Before it spills into downtown Fairbanks, the Chena River flows through a wild landscape 30 miles east of town.
The Chena River State Recreation Area encompasses 397 square miles and is a popular destination near Fairbanks for hunting, fishing and playing outside.
The recreation area is accessible along Chena Hot Springs Road between mileposts 26 and 56. It doesn’t hurt that the recreation area borders Chena Hot Springs Resort (located where the road ends at 56 mile), so any activity in the recreation area can easily be complemented with a dip in the hot springs.
All milepost markers below refer to Chena Hot Springs Road — not to be confused with Chena Pump Road on the west side of Fairbanks. Chena Hot Springs Road is accessible from the Steese Highway. Food and gas are available in Two Rivers, about 23 Mile. There is also a bakery at 10 Mile, coffee shop and ice cream at 24 Mile and food and cabins at 49 Mile.
Chena River: Chena Hot Springs Road crosses or approaches the Chena River a half-dozen times in the recreation area, allowing for ample boating opportunities. It’s Class I water under most water conditions, but watch out for sweepers, branches or trees that stick out into the channel and can easily capsize boats.
The Chena River water is very cold even during the hottest months. The river is a great place to catch Arctic grayling, but the fishery is catch-and-release only except for special youth-only openings on four summer weekends. Several lakes along Chena Hot Springs Road are stocked with fish, including rainbow trout and chinook salmon.
Fish caught in stocked ponds can be kept, but be sure to get an Alaska fishing license and research bag limits and rules.
Hiking: The two most popular trailheads are Granite Tors and Angel Rocks, accessible at mileposts 39.5 and 48.9, respectively. A $5 day-use fee is required at both trailheads. Both trails lead hikers to interesting geological formations along ridgelines.
At Angel Rocks, a 3-mile loop trail climbs steeply to the rock formations, or hikers may traverse the 9-mile one-way hike from the trailhead to Chena Hot Springs Resort.
From the Granite Tors trailhead, hikers traverse a 15-mile loop that accesses several rock formations above treeline. Several other trails are maintained in the recreation area, many of which also require a $5 day-use fee or seasonal sticker.
Off-road vehicles: Popular trails for four-wheelers include the Compeau Trail at mile 29.9, the Angel Creek Hillside Trail at mile 50.5 (the Lower Chena Dome trailhead), and the Stiles Creek Trail at mileposts 31.6 and 36.4.
Information is available online at dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/chena or by calling the northern region office of Alaska State Parks at 907-451-2695.