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Credits: The photo used in the post banner shows part of the photo "Serpentine Hot Springs" by Neal Herbert, Alaska NPS is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0

Alaska hot springs are an often overlooked travel destinations off the usual tourist path. Read what they are, how to best get there, why they are special and worth going the extra mile.




Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Get Blogged. I wrote the post entirely myself and all opinions are mine.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. Check with your doctor or medical professional before bathing in a hot spring to ensure that doing so is safe for you.


Travel in Alaska off the Typical Paths Needs Planning

When you love to explore Alaska beyond the typical tourist destinations, it requires some logistic ahead because the state is only 2% developed. In other words, when you want to visit beautiful places not overcrowded by tourists, booking a hotel ahead of time is wise because off the path hotels are small. Some place you can only reach with four-wheel drive cars or sea-plane. Due to the remoteness and vastness of the land, you must ensure that you have shelter upon arrival.


Did You Know that Alaska Has Many Different Hot Springs?

One of the most interesting places in Alaska are the hot springs because the Earth heats the mineral water itself. There are at least 79 known hot springs, but only 20 are used by the public. Some of them are rustic community facilities like old bath houses from the pioneer time or in old buildings of former Catholic Missions. Others are pools of Alaska Native heritage in an area that a Mid-European visitor would call wilderness pure. Some are very eco-friendly resort style facilities. Chena Hot Springs, for instance, uses geothermal energy to heat their Alaska roadhouse style hotel, greenhouse, and in winter even an ice hotel.


Abandoned church at Pilgrim Hot Springs
Our Lady of Lourdes church building, abandoned Catholic church at Pilgrim Springs, Alaska, a former Catholic orphanage.


Most of the known hot springs exist in the Yukon River watershed of the Interior, and on some islands of the Alexander Archipelago in Southeast Alaska. However, there are also springs in the tundra and at the Bering Sea (e.g., Pilgrim and Serpentine Hot Springs).


bunkhouse at Serpentine Hot Springs in the rosy light of sunset in fall
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Alaska. View of the bunkhouse at Serpentine Hot Springs in the rosy light of sunset in an autumn landscape. Photo by Ralph Jones, Public Domain Mark 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


What Are Hot Springs?

Hot spring aka hydrothermal or geothermal springs are associated with regions anomalously high crustal heat flow (Note that the temperature in the Earth’s crust increases about 25°C for every kilometer of depth (45F per 0.621 mile, or 72.5F per mile). Anomalously high heat flow can occur at faults and due to shallow magma bodies. In these area, groundwater can be heated geothermally. Places where this heated ground water emerges to the surface are called hot or warm springs depending on their temperature.

scientific sketch of how hot spring work
Schematic view of various surface features associated with thermal water outflow at hot springs. Note not all may exist at a place. From: Haselwimmer et al. (2013) CC by 3.0.


Depending on the depths of the heating and/or distance from the heating source, the water temperatures of the emerging mineral water at the surface differ widely among springs. The water of Pilgrim, Horner, Melozi, Dall, Kilo, Clear Creek, and Bell Island Hot Springs, for instance, emerges at 178,  117, 131, 129, 122, 148, and 125-175F (81.8, 47.2, 55, 53.9, 50, 64.4, and 51.7-79.4oC), respectively. Of course, in the pool itself, water temperatures are held at comfortable bath tube water temperatures by mixing with cold water.


All hot springs in the Interior and Southeast Alaska exist in areas of faults while the geothermals in the Wrangell-St. Elias as well as the Katmai National Park and Preserve have volcanic origin.


Hot Springs Are Perfect Places to Visit off the Tourist Paths

The hot springs of Alaska are often overlooked as travel destinations. However, they are located in scenic landscapes with small hotels or rentable cabins close by. Once arrived, you can relax in a geothermal in a beautiful green landscape under the Mid-night Sun in summer; or you can enjoy sitting in the warm mineral-rich water amid a snow-covered landscape in winter. In the Interior, you may be even lucky to watch the aurora dancing in the night’s star-spangled sky from mid-August to mid-April.


Chena Hot Springs outdoor pool in winter
hena Hot Springs in winter” Outdoor pool at Chena Hot Springs. PunkToad, CC BY 2.0.


Yes, you can sit in some Alaska’s hot springs outside even in the middle of the winter because the warm water heats the ambient air. You can even see the steam! Of course, once you get out of the pool, your wet bathing apparel may freeze fast when you fail to go back inside asap.


Why Do Hot Springs Permit Growth of Unexpected Vegetation

Because the hot spring and its warm water surface heat the air in its surrounding, plants can grow in the springs’ vicinity that wouldn’t otherwise survive under the hard winter conditions of Alaska. At Manley Hot Springs (4 hr 23 min, 251 km, 156 mi from Fairbanks on an unpaved road), for instance, grapes, Asian pears, and flow­ers exist in the surrounding of the geothermal water. At some springs, there may be even no snow around the water pool even in the middle of winter.


Chena Hot Springs ice hotel
Ice hotel at Chena Hot Springs in spring. Enrico Blasutto, CC BY-SA 4.0.



What Makes the Water Special besides its Temperature?

Depending on the rocks’ composition and their temperature, different minerals can dissolve in the groundwater. In the Interior, for instance, the geothermals are sulfide-rich.

Insider tip: Take off your silver jewelry because otherwise it will be black after your bath.


Insider tip: Don’t spend money on a manicure or pedicure prior to bathing in an Interior Alaska hot spring. The minerals contained in the water will ruin your nail polish.


What Are the Benefits of Bathing in Hot Springs

Because of the mineral content hot springs they have been believed to have healing effects. Scientific studies evidence that bathing in hot springs boost the blood circulation, and can help reduce stress by relaxing tense muscles. The relaxation can lead to deeper sleep. The buoyant water supports the joints, and hence permits freer movement than outside the water. In other words, the buoyancy may relieve joint pain temporally. Geothermals with high silica content can smooth and soften dry and rough skin, while those with high sulfur content might relieve eczema and psoriasis. According to an Australian study bathers reported relieve of back pain, arthritis, stress/anxiety, depression and insomnia.


How to Get to These Hot Springs

Some of the 20 public hot springs are developed as resorts in Alaska roadhouse style at the end of a small road like Chena Hot Springs, for instance, which is a scenic 1.5 h drive from Fairbanks. Note that such roads may be unpaved. Others may be reached by hiking or kajaking from a hotel or rental cabin resort. Those on islands require to fly there with a small chartered air plane. In any case, I would recommend ebooking hotel/accommodation prior to your travel to ensure you have a place to stay when you get there. Trust me, after soaking in the warm mineral water you will be tired.



Clark-Kennedy, J., Cohen, M., 2017. Indulgence or therapy? Exploring the characteristics, motivations and experiences of hot springs bathers in Victoria, Australia. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 22:5, 501-511, doi: 10.1080/10941665.2016.1276946

Haselwimmer, C., Prakash, A., Holdmann, G., 2013. Quantifying the heat flux and outflow rate of hot springs using airborne thermal imagery: Case study from Pilgrim Hot Springs, Alaska,. Remote Sensing of Environment, 136, 37-46, doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2013.04.008

Mölders, N. , Fochesatto, G. , Edwin, S., and Kramm, G., 2019. Geothermal, Oceanic, Wildfire, Meteorological and Anthropogenic Impacts on PM2.5 Concentrations in the Fairbanks Metropolitan Area. Open Journal of Air Pollution8, 19-68. doi: 10.4236/ojap.2019.82002.

Serbulea, M., Payyappallimana, U., 2012. Onsen (hot springs) in Japan—Transforming terrain into healing landscapes, Health & Place,18:6, 1366-1373, doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2012.06.020

Credits: The photo used in the post banner shows part of the photo “Serpentine Hot Springs” by Neal Herbert, Alaska NPS is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0

© 2013-2022 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

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