Chena River State Recreation Area

When you think of outdoor adventures in Alaska, what springs to mind? Vast wildernesses? Cold nights? Remote trails? Certainly, these conditions require a fair amount of outdoor experience. But this isn’t to say that adventures in the USA’s northernmost state are only for the ultra-intrepid; there are stunning sites for all ages, abilities, and fitness levels. The Chena River State Recreation Area is one such example, offering not just hiking, but a variety of outdoor activities for everyone to enjoy.

Located just 26 miles east of Fairbanks, this remarkable nature reserve offers everything from hiking to skiing, and fishing to aurora viewing. With comfortable camping and abundant wildlife, the Chena River State Recreation Area is a standout destination for families that love the outdoors. Here’s what you need to know to plan your trip.

Planning your trip to the Chena River State Recreation Area 

Getting There

Fairbanks is Alaska’s second-largest airport, so completing the first leg of your journey is straightforward. Once you arrive in Fairbanks, the park is just a short drive from the city, between mile 26 and mile 51 on Chena Hot Springs Road.

Where to Stay

Chena River State Recreation Area has three campgrounds to accommodate all comfort levels and preferences. Visitors have a choice of three official campgrounds, all of which offer space for RVs and tents: Rosehip Campground (milepost 27), Granite Tors Trail Campground (milepost 39), and Red Squirrel Campground and Picnic Area (milepost 43).

There are also eight public-use cabins that visitors can reserve ahead of time and two first-come, first-served cabins on the Granite Tors and Chena Dome Trails.

A woman fly fishing along a riverThings to Do

As suggested by the name, the Chena River offers some of the park’s main events, including kayaking, canoeing, and fishing along its channel. The Chena River State Recreation Area is also famed for its catch-and-release Arctic grayling fishing and road-accessible ponds stocked with rainbow trout and Arctic grayling.

Chena River State Recreation Area is a crowd-pleaser due to its wide variety of hiking trail lengths and difficulties. The park’s 397-square-mile territory offers well-marked trails ranging from a few miles to multi-day hikes, including the 3.5-mile loop that leads to Angel Rocks or the Chena Dome Trail, a 30-mile round trip that follows the ridges around the Angel Creek drainage area.

The park also offers activities year-round. For winter travelers, the Chena River State Recreation area is popular for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. 

A bull moose standing in a pondThings to See

The waters of the Chena River are surrounded by a breathtaking backdrop of rolling hills and Arctic tundra. This landscape is home to a wealth of wildlife, including grouse, beavers, foxes, and moose. Visitors have also reported eagles soaring overhead and hoary marmots, pikas, and ptarmigans in the undergrowth. Although rare, it’s also possible to see black and brown bears grazing on the berries in the hills.

Aurora Borealis

The Chena River State Recreation Area also offers one of Alaska's most magical nighttime spectacles—the aurora borealis. Nestled away from city lights, its location just a stone's throw east of Fairbanks makes it an ideal spot for viewing the northern lights. The best times to catch this natural wonder are from late August to early April when the skies are darkest. Visitors are encouraged to check local aurora forecasts before their trip and consider overnight stays in the area's cabins or campgrounds to maximize their chances of witnessing this breathtaking phenomenon.

For entry-level Alaska travelers or experienced outdoor adventurers, the Chena River State Recreation Area is a Fairbanks favorite. The rest of your adventure lies ahead!

Sunset over trees and a frozen pond in winter