find along that entire stretch of the Parks Highway, also has a hardware store, a convenience store, a sporting goods store, and a liquor store – all under one roof, it’s a veritable Alaskan mall! The town is also home to a very delicious Alaskan brewery called 49th State Brewery. (The website intro is worth the visit if you want to see some pretty Alaskan stuff!) You may remember from my earlier trip that I visited their location in Anchorage. That’s pretty much it for Healy, and my cabin was off the Parks Highway a few miles (paved), down another rocky road a few miles, then down another rocky road another mile, was dry, with a port-a-john and outdoor open air shower, and unbeknownst to me was on the same road as someone I knew! How neat! More on that later, and be sure to continue on to part 2 where I return to Denali and do some more cool shit!