Roadtrippin’: Hot springs for every season, if you dare to make the trip

Published: Jul. 17, 2020 at 11:23 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Tolovana Hot Springs is a popular Interior Alaska getaway in the winter, but in the summer, it’s fairly empty — meaning tourists who dare to make the 10-mile trek to the springs can have it all to themselves.

No matter what time of year you go, the trail will present a new challenge, Majority Share Owner of Tolovana Hot Springs Limited Tom DeLong said.

“It kind of selects people out,” DeLong said.

In the summer, hikers and fat-tire bikers have to face the bog: a marshy, mosquito-filled plain at the beginning of the trail. While there are remnants of a four-wheeler path, after summer rains, that path is mostly submerged in muddy water. This means people who dare to hike to the springs better be prepared to get wet or to break trail.

In the winter, Tolovana’s peak season, people brave below zero temperatures, the darkness and a steep climb up to the Dome in snowmachines. Because of these challenges, DeLong says most of the people who come to Tolovana are younger Alaskans.

The reward for all that hard work? Hot springs, a warm cabin and solitude.

“It’s the only hot springs I know in Alaska that has facilities, has nice cabins at it but is well off the road,” Matt Rekard, one of the owners of the springs, said.

Nearly 100 miles down the Elliot Highway from Fairbanks and 10.1 miles into the wilderness may be the last place you’d expect to see hot springs, but at Tolovana, there are several hot tubs for people to choose from.

By far the most scenic spring is the upper tub. With a view of the valley below and the middle tub, visitors can soak in the silence and the hot water while watching for wildlife.

People can sit comfortably at the bottom of the middle tub and enjoy a view of the upper tub or the surrounding trees. The lower tub has the most tree cover and is a popular spot for mosquitos.

Despite the distance from Fairbanks, DeLong says there’s never a shortage of visitors in the winter. In fact, people have to book three months in advance during the snowy times of the year to secure a spot at one of the three cabins near the springs. The springs are so popular in the winter, likely because people get cabin fever, DeLong said.

“Around February the days get longer again, it warms up a little bit and people want to get out and go somewhere and jump on a snow machine or skis,” DeLong said. “And if you’re going somewhere it’s awfully nice to have a nice warm cabin and a hot tub waiting for you at the end of the trail.”

The three cabins at the Tolovana are equipped with solar and wind-powered LED lights, propane stoves and outhouses. There is evening running water — if you count the cold freshwater spring DeLong and Rekard use for drinking water.

The three cabins combined can house 12 people. During weekends in the summer, the smallest cabin goes for $55 a night and the 6-person cabin is $165 a night. Once snow season hits, weekends at the cabins start at $80 for a 2-person cabin and $240 for the largest cabin. Due to high demand in the winter, reservations are put into a lottery system.

While the trek to the hot springs is not for the faint of heart, there is an easier way to get to Tolovana. An airstrip around a mile from the Cedar Cabin is the most convenient way to the springs for people with access to a bush plane, although driving a snowmachine is still the most popular way to reach the destination.

“What makes it so special? You tell me,” Rekard said. “You’ve been here now.”

To see what Channel 2 reporters thought about their trip to Tolovana, watch the video included above.

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