One of the hottest places in Alaska for a stellar resort experience is Chena Hot Springs, a 60-minute drive from downtown Fairbanks. Travelers come in droves from around the world to experience this version of Alaskan rugged luxury by soaking in the natural hot springs and to view the Aurora Borealis – also known as the Northern Lights. This is perhaps the biggest draw of Chena Hot Springs Resort and guests come from as far away as China.
And interesting enough, wintertime is considered high season. It’s because the long, cold polar nights are most conducive to showcasing the northern lights as they dance across the sky in colors of green, pink, red, blue and violet. Fairbanks is one of the best destinations for seeing the aurora borealis. If this is your main draw, plan on spending at last three nights stay and, according to experts, you will have an 80 percent chance of catching the lights in their colorful glory.
Besides thermal soaking and Northern Lights viewing and photographing, other winter activities include snowshoeing, dog sledding, cross-country skiing, and riding in snowmobiles.
Come summertime, people visit the resort for hiking through the wooded Chena River Recreation Area, ATV riding, dog pulling, kennel tours where most of the dogs are rescued, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Plan on visiting the most northern year-round Ice Museum. Marvel at the ice sculptures, the honeymoon ice bed while sipping an appletini from the Aurora Ice Bar. For the more adventurous, you might want to book a scenic flight to the Arctic Circle for the day. Or rekindle your romance with a pampered stay at Chena Hot Springs that offers the best of the Alaskan experience.
The resort has a 24-hour front desk that is centrally located on the property. If you are arriving at Fairbanks International Airport, consider booking the daily shuttle for the 55-mile ride and leave the driving up to them so you can enjoy the scenic ride. If you look closely along side of the road, you might just spot a moose or two.
The adjacent restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu items are reasonably-priced and the food is fresh and tasty (especially the Chena Hot Springs Salad). I especially liked the house-grown tomatoes as they were delicious and added a nice touch to the goal of sustainability and providing fresh food from the hothouse garden-to-the restaurant table.
The Lodges and Cabins
The Moose Lodge features 40 spacious rooms with two queen beds and a cozy Alaskan décor. Each room includes a full bathroom, an 8-channel television along with a hair dryer, coffee maker, telephone and unlimited Hot Spring passes during your stay. The Moose Lodge also has two ADA-accessible rooms. The Moose Lodge sleeps up to four people and costs around $280 for two people. Children ages 17 and under stay free with the adult or parent. Rate does not include 8% bed tax.
For a real Alaskan experience, try staying in one of the dry cabins. My one-night stay was in the spacious Caribou Cabin that sported enough beds and sofas to sleep up to eight people. I wasn’t sure what a dry cabin was initially, but soon found out that it meant there was a lack of running water and plumbing. That translated into a shared outhouse just outside my cabin with a heated seat. Nevertheless, the cabins are wired with electricity and offer basic hotel amenities and privacy. There is even a kitchen with a refrigerator stocked with bottles of water. As with the Moose Lodge, Hot Spring passes are included with the cabins. Cost is $180 for two people and up to $380 per night for eight people.
The most notable impressions for me was the staff at Chena Hot Springs as it really set them apart from other resort experiences. Everyone I encountered was friendly, professional, and most helpful when I needed information. It felt more like being with friends and family rather than a resort.
Chena Hot Springs resort is an all-year destination, with special activities that reflect the seasons. Come experience the Alaskan outdoors with a touch of rugged Alaskan luxury. If you go, check out Chena Hot Springs resort site for availability or you can book through Hotels.com, Expedia, or other online hotel booking sites.
Hotel review by Albuquerque-based travel & food writer/photographer Karin Leperi, who was hosted for three nights for review purposes. All photos and text by Karin Leperi unless otherwise noted. Leperi found Chena Hot Springs to be one of her favorite destinations.