With countless miles of trails and seemingly limitless horizons, one of the best ways to see Interior Alaska in the winter is by snowmachine.
Snowmachines (sno-gos in rural Alaska or snowmobiles in the Lower 48) offer a fun way to get outside in the winter. But before you ride, here are a few tips from the Alaska Department of Public Safety and Transportation:
• Know Alaska’s snowmachine laws and regulations.
• Read your owner’s manual.
• Check your snowmachine and equipment.
• Wear proper clothing.
• Find out about weather, snow, and ice conditions.
• Tell someone specifically where you are going and when you expect to return. Cell phone service may be spotty, so a satellite phone may be helpful.
Be sure to:
• Let weather, lighting and trail conditions determine a safe speed.
• Ride sober — no alcohol or drugs.
• Be considerate of other trail users, private landowners, and fellow riders.
• Respect public and private property.
• Be safe in state highway rights-of-way: always yield to pedestrians, non-motorized users and other motor vehicles.
• Use your headlight and taillight.
• Maintain adequate spacing between machines to avoid collision.
• Reduce your speed when riding in the dark to less than 40 mph.
Two of the most popular snowmachine trail systems near Fairbanks are the Chena River State Recreational Area off Chena Hot Springs Road, (dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/chena/) and the White Mountains National Recreational Area (www.blm.gov/visit/white-mountains)
The Chena rec area, about a 45 minute drive northeast of Fairbanks, is popular year-round for fishing, hiking, berry-picking and hunting, as well as skiing, dog mushing and snowmachining. Multi-use trails lead to several cabins in the backcountry located an easy day’s travel from the road.
The Chena Hot Springs Winter Trail, used by the Yukon Quest sled dog race, runs through the recreation area for about 26 miles.
After a day on the trails, it’s a quick drive to Chena Hot Springs Resort at the end of the 56-mile Chena Hot Springs Road for a soak in the hot springs, food, drink and maybe a peek at the aurora borealis.
The resort also offers guided snowmachine tours.
The 1 million acre White Mountains rec area is located about an hour north of Fairbanks. It is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is accessible by both the Steese and Elliott highways. While there are options for summer recreation, the bulk of the area is really a winter paradise. In winter, visitors travel by ski, snowshoe, dog team and snowmachine to enjoy the 12 public-use cabins and 250 miles of groomed trails.
The Fairbanks Snow Travelers offer a variety of rides on trails all over the Interior, as well as maintain a trails database. For more information, visit www.snowtravelers.org/