Getting away from it all is easy in Chena River State Recreation Area. Well-marked and maintained trails lead into alpine country and offer strikingly different hiking experiences. Feeder trails that lead off the developed trails allow hikers to find the perfect place with unobstructed views and wilderness solitude. "The proximity of the recreation area to Fairbanks makes it feasible for day hikes and extended journeys alike," says Craig McKinnon, a Canadian who finds that the views "rival those of any other park."
Among the most popular jaunts is a hike along the Angel Rocks Trail. Hiking this trail can take a couple of hours or can become a leisurely day trip. "You can get beautiful views of the valley in a very short hike. It's great for families," explains Brooks Ludwig, Northern Area Superintendent for Alaska State Parks. The Angel Rocks Trail begins at a pleasant riverside picnic area at milepost 48.9 Chena Hot Springs Road. The 3.5 mile round trip leads hikers through dense evergreen forests up to the sheer rock faces of the Angel Rocks. The trail extends 8.3 miles to include a route along ridgelines that creates a second trailhead at Chena Hot Springs Resort, just past mile 56 on Chena Hot Springs Road.
The Stiles Creek trail, a year-round ridge trail, provides opportunities for multiple use when it comes to choosing your mode of travel -- mountain bikes, all-terrain-vehicles, horses or hiking. The Chena Dome Trail, the longest in the recreation area, offers quick passage to hiking above timberline. It begins with lush spruce forests at low elevations and rapidly rises into stunning alpine tundra. The 29-mile trip circles the entire Angel Creek drainage area. The trail starts at mile 50.5 and ends at mile 49 Chena Hot Springs Road. The full hike takes three days, often more, but scenic day hikes can be taken from either trailhead. "If you can get above the timberline and hike across the tundra, there are many magnificent views," says Rex Blazer, a longtime northern Alaskan environmentalist.
One of the most awe-inspiring hikes is the 15-mile loop of the Granite Tors Trail. From the trailhead at mile 39 Chena Hot Springs Road, the route rises from boggy lowlands to eventually leave the forest behind for the Plain of Monuments. Here, towering rock outcroppings up to 100 feet high, known as the Granite Tors, dominate a broad stretch of alpine tundra.
The Granite Tors in Chena River State Recreation Area are a popular destination for both local and visiting climbers. The trail to the tors begins at the Tors Trail Campground, mile 39.5 Chena Hot Springs Road. The trail is a 15-mile loop, with the west trail offering a shorter but steeper route to the tors. The tors were formed 70 million to 90 million years ago when molten rock pushed upward and cooled before reaching the surface. The granite formations were exposed by the erosion of the surrounding earth which revealed the towering spires we see today.
People visiting the Tors in the early spring may find pasque flowers, or crocus, growing in the warm areas. In June and July, visitors will see the face of Munson Ridge covered with a variety of wildflowers - poppies, anemones, and the yellow blossoms of the thorough wax plant. Look for the arctic harebells towards late summer.
Weather conditions on the tors can change quickly. Follow these guidelines to make your day at the tors safe and enjoyable: Wear suitable footwear and carry warm clothes and rain gear. Bring insect repellent or netting to ward off persistent pests. Because water sources are not reliable in dry weather, you should bring at least one day's supply of water. Be cautious and alert for the presence in your area of bears. Finally, always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
When hiking in the park, the Alaska State Parks rangers emphasize:
● Water sources may not be safe to drink and are not reliable in dry weather. Carry plenty of water and purify water collected along the way.
● Portions of the trails are steep and rocky; wear suitable foot gear.
● Carry insect repellent to ward off mosquitoes and gnats.
● Do not attempt rock climbs without proper training and equipment.
● The weather is unpredictable; carry warm clothing and rain gear.
● Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Angel Creek Hillside Trail
Length: 10 miles to upper cabin
Hiking Time: 5-8 hours
High Point: 1,500 feet
Angel Creek Hillside & Winter Trails Handout
Angel Rocks Trail
Length: 3.5 miles round trip
Hiking Time: 2 to 3 hours
High Point: 1,750 feet
Angel Rock Trail Handout
Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs Trail
Length: 8.3 miles round trip
Hiking Time: 5 to 8 hours
High Point: 2,800 feet
Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs Trail Handout
Chena Dome Trail
Length: 30 miles round trip
Hiking Time: Three days
High Point: 4,421 feet
Chena Dome Trail Handout
Length: 18 miles to cabin
Hiking Time: 10 hours
High Point: 2,150 feet
Compeau Trail Handout
Granite Tors Trail
Length: 15 miles round trip
Hiking Time: 6 to 10 hours
High Point: 3,300 feet
Granite Tors Trail Handout
Stiles Creek Trail
Length: 15 miles
Hiking Time: 6 to 10 hours
High Point: 1,900 feet
Stiles Creek Trail Handout