by Jen Ostler
Interior Alaska is a special place, unique from the coastal climates of Southcentral and Southeast. Trees are stunted from harsh weather and icy soils, and in the summer the famous Midnight Sun is a bit brighter than in the southern reaches of the state. Up at elevation, there are expansive views, with sloping domes instead of towering mountain peaks. Fairbanks, the region’s largest city, has elevations close to sea level, and can be heavily forested with beautiful birch, aspen and black spruce – and some swampy, boggy lands. But these wilds are begging to be explored, with great hikes fit for families to get out and adventure. Don’t forget to pack extra water, food and clothing. Be prepared for mosquitos, as well as the rare bear or moose.
Chena Lake Recreation Area – Nature Trail (4.5km loop): ($4/vehicle entrance fee from Memorial Day through Labor Day) Chena Lake Recreation Area is about twenty minutes south of Fairbanks. In the summer, especially on hot days, the lake is bustling with swimmers and activity. Hidden just a couple miles down the road from the lake, is the river park. Here there is a 4.5km nature trail that follows the Chena River. The trails split off into short and long variations, and are flat and wide with good signage. The area is quiet and unpopulated, and various stages of boreal forest can be observed.
Ski Trails at the University of Alaska Fairbanks: The UAF trails are a wonderland. I’ve been visiting them often since I was a student (*cough 14 years ago cough*) and every time, I see something new and find a new route to explore. There are lakes, ponds, wide open fields, trails that are well groomed and those that are a little more adventurous. Also, if you are into disc golf there is a great 18-hole course that starts near the Geophysical Institute. You can enter the trail system from any of the roads surrounding campus. It’s a great, local hiking area that doesn’t require a long drive or tons of planning.
Angel Rocks (3.5 mile loop): Despite the 50 mile drive along Chena Hot Springs Road, this is may be one of the most most popular hikes in the Fairbanks area since it is easily accessible, well marked, and not terribly difficult for families with kids. It also gives a great view, and is especially beautiful in the fall when leaves create glorious, colorful landscapes. The trail is a gentle uphill climb until you get close to the giant rocks (tors) and the trail steepens. After enjoying the view and climbing around the rocks a bit, you can choose several other routes depending on your goals; one of which continues another nine miles to Chena Hot Springs, where you can have a soak for those sore muscles.
Table Top Mountain (3 miles): Another popular trail, this day trip also allows for a beautiful drive with great White Mountain views. You can reach the trailhead by driving to mile 57 of the Steese Highway, and then following the signs on the gravel road for another fifteen miles toward Ophir Creek Campground. The trail can be steep and sometimes washed out. In August this can be a popular blueberry picking area. Really, the main goal of this hike are the incomparable views, which are jaw-dropping.
Donnelly Dome (3 miles): This 3,900 foot bulge in the earth is south of Delta Junction. If you are driving south on the Richardson Highway, you cannot miss seeing it from many miles away. At mile 246 of the highway, there is a small parking lot leading to a trailhead. From there, it’s up, up, up! The views are breathtaking at the top. You might want trekking poles for the steep, rocky terrain. It’s also a good idea to check with Fort Wainwright or Fort Greely visitor centers to make sure there aren’t any military operations in the area while you’re there. This is a day very well spent, and you should stop by the Buffalo Center Drive-in in Delta Junction for hard-earned burgers and milkshakes on your way back to Fairbanks.
Savage Alpine Loop, Denali National Park (4 miles one way): Heading two hours south of Fairbanks on the Parks Highway is Denali National Park. There are countless hiking opportunities to be had in the park, but one of my favorites is the Savage Alpine Loop. The trail is one way, connecting Mountain Vista day use area to the Savage River area. The descriptions say the trail takes 3 hours, but we are slow hikers and it took us twice that. On the Mountain Vista side, the ascent is slow and gradual. On the Savage River side, it is straight uphill and bouldering trail for over a mile. In the middle is a ridgetop which can have high winds and trails made of loose rock. It is adventure at its finest, and a great vantage point to admire the glory of Denali National Park. Editor Note: Currently, Savage River area is closed due to bear activity. Read AKontheGO’s most recent post about other options in the park.
Are you inspired? Some who live in Interior Alaska consider it the “real” Last Frontier, and you can’t say you’ve seen this part of Alaska until you’ve been in our wild spaces.