The first thing that comes to mind when planning a trip to Tolovana Hot Springs, Alaska is soaking in the incredible natural, hot water with good company. The second thing is weather and the ~11 mile trail that leads to the cabins.
A trip to Tolovana Hot Springs, Alaska is always unforgettable. Not just because you have an incredible time soaking up the waters in the wilds of Interior Alaska but the trip in or out might, to employ an overused term, be described as epic. Whether it’s losing the trail because of a white-out, a broken snow machine, broken ski, frozen body part, dog got caught in a trap, snow machine won’t start, or the car won’t start, something seems to happen. We expect it and we plan for it. The trail also holds an amazing view. Looking south across Minto Flats, then the Tanana Flats up to the Alaska Range and, the big one, Denali inspires awe to say the least.
A group of nine of us met for breakfast at local greasy spoon before setting off on the 2.5 hour drive to the trail head. Weather seemed good, 9 below zero. It had been 30-40 below zero the week leading up to the trip with everybody waiting to see who would be the first to fold and not go. At the trail head it was 17 below and the wind was howling. Winds are typically high at the trail head this time of year and the day length is roughly four hours.
Various forms of transport get people from the road to the cabins. I have skied most years myself. This year I would be on snow machine as were two others. We knew from the trail report that there would be little snow so most people planned on walking, but one rode a “fat” bike (mountain bike modified with large tires).
The three of us with machines hauled all the gear while those on foot carried only extra clothes and food. Not every trip out to Tolovana Hot Springs has snow machine support and under those circumstances it’s typical to load that gear in a sled and drag it. Anyhow, the view was staggering.
The three of us on machines arrived first, naturally, unloaded gear, fetched water, and lit fires in the three cabins. After a beer we decided to head back and see how the hikers were faring becasue..who knows. Our resident biker was already in camp. The walkers were all fine except for one dog that had a hard reaction to the cold. He was ushered by machine back to camp.
The trail to Tolovana is a small section of the Dunbar Trail that runs between Fairbanks and Livengood. This trail was originally cut by the first Caterpillar to arrive in Alaska in 1911. Word had gotten out in Fairbanks that there was gold up around Tolovana and Livengood so many men set out for them thar hills to strike it rich. Transportation and shipping were extremely difficult in that era so a couple guys bought that caterpillar and agreed to cut trail. Their final product opened up Alaska even further and continued to see high use through the years.
The other chore, really the first thing to do after arriving at the springs is to pull the cold hoses out so the water gets good and hot for the first soak. The hoses literally run from the source hot water seeping from the hillsides and the cold water from the creek. We had incredibly strong winds which really whisked away a fair amount of that heat so our first soak was “on the low end of perfect”, I believe is what Jeremy called it.
But you cannot beat a cup of coffee while sitting in the hot waters at 10:30 in the morning watching the sunrise. The second soak was a success.
Sunset the second day of the trip. That is Denali (aka Mt. McKinley of Denali National Park) on the left.
Same position minutes later with no zoom. Minto flats is to the right of the sun.
Thanks for having a look at The Interior of Alaskan Life. It’s a good one. See us on Facebook or even Twitter. Next week we’ll be back in Colombia if uploading time permits and then on to the Galápagos Islands .
Thanks to Tom, Melissa, Mark, Ellie, Jeremy, Dianna, Melissa, and Sally. Another great rip to Tolovana. Thanks for all the help. Until next time.