Go on and soak your bones this summer
Alaska has hot springs all over
June 1, 2021 | View PDF
I hopped on my bike and pedaled to the hot springs toward downtown Tenakee Springs, only to be stopped by the sight of a couple frozen in fear, their faces blanched pale. "Luna (a neighbor's dog) is barking at something up on the hillside," they said.
I stopped my bike, looked and listened and pedaled on my way, glancing up at the hillside while singing a show tune.
No bear would deter me from those warm waters.
The restorative power of a good soak cannot be underestimated and sometimes just what we need when muscles tighten and bones ache.
If you visit a spring, please follow the posted rules as they are there for everyone's safety and enjoyment. Do not be remembered, as was the boating family visiting Tenakee in April, who pushed past an elderly woman exiting the bathhouse, ignoring the fact that it was women's hours.
I went down, down in the burning "Ring of Fire"
In Alaska there are lots of hot springs - chalk it up to being in the "Ring of Fire," a string of at least 450 active and dormant volcanoes across the Pacific Rim. Alaska contains over 130 volcanoes and volcanic fields due to geothermal activity underground, such as volcanic activity or active hydrothermal heating from hot material in the ground. Hot springs result from water heated by underground geothermal activity finding its way to the surface of the land.
There's close to 79 hot springs generously sprinkled across Alaska, a few being accessible by road, the remainder by water or air.
Pool temperatures can range from a comfortable 105 degree Fahrenheit in Tenakee to a searing 165 degrees as it comes out of the ground at Chena Hot Springs near Fairbanks, which thankfully cools when it reaches the pool.
Take your pulse regularly to make sure you're not overstaying. I like to alternate between a hot springs and a cold-water shower. In the winter, I've found arthritic joints benefit from a quick application of snow.
Southeast boasts the most
Baranof Warm Springs is located 20 miles east of Sitka on the eastern shore of Baranof Island accessible by boat or floatplane. A U.S. Forest Service trail extends a half mile from the hot springs to Baranof Lake where a cabin is located by floatpIane.
Chief Shakes Hot Springs is just off Ketili River, a slough of the Stikine River, about 12 miles upriverl. Access using the Hot Springs Slough Route, one of several established canoe/kayak routes along the Stikine. There are two hot tubs plus an open-air tub with changing areas. The Forest Service has two cabins upriver. Go to https://www.recreation.gov to rent a cabin.
Goddard Hot Springs, on the outer coast of Baranof Island on Hot Springs Bay off of Sitka Sound, is 16 miles south of Sitka. The City of Sitka owns the property and maintains two modern cedar bathhouses. Boardwalks provide easy access and boaters can anchor in the bay and go ashore in skiffs. Take a nautical a chart as there are lots of rocks and shoals.
Shelokum Hot Springs is close to 90 miles north of Ketchikan in the Tongass National Forest on the Cleveland Peninsula. A 2.2-mile trail begins at Bailey Bay just south of Shelokum Creek to Lake Shelokum.
Tenakee Hot Springs, with a beautifully restored bathhouse and changing room with stained glass windows, is right in the middle of town across from the only market in town, stocked with an amazing array of gourmet goods. Thanks to the genius and craft of Kevin Alred, the old changing room was perked up with masterful carpentry and warm tongue and groove ceiling and walls. Mineral water flows at a constant rate of about seven gallons per minute and a temperature of about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. It bubbles up in a vent in the rock and is accessed by concrete stairs connected to benches. Tenakee can be reached by floatplane, Alaska Martine Highway ferry, or private watercraft.
Trocadero Soda Springs is a treat of bubbles on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island about 12 miles southeast of Craig by boat. Wear boots on this muddy trail as you cross into bear country and especially be cautious during salmon runs. Two giant golden steps of yellow tufa, the sediment of silica or calcium carbonate deposited near the mouth of a mineral spring, lead down to the pool. Mounds and craters, splashed with colors ranging from subtle yellow to iron red. The highly carbonated water is said to have "a sharp, pleasant taste" and has no unpleasant odors unlike, say, the sulphur springs in Tenakee that have the smell of rotten eggs (but you quickly get used to the smell).
White Sulphur Hot Springs, popular with commercial fishing and charter boat guests and kayakers paddling from Pelican, is in the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness area, some 65 miles northwest of Sitka. Most visitors fly in to a small lake nearby and hike to the cabin or boat to Mirror Harbor and walk the easy, year-round 0.8-mile trail. Rentals at https://www.recreation.gov.
Take a day trip to these springs
Chena Hot Springs, is about 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks, employee-run since 2016, having been developed by Bernie Karl and Connie Parks-Karl, who used the geothermal resources to generate electricity and heat a hot house that grows lettuce and tomatoes, as well as some fruit, for the resort's restaurant and employees on a year-round basis. There is an inside concrete swimming pool and an outdoor pond rimmed by boulders and featuring a sandy bottom, where you can watch the Northern Lights in warmth no matter the temperature. Go to https://chenahotsprings.com or call 907-451-8104.
Manley Hot Springs, 151 miles from Fairbanks via the Elliott Highway, is open year-round and offers a lodge and campsites. One of its springs runs 35 gallons a minute with a temperature of 136 degrees Fahrenheit, another runs 110 gallons per minute at 135 degrees. Don't worry, by the time the water gets to you it's cooled down.