In Alaska’s heartland, you’ll see the continent’s tallest peak, Denali, and wide expanses of tundra. The forests are teeming with wildlife and bird life ranging from the formidable grizzly to stately herds of caribou to the state bird, the Willow Ptarmigan. Experience summer’s midnight sun or the winter’s northern lights. Wildlife can be seen on the highway that runs by Denali National Park, carrying visitors to and from Anchorage and Fairbanks. Interior is the original home of Alaska’s Athabascan Indians. Gold miners, farmers and fur trappers later discovered the riches of this region.
In 1902, Felix Pedro found gold in the region and thousands of prospectors swarmed to the area in search of the “Mother lode.” Nearly a century later, Fairbanks (population 30,244) is the trade and transportation center for Interior and Far North Alaska. From mid-May through July, visitors can enjoy more than 20 hours of sunlight a day.
Alaska’s second-largest city – Hub of the Interior, Gateway to the Bush, the Golden Heart City – call it what you will, Fairbanks is as diverse and distinct as any place in Alaska.
The Fairbanks area is home to just over 100,000 hearty souls, making this region the second-largest population center in Alaska. The city features a university, an Army base and an Air Force Base and is known for dog mushing, northern lights and its extremes of light, dark, warmth and cold. In winter, temperatures as low as -62 degrees have been recorded; temperatures in the 80s are common in summer. Summer days are also long – Fairbanks enjoys more than 22 hours of daylight when the solstice arrives on June 21.
THINGS TO DO
Fairbanks is one of Alaska’s best year-round destinations, and visitors will find plenty to do whether they come for the long, warm summer days or to watch spectacular northern lights displays color the night sky in winter. A wide range of activities are available, including shopping the many art galleries filled with pottery, painting, textiles and Alaska Native art and jewelry; rafting or kayaking the meandering Chena River; golfing; fishing; snowmobiling; enjoying tours and attractions like Pioneer Park that celebrate the town’s gold history; cross-country and Alpine skiing; wildlife viewing; soaking in hot springs; or even enjoying a locally brewed beer.
Fairbanks is home to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of Alaska Museum of the North, where the collections feature both natural history and art items. It’s rightfully considered one of the finest museums in the state.
Fairbanks is also a gateway for trips further into the Interior and the Arctic. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is accessible by small plane, and any trip up the famous Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay – also known as the “Haul Road” – begins in Fairbanks. Check out the city’s new Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center for planning help. The center houses the Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Alaska Public Lands Information Center.
Chena River State Recreation Area is a great place to see moose or launch a canoe, kayak or raft on the Chena River. The Angel Rocks Trailhead is located in the Chena River State Recreation Area, and an eight-mile hike leads to nearby Chena Hot Springs Resort, where tired hikers can soak their bones in the soothing hot springs pools.
GETTING HERE AND AROUND
Fairbanks sits at the confluence of the Richardson Highway, George Parks Highway, Steese Highway and Elliott Highway, which is why it’s known as a hub city. An international airport also serves Fairbanks with frequent flights from within Alaska as well as from the Lower 48 and even countries like Japan and Germany. The Alaska Railroad offers service from Anchorage via Denali National Park.
Fairbanks dates back to 1901, when E.T. Barnette cruised up the Tanana River on the SS Lavelle Young with 130 tons of supplies bound for the Tanacross goldfields. The next year an Italian prospector named Felix Pedro struck gold 12 miles to the north and Barnette’s trading post became a boomtown with hordes of miners stampeding into the area.
The construction of the Alaska Railroad, the Alaska Highway and the trans-Alaska oil pipeline all contributed greatly to the growth of Fairbanks. The city still has gold at its heart: the nearby Fort Knox Gold Mine is Alaska’s largest.
CHENA HOT SPRINGS
Interior Alaska may get cold during the winter months, but residents know how to stay warm – dipping into Chena Hot Springs near Fairbanks.
ABOUT CHENA HOT SPRINGS
Chena Hot Springs is an unincorporated community in the Fairbanks North Star Borough that is renowned for its hot springs and private resort. These destinations, in addition to a campground, are located at the end of Chena Hot Springs Road, a forest-flanked paved road that parallels the Chena River, 56 miles east of the Steese Highway and Fairbanks. From Mile 26 to Mile 51, drivers pass through Chena River State Recreation Area, a 397-square-mile preserve that includes the Chena River valley and nearby alpine areas. The recreation area is home to some of the best hiking, canoeing, public-use cabins and fishing in the area.
Although there are year-round residents in the area, Chena Hot Springs is a privately owned, 440–acre, year-round resort. Gold miners discovered the springs in 1905 and by 1912 Chena Hot Springs was the premier place to soak for residents in the booming town of Fairbanks.
THINGS TO DO
The springs are at the center of a 40-square-mile geothermal area and produce a steady stream of water that, at 165 degrees, must be cooled before you can even think about soaking in it. The facility has several indoor and outdoor tubs, Jacuzzis, an indoor family swimming pool and outdoor Rock Lake – a boulder-ringed artificial lake that provides a wonderful and relaxing vantage point for watching northern lights in winter.
Complimentary geothermal renewable energy tours are offered daily that showcase the resort’s renewable energy projects using geothermal power. In the summer, visitors also enjoy hiking, horseback riding, sled-dog cart rides, ATV tours, mountain biking, rafting, canoe trips, fishing for grayling, gold panning and even massage therapy. As if that weren’t enough, the resort is also home to the Aurora Ice Museum, the world’s largest year-round ice museum with its very own ice bar! From September to March, the resort is one of the best places in Alaska to view the northern lights.
Do you believe in Santa? If not, a visit to North Pole, Alaska is in order. This community of 2,200 residents keeps the Christmas spirit alive all year long.
ABOUT NORTH POLE
First homesteaded in 1944, North Pole was given its holiday-themed name by a development company selling property and hoping to attract a toy manufacturer that could advertise products as being made in North Pole. The name stuck although a toy factory never materialized.
Only a 15-minute drive south of Fairbanks, North Pole features holiday decorations and trimmings all year – even if it’s 80 degrees in July. You can drive down streets like Santa Claus Lane, Kris Kringle Drive and Mistletoe Lane or stay the night at Santaland RV Park.
North Pole’s association with the spirit of Christmas began in earnest in the 1950s by Con Miller. The young trading post operator was well known in rural Alaska for playing Santa Claus for young children in Alaska villages. When he set up a trading post in North Pole, he named it Santa Claus House and today the sprawling store features almost endless aisles of Christmas ornaments and toys and a giant outdoor statue of Santa beckoning in highway travelers.
THINGS TO DO
The town comes alive in December with the annual North Pole Christmas In Ice Contest, which attracts ice sculptors from around the world. The Winter Festival draws crowds with activities and fireworks. During this time of year, it’s not unusual for national TV newscasts to broadcast live from the Santa Claus House. And at the North Pole Post Office (located on South Santa Claus Lane, of course) more than 400,000 pieces of mail arrive annually simply addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole, Alaska.” Each year, teams of community volunteers work to respond to each letter.
Besides the novelty of seeing Santa any time of the year, North Pole received some recognition for its restaurants after being featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” program in 2009. It’s an ideal place to be based while visiting the Fairbanks area, especially for RVers. Nearby is Chena Lake Recreation Area with 80 campsites along with a swimming beach, paved bike trails and canoe rentals. Chena Lake can be fished for arctic char, grayling and rainbow trout. Within North Pole there are two full-service campgrounds as well as tent sites located in North Pole Park.
MANLEY HOT SPRINGS
Best known for its privately owned and managed hot springs pools, Manley Hot Springs is an unexpected oasis at the end of the Elliott Highway in Interior Alaska.
ABOUT MANLEY HOT SPRINGS
Manley Hot Springs dates back to 1902 when miner John Karshner claimed several of the hot springs as part of a 278-acre homestead and set up a vegetable farm. The U.S. Army arrived at the same time to set up a telegraph station and soon a trading post was established for miners in the nearby Eureka and Tofty mining districts. In 1907, a resort hotel was built to take advantage of the hot springs, but it burned to the ground just six years later.
Today, Manley Hot Springs is a quiet settlement where residents subsidize their livelihoods by hunting, fishing and maintaining gardens. The Manley Roadhouse, built in 1906, is one of Alaska's oldest original roadhouses and offers rooms for rent and displays of mining equipment from Manley Hot Springs heyday.
THINGS TO DO
Although the resort hotel burned down a century ago, the hot springs themselves still bubble up through the ground into a spring-fed greenhouse where the soaking is done in one of three concrete baths. Inside the greenhouse, heated by geothermal energy, an eye-popping assortment of fruits and vegetables grow, including grapes, Asian pears and hibiscus flowers. The springs are open to the public for soaking, just what’s needed after the long drive along the Elliott Highway.
Three miles beyond the village is the broad Tanana River, just upstream from its confluence with the Yukon River. Boat charters can be arranged to take visitors upriver to fish for salmon, char and grayling.
DENALI NATIONAL PARK
From the gateway of Denali National Park and Preserve and stretching along the George Parks Highway is the seasonal community known as Denali Park, a collection of mostly seasonal businesses providing visitor services.
ABOUT DENALI PARK
Denali National Park and Preserve is one of Alaska’s most visited parks for one big reason – it is home to Denali, the tallest mountain in North America at 20,310 feet. Visitors flock from around the world to see the mountain and experience the park’s 6 million acres of wilderness.
The park is located in Interior Alaska near the small town of Healy. It is accessible via the George Parks Highway, which connects Anchorage and Fairbanks, and on the Alaska Railroad, whose tracks roughly parallel the highway.
THINGS TO DO
The opportunities for recreation in the park are near limitless and exist at all levels of fitness and outdoors expertise. Options range from attaining a backcountry permit and hiking overland into the park for days at a time to signing up for one of the popular wildlife-viewing day tours by bus. Other popular activities in and around the park include flightseeing around the peak of the mountain by fixed-wing airplane or helicopter, rafting the Nenana River, hiking any of numerous trails, bird watching, fishing, photography, camping, cycling and more.
Most backcountry activities in the park require a permit, which is available at the main park visitor center. Anyone who ventures into the park’s backcountry should also have certain skills and be informed about bear safety. Bears are among the most popular animals that visitors want to see when they visit the park, and they are found in abundance in Denali, but they must be respected and given space to avoid problems. Flightseeing tours of the mountain and the park can also be arranged from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Healy or Talkeetna.
Healy is the closest full-service, year-round community to the world-famous Denali National Park and Preserve and offers an abundance of lodging and activities to park visitors and highway travelers in Interior Alaska.
Healy is located about 11 miles north of the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve along the George Parks Highway in Interior Alaska. Originally established as a coal-mining town in the early 1900s, many of Healy’s 1,025 residents still earn their livings from the nearby Usibelli Coal Mine. Tourism is the second-largest industry for this small town, though, and Healy features several restaurants, hotels, motels and lodges along with flightseeing operators that take visitors on scenic tours of Denali.
THINGS TO DO
To the north of Healy, on the highway's western side, is the historic Stampede Trail, originally built in the 1930s as a route to the Stampede Mine, once Alaska's prime producer of antimony. The mine ceased operations in 1970, and since 1980 its abandoned mill and other buildings have been located within Denali National Park and Preserve’s expanded borders. Today the trail is a rugged track used primarily by snowmobilers, mushers and skiers in late winter, when travel is easier. The wilderness trail does draw a number of summer visitors who want to view the Fairbanks City bus where Chris McCandless, the subject of Jon Krakauer’s 1997 bestseller Into The Wild, lived and died. In Healy, visitors can arrange ATV tours of the trail for stunning views of Denali and the Savage and Teklanika rivers.
Usibelli Coal Mine conducts daily one-hour tours throughout the summer. Guests visit its quality-control office, main shop, warehouse, coal hopper and crusher.
Kantishna is a remote settlement deep in the heart of Denali National Park and Preserve.
For many, Kantishna provides the ultimate lodging location in Denali National Park and Preserve. Visitors here are surrounded by the best of Denali scenery and feel as close to nature as anywhere in Alaska. Located at the very end of the only road into Denali, Kantishna features several luxurious wilderness resorts, most of which feature meals and transportation from the park entrance about 90 miles away. One of the most sought-after photographs in Alaska can be easily captured on a clear day here: 20,310-foot Denali looming overhead.
The settlement of Kantishna was founded in 1905 as a mining camp near the juncture of Eureka and Moose creeks. Gold in the region brought a flurry of prospectors in the early days, but as the gold began to run out so did interest in mining the Kantishna Hills. Now it is exclusively geared toward recreation and seasonal tourism.
Just south of the legendary Denali National Park and Preserve on the George Parks Highway, the small town of Cantwell provides visitor services as well as access to the Denali Highway.
At Mile 203.6 of the George Parks Highway is Broad Pass, a dividing line where rivers to the south drain into Cook Inlet and those to the north flow to the Yukon River. The pass is one of the most beautiful spots along the Parks Highway and the Alaska Railroad – both use the low gap to cross the Alaska Range. Cantwell sits to the north end of Broad Pass where the Nenana River curves north and cuts through the Alaska Range.
Thanks to the many people who visit Denali National Park and Preserve, 28 miles north, Cantwell is a full-service community that provides lodging, camping, food and fuel right along the highway, which connects Anchorage and Fairbanks. Named after the Cantwell River, the original name for the Nenana River, Cantwell was established in the mid-1920s as a railroad construction camp and later became a flag stop for trains traveling between Anchorage and Fairbanks. After the Parks Highway was constructed in 1971, the town’s commercial district shifted to the intersection of the Parks and Denali highways.
The Denali Highway, which is open and maintained seasonally, is one of Alaska’s most beautiful and rugged drives, and stretches from Cantwell about 100 miles east to the Tangle Lakes area and the Richardson Highway.
Fort Yukon sits on the banks of the Yukon River in Interior Alaska at an elbow in the river that marks its northern apex before bending and twisting southwest toward the Bering Sea.
ABOUT FORT YUKON
Fort Yukon, the state’s largest Athabascan village, is home to about 600 people and is located 145 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Access to the village is primarily by air from Fairbanks, although in summer the Yukon River serves as a freeway of sorts for riverboats transporting friends and family between the many villages scattered along its length. The village sits just one mile from the Arctic Circle.
Fort Yukon is one of the older settlements in Alaska, founded as a fur-trading outpost in 1847 by the Hudson Bay Company. To this day, many residents earn their livelihoods through fur trading.
THINGS TO DO
Many visitors to Fort Yukon are there to connect with outfitters and guiding companies that run trips in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the north. Seeing and crossing the Arctic Circle is also a big draw. Flightseeing tours out of Fairbanks take visitors for a flight across the Arctic Circle and then land in Fort Yukon for a tour of the community and to see the town’s historic Episcopal Church, which was built in 1899. In winter Fort Yukon’s location above the Arctic Circle and the wide-open terrain make the village an exceptional place to witness the aurora borealis.
Galena is a Koyukon Athabascan village known for its extremes of temperature and its role as a Cold-War era forward operating base for the Air Force.
Galena is situated on the north bank of the Yukon River 270 miles west of Fairbanks in the heart of the western Interior.
The community of 580 residents, the majority of whom are Koyukon Athabascans, Galena can see temperatures higher than 90 degrees in the summer and sustained bouts of minus 40 degrees in the winter. The record low is 64 below zero. The village is not connected to any other communities by road, so the Yukon River is the main way people get to Galena from neighboring villages. It is ice-free from mid-May through mid-October when barges ship in most of the supplies, fuel and other necessities residents need; in winter, the frozen Yukon is an ice road to the villages of Ruby, Koyukuk, Kaltag and Nulato.
THINGS TO DO
Every other March, Galena is one of 26 checkpoints for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (The race alternates routes each year, and Galena is on the race’s northern route.) The Iditarod is one of Alaska’s most popular sporting events and the race brings mushers, volunteers and race fans to Galena. The community also hosts the Iron Dog snowmobile race and is the turnaround point for the Yukon 800 Marathon speed riverboat race. The two-day boat race begins in Fairbanks each June and is often called “the longest, roughest and toughest speed boat race in the world.”
Galena is a staging community for adventures into the Koyukuk, Nowitna and Innoko national wildlife refuges. These refuges are part of the vast roadless region that makes up much of northern and western Alaska. Commuter aircraft provide regularly scheduled air transportation from Fairbanks and Anchorage to Galena, where a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office is located. Visitors can then arrange float or fishing trips and charter small aircraft to the start of their wilderness adventure in the refuges.
Ruby is an Athabascan village of 160 residents nestled in the Kilbuck-Kuskokwim Mountains along the Yukon River in Alaska’s Interior, about 230 miles west of Fairbanks.
As is typical of Alaska’s rural communities, Ruby is not on the road system and access to the village is only by riverboat in the summer, snowmobile in the winter or small airplanes, which provide service year-round.
Until the mid 1800s, the only inhabitants of the area were the Koyukon Athabascans, a nomadic people who moved with the seasons in accordance to the migrations of game and fish. Ruby was established as a supply point for gold miners and was named after the red-colored stones found on the riverbank that prospectors thought were rubies. Two gold strikes fueled the growth of Ruby and at one point more than 1,000 miners lived in Ruby. Mining operations ceased during World War II and only a handful of residents remained in the village. Ruby rebounded when the residents of nearby Kokrines relocated there after the war and in 1973, Ruby was incorporated as a second-class city.
THINGS TO DO
Ruby provides limited services and supplies to paddlers and others floating the Yukon River, and also serves as a stop along the northern route on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The village is on the western border of Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge and is one of two villages (Tanana is the other) that serve as staging points for expeditions into the 1,560,000-acre preserve.
Delta Junction has had many identities over the years: gold rush town, Bison City, military outpost and farming community, to name a few. Most now know it as the official end of the Alaska Highway; it’s here that the famed highway joins the Richardson Highway to complete the route to Fairbanks. This intersection, marked by an oversized white milepost for Mile 1422 of the Alaska Highway, is known as the Triangle. The Delta Junction Visitor Center sits at the intersection and welcomes visitors with a friendly cup of coffee and a certificate proclaiming they have completed North America’s ultimate road trip.
ABOUT DELTA JUNCTION
Today a community of 1,058 residents, Delta Junction began as a telegraph station in 1904 and came into its own during the Chisana Gold Strike of 1913 and when it was chosen in the 1920s for the government’s buffalo importation program. Delta Junction is home to the 90,000-acre Delta Bison Sanctuary, which was created to contain a free-roaming herd of more than 500 animals. The area features spectacular views of the Alaska Range and the Delta River. On clear days the panoramas of Mount Hayes, Mount Moffit and other peaks are stunning.
THINGS TO DO
Delta is an agricultural community, and visitors can taste the local produce at Highway's End Farmer's Market across from the visitor’s center at the Triangle or during the Deltana Fair. Held in August, the fair includes livestock, garden and craft exhibits along with the usual fair staples of tractor pulls, food vendors and carnival rides. For a historical view of farming, the Alaska Homestead & Historical Museum, east of Delta Junction on the Alaska Highway, is the site of an early homestead farm and a large collection of early farming equipment.
The town is also home to several historic roadhouses. John Hajdukovich built Rika's Roadhouse in 1910. In 1923, he sold it to Rika Wallen, a Swedish immigrant who managed the roadhouse from 1917until the late 1940s, and lived there until her death in 1969. The roadhouse is now part of Big Delta State Historical Park, which includes a number of other historic outbuildings and facilities. Sullivan Roadhouse, relocated across from the visitor center, was originally built in 1905. It is one of the last remaining original roadhouses from the Valdez to Fairbanks Trail and is an excellent free museum of Interior pioneer artifacts. Other state parks in the area offer camping, fishing and hiking.
Although it’s home to only 10 year-round residents, Chicken has a lot to offer. The community is rich in gold mining history and ideally located to take advantage of the Fortymile geography and Fortymile Wild & Scenic River.
After crossing a bridge over Fortymile River’s Mosquito Fork, the Taylor Highway passes through Chicken, a regular stop for many traveling to Eagle or Dawson.
Gold mining began in the area in 1886 and within 10 years, a major prospect was discovered on the Upper Chicken Creek. Bob Mathieson’s discovery prompted him to quickly stake his claim and build a cabin. The area instantly became a hub of mining activity for the southern portion of the Fortymile Mining District with more than 700 miners working the streams between 1896 and 1898. According to legend, the town’s name originated at a meeting of the resident miners. When trying to come up with a name for the new tent city, somebody suggested “ptarmigan,” which are found in great numbers in the area. All the miners liked it, but none of them could spell it, so they settled on Chicken instead.
THINGS TO DO
The community sits 300 yards up Airport Road, a spur road that leads to two RV parks/campgrounds, two cafes, gift shops, a very lively saloon, two gas stations, tours, gold panning and recreational gold mining. During the summer, Chicken is an eclectic collection of miners, trappers, artists, wilderness adventurers and travelers from around the globe.
The town still services gold miners from the Fortymile Mining District and provides a number of mining opportunities for visitors, including recreational mining complete with equipment and guided tours of the dredges and historical town site.
The 1906-era Chicken Creek Hotel still stands today along with a dozen other buildings of that era and the Pedro Dredge, a national historic site, which originally mined in the Fairbanks area before its move to Chicken in 1959. The dredge is one of the few in the state open to the public.
One of the better-preserved boomtowns of the Alaska mining era, Eagle is a quaint hamlet of log cabins and clapboard houses. Located at the north end of the Taylor Highway and just six miles west of the Canada/Alaska border, Eagle overlooks the Yukon River below Eagle Bluff.
The Athabascans established the original settlement, today called Eagle Village, long before Francois Mercier arrived in the early 1880s and built a trading post in the area. A permanent community of miners took up residence in 1898. A year later, the U.S. Army decided to move in and build a fort as part of its effort to maintain law and order in the Alaska Interior, which was developing rapidly due to the numerous gold rushes in the area. Judge James Wickersham established a federal court at Eagle in 1900, and the next year President Theodore Roosevelt issued a charter that made Eagle the first incorporated city of Interior Alaska. Eagle reached its peak at the turn of the 20th century, when it boasted a population of more than 1,500 residents, some of whom went so far as to call their town the ”Paris of the North.”
THINGS TO DO
Eagle is said to have the state's largest “museum system,” boasting five restored turn-of-the-century buildings. Most visitors see the buildings and learn the town's history through the Eagle Historical Society, which stages a three-hour town walking tour throughout the summer that includes Wickersham's Courthouse, Eagle City Hall, the Log Church, Fort Egbert, Redmen Hall, the Customs Building Museum and Amundsen Park, where a plaque commemorates explorer Roald Amundsen's visit.
Historically an important riverboat landing, Eagle is still a popular jumping-off point for Yukon River travelers. Summer float trips from Eagle downriver through the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve to Circle are a popular activity. It can take anywhere from 5 to 10 days to cover the 154 river miles between Eagle and Circle. Many float the river from Dawson City, Yukon, which is about 100 miles upriver and across the Canadian border from Eagle. After several days on the river, Eagle is a welcome stop! The Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve Visitor Center in Eagle is the best place for information on float trips in the 3,906-square-mile preserve.
The community of Paxson is located on the shores of Paxson Lake, near where the Denali Highway intersects with the Richardson Highway in Interior Alaska.
Paxson is a small town, with lots of cabins owned by people from Fairbanks, 180 miles north, or other parts of the state. Among the year-round residents there are plenty of dog mushers, and you may see (or hear) kennels full of sled dogs if you stop here. A large lodge is located where the two highways meet and offers rooms for rent, a restaurant, gas, RV parking and some groceries, but otherwise services are fairly limited here.
THINGS TO DO
Paxson Lake is known for its reliable fishing, popular for lake trout, Arctic Char and grayling. At the mouth of the lake, where the Gulkana River begins, the fishing for grayling is particularly good. The Bureau of Land Management operates a 50-site campground along the Richardson Highway at the lakeshore with a boat launch and other facilities. One of the most popular river float trips in Alaska is down the Gulkana, and many people start their trip at the Paxson Lake campground.
The Denali Highway, which heads 134 miles west from Paxson toward Cantwell and Denali National Park and Preserve, also offers some excellent recreational opportunities. Not far from the highway’s intersection with the Richardson Highway near Paxson is Tangle Lakes, a series of twisty, interconnected lakes that form the headwaters of the Delta River. The Tangle Lakes campground has 45 sites and a boat launch from which people start the popular scenic Delta National Wild and Scenic River float trip. The Tangle Lakes area also has several privately owned lodges offering fishing, bird viewing, kayaking, hiking and other outdoor recreation.
Tok is Alaska’s official welcoming committee as the first major community across the Canadian border for Alaska Highway travelers. With highways leading away from Tok in all directions, the friendly hub community still offers plenty of reasons to stay a while.
Tok is 93 miles from the Canadian border and is at the major junction between the Alaska Highway and the Tok Cutoff, an extension of the Glenn Highway, which heads west toward Palmer and Anchorage. In Tok, most newly-arrived visitors get out of their vehicles wide-eyed, still not believing they made it this far north, and then load up on brochures, maps and travel information for the rest of their journey.
The town has been a trade and services center for travelers ever since its beginnings as a construction camp in the 1940s. From Tok, you can drive south 254 miles to Valdez and Prince William Sound, head west 328 miles to Anchorage or continue northwest 206 miles on the Alaska Highway to Fairbanks. Additionally, the Taylor Highway heads north to Chicken, Eagle and the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.
For most visitors, the first stop is the Tok Mainstreet Visitors Center, a massive, 7,000-square-foot lodge that is said to be Alaska's largest log structure. The center features racks of brochures for travel in and around the state as well as displays on wildlife, gold panning and the construction of the Alaska Highway. Nearby is the Alaska Public Lands Information Center with additional information on Alaska's parks and outdoor activities, exhibits and a large picture window that often frames the Alaska Range.
Tok is known as the "Sled Dog Capital of Alaska," and many of its residents are involved in some way with dogs and dog mushing. Sled dog pups provide education and interaction during the summer season while sprint races steal the show between late November and March. The town’s biggest event is the Race of Champions, a sled dog race in late March that features the largest field of any sprint race in Alaska.
The origin of the town’s name is still a lively debate in Alaska. Some believe it is named after the nearby Tokai River, which in 1901 was recorded as the Tok River by the U.S. Geological Survey. The town was founded in 1942 as a construction camp for the Alaska Highway and those working on the highway spent so much money in the camp’s construction and maintenance that it earned the name “Million Dollar Camp.” Others believe it was first called Tokyo Camp until anti-Japanese sentiment caused locals to shorten it to Tok. And, still some believe it was named after a husky pup that belonged to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in charge of building this section of the Alaska Highway.
THINGS TO DO
Tok is an outdoorsperson’s paradise: In all directions, wild lands teeming with birds, mammals and fish beckon. The world-famous Forty Mile Country, which inspired the likes of Jack London, lie to the north, while the Mentasta and Wrangell mountains lie to the south. Residents embrace a real frontier lifestyle, and there’s plenty of bird watching, camping, hiking, fishing, float trips and other exploring to be done in the area. In town, attractions include gold panning, museums, restaurants, shops, horseback riding and even a little golf.