Circle Hot Springs
This resort area is developed, but it remains quite rustic with the old Alaska mining flavor. The hot springs feed one great big outdoor pool. Originally built up in 1930, this resort was also a large greenhouse that supplied fresh vegetables to Fairbanks most of the year. It also provided gold miners with a relaxing bath to ease their aching backs.
To find these hot springs, take the Steese Highway (right at the fork in Fox) just north of Fairbanks. The highway is paved for the first 40 miles, but turns into a dirt road that is even smoother. Pavement does not do well when built on permafrost as it will thaw the underground ice layers and create big dips and heaves in the road. Follow the highway all the way out to Central. Drive through Central until you find a green and white sign indicating a turn to the South will lead eight miles to Circle Hot Springs. The Steese Highway was built way back in 1927 to accommodate the gold rush that was happening at that time. The Department of Transportation does an exceptional job of keeping this road maintained year round. Every now and then beside the road one can see the remains of the old water pipeline that the F.E. Mining Company used to dredge the Fairbanks area.
We traveled this road in late May. It is so high up in the mountains that snow was still melting and huge ice chunks were present down in the rivers running below. The viewpoints from Twelve Mile Summit and Eagle Summit are absolutely breathtaking. Make sure you bring plenty of film! We spotted porcupines, snowshoe hares and various waterfowl along the road.
The Lodge at Circle Hot Springs has accommodations for just about every taste. There is a small grassy area where tenters can pay $5 to stay the night. The Lodge itself used to be the old Fort Yukon barracks. The first proprietors, Frank and Emma Leach, who homesteaded the area back in 1902, floated the Lodge down the Yukon River. Just off the main entrance to the Lodge there is a small restaurant, and to the right of the Lodge there is a “Saloon.” The Saloon features live music every night and a pool table for entertainment. On the deck in front of the lodge there is also a ping-pong table.
The current owners, keeping with the turn of the century style, provide some wonderfully quaint and well-appointed rooms. The rooms have no private bathrooms, but there are bathrooms on each of four floors, and most of them have Jacuzzi tubs to soak and relax. There are also cabins for rent, which all have their own bathrooms, kitchens and some even have their own hot tubs. The very top floor has little tiny “hostels” which supposedly can sleep four (bring your own sleeping bags). They are too small to stand up and anybody that suffers from claustrophobia would not be caught dead in one, but they seem quite cozy and would probably be very warm if one was visiting in the wintertime. The Lodge is open year round.
The Lodge charges $5 per person to use the large outdoor pool. It is warm, but not so warm that soaking in it becomes uncomfortable. The men’s and women’s changing rooms and bathrooms are right next to the pool and feature showers and toilets with plumbing – a real luxury when you have been camping for several days. There is sulfur in this hot spring, so the rotten egg smell is present, but since the pool is outdoors the odor is not terribly strong.
The grounds of the resort are rather trashy. Much restoration work must be done to the older (now unused) buildings and the junk ought to be cleared from the surrounding area. Fairbanks residents say the area becomes much prettier during the winter when all the junk is covered with snow. The resort acts as headquarters for the snow machining, cross-country skiing and dog sledding activities. The Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race passes through the area. Ketchem Creek Kennel offers dog sled tours to Moose Lake, Medicine Lake, Birch Creek, or a section of the Yukon Quest trail.
But there are some neat places to explore in the summer time. Scott, the friendly bar tender, drew us a map to find ancient granite pillars (also known as "tors"). To find these pillars, head back out of the Hot Springs Resort toward Central. At milepost six you will cross Ketchem Creek. Continue on, but begin watching for Ketchem Creek Road on the left side and take that turn (approximately 8 tenths of a mile from the creek). This road goes quite a ways back into the forest. Eventually there will be a turn off to the right. Do not take that turn, but instead continue straight to the Y in the road just ahead. Bear to the right and continue on to the yellow arm gate. This gate should be open and will lead into an inactive mining claim. (Scott tells us that the owner does not mind visitors going up to the pillars). As soon as you pass through the gates turn a hard right in a U turn so you are climbing up the road the opposite direction you were just headed. As you drive up this hill you should be able to see the huge rock formations. There are places to park next to a burned-out old shack. Walk up the road a little further to the rock formations.
We find the black lichen growing on the rocks just fascinating. It seems to grow even where nothing else can manage. We were also impressed by the size of the crystals in the granite, and how weathered the material has become. I climbed one of the larger tors. I am Adventureman, and so this is something I just tend to do. However, I do not recommend allowing young children to do the same.
We are sure there are plenty more neat adventure opportunities in and around the resort area. I am confident that if we bugged Scott even more, he would tell us about other fascinating areas to explore.
Last Visited: May 2000