Chena Hot Springs Resort is probably one of the most alluring sounding destinations near Fairbanks.
The appeal is obvious: a luxury resort in the middle of the wilderness, with rejuvenating hot springs and nighttime views of the Aurora Borealis just steps outside of your room.
With high room rates ($200-$350 per night, unless they’re running a special), and extremely high shuttle service rates ($100-130 each way), my main question was: is it worth it?
So, let’s break down the good, the bad, and the ugly…
Chena Hot Springs is in a really gorgeous setting. Situated in the middle of nearby mountains, covered in ice and snow, it’s the depiction of what you imagine remote Alaskan winter to look like.
You’ll drive through the Chena State Park, roughly 50 miles of protected wilderness where you can spot moose and other wildlife.
It’s remote enough that aurora viewing would be great. No light pollution nearby from anything except the resort itself.
And the hot springs? They are hot. While they probably don’t contain the rejuvenating properties touted by local tourist sites, they sure do stink of sulfur and feel amazing when standing in freezing temperatures, surrounded by snow.
It’s a unique experience – one that southerners like us would never otherwise have. I’m glad we saw it.
Hot diggity dog, it’s expensive.
Whether you rent a car or shuttle to the resort area, you’re going to spend a lot of money to get there (I still recommend a car). Once you arrive, you’ll either have paid for the rooms or have to pay for a day pass.
Also, there’s no internet or cell reception, so if staying connected is important to you, get ready to pay $8 per day for their (spotty) WiFi. Their website says Verizon gets service out there…but my Verizon plan didn’t receive anything remotely considered reliable.
The food is mediocre, at best. And priced like a nice resort. Part of that is probably due to the difficulty of maintaining the facilities in such a remote area, and bringing in ingredients. It can’t be cheap or easy. I just wish they made the effort worthwhile by serving decent food.
Since they own the gift shop, restaurant and lounge, you’re stuck with their sub-par food unless you think ahead and bring your own ready-to-eat options.
Oh trust me, it’s ugly.
I laughed far too hard when we arrived, because whoever markets this place as a “resort” knows that’s a straight up lie. We weren’t the only ones shocked either.
It feels incredibly worn down – and I would be understanding about some wear and tear due to the remote location and difficulty of maintenance through tough winters – but it’s beyond that.
When we went into the hot springs, shoes were not allowed in the locker room and hot springs area. Understandable. However, the entire women’s locker room was covered in at least two inches of sitting water, while lights overhead were broken, flickering, or straight up had open wires handing down. Talk about an accident waiting to happen.
I don’t even want to think about the nasty foot fungus you could get from there. We politely informed the staff. They clearly could not care less.
If that’s how the main attraction is kept up, I can’t imagine the rooms and lesser viewed facilities.
We were extremely grateful that staying at Chena was out of our budget. From what other guests there said, and online reviews I read afterwards, this place is nearing “dump” status. And nobody seemed to care. The staff was rude or checked out. It’s probably pretty boring up there…but that doesn’t make it okay.
The sad thing is that the setting is so gorgeous that with a major renovation (and new management), Chena Hot Springs could be a world class destination, deserving of the resort title. With significant upgrades, I’d love to return and indulge.
The Bottom Line
Would I stay here overnight? Heck no.
Is it worth a day trip? If you have the time and money, it’s a unique experience. Expect to be gone at least 8-12 hours – so don’t plan any other tours that day.
What should you bring?
- Shower shoes
- Bathing suit
- Disinfecting wet wipes (seriously, that changing room is scary)
- Money, money, money!
I’ve heard that Chena sometimes runs 1/2 price room specials, in which case, it could be worth it to stay overnight. As I’ve stated before, going out on aurora tours or trying to chase the aurora yourself at night, gets exhausting. It would’ve been lovely to just be woken up when it was shining overhead.
Have you been to Chena Hot Springs? Did you love it or hate it? Share your experience and photos below!