Photo courtesy of PunkToad.
Forget summer—winter is the perfect time to visit an Alaska hot spring. The contrast between the hot, soothing waters and the fresh, cold air invigorates the body and mind. And hot springs, from highly developed resorts to secret little hot spots known only to locals, dot the map all over the state of Alaska. Here are our favorite hot springs, in order from easiest to hardest to access.
Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks
Outside Fairbanks, this resort has it all, not just soaking. It has indoor and outdoor pools. But if you get bored with the water, the resort also offers horse-drawn sleigh rides and dog sled rides. It’s also home to the world’s largest year-round ice museum. And if you get the itch to exercise between soaks in the springs, Chena Hot Springs rents skis, snowshoes and ice skates. For winter visits, they’ll knock 20 percent off their regular rates.
Goddard Hot Springs, Sitka
In the late 1800s, cottages were built here to house invalids form nearby Sitka. Later on other buildings were added to house recreational visitors attracted to the hot springs. The Goddard Hot Springs are rumored to be the earliest Alaska mineral springs known to Europeans, and they became popular enough to warrant a three-story hotel in the 1920s, which was torn down a couple of decades later. Now the area is owned by the City of Sitka and boasts two modern, maintained cedar bathhouses for recreational visitors. Most people arrive by motorboat.
Tolovana Hot Springs, Fairbanks
If a more remote but still somewhat developed location sounds nice to you, look into these springs outside Fairbanks. Only accessible via bush plane or a combination of hiking and paddling, these springs boast a true backcountry experience, but rustic cabins still provide shelter. The accommodations and pools are simple, with the idea that the landscape and soaking experience should take precedent. Who wants to be distracted from watching the northern lights when they flicker overhead anyway?
Serpentine Hot Springs, Bering Land Bridge National Preserve
If you don’t mind traveling a bit farther for your hot springs experience, the pools of Serpentine Hot Springs at the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve have a rich history of restorative waters. Surrounded by granite spires called tors, the area was once frequented by native shamans and to this day is a gathering place for tribal groups and other people looking for healing and rejuvenation. The landscape around the springs is home to a wide variety of wildlife, from muskox and caribou to wolves. The hot springs are the most visited area of the preserve, and a bunkhouse and bathhouse welcome travelers. In the winter, you can only reach the springs via snowmobile from Nome or other villages at least 100 miles away.
Whether remote and private or accessible and developed is your style, Alaska’s hot springs offer a wide variety. Depending on where you’re coming from, a trip to the hot springs is a perfect daytime or weekend adventure. You can spend all your time soaking or entertain yourself with other attractions. It’s completely up to you. But one thing’s certain: The scenery will be unlike anywhere else.