Posts Tagged ‘hot springs’

The Hot Springs Trifecta

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

Several years ago, some friends and I, inspired by Ed Plumb’s epic trip to Dall Hotsprings , talked about using the Kanuti river for a longer trip looping back to the Haul Road.  After a bit of discussion, the plan morphed into a three hot springs trip. First, float the Kanuti River from the Haul Road, stopping at Kanuti hot springs for a soak.  Then float down the Kanuti river for another 20 miles and hike to the Upper Ray hot springs. Finally, walk or float to the Lower Ray hot springs and then back out to the road.  It seemed viable, but while I was aware people had floated the Kanuti River below the traditional take-out for Kanuti hot springs, I had not talked to them about it. While the walking looked good on the maps who knows how it would be in person.   Early this June, Ed, Matt, Chris, and I headed out to see if we could pull it off.  It was going to be awesome — a new section of river, two new hotsprings, wahoo!   Heath and Patrick joined us for the first leg, floating to the first hot springs, Kanuti, and shuttled Chris’s truck to our take-out (thanks guys!). 

We left town fairly early in Chris’s “fry truck”.  (Chris and his wife Robbin heat their house and power their truck with used oil from local restaurants.)  We drove the Kanuti River, and after a bit of futzing around, put it and began the adventure, yahoo!  

Hot Springs Trifecta

The water in the Kanuti River was high, and the float was fun and fast.   The day was beautiful, with lots of sun and a brief rain squall that mostly avoided us. 

Hot Springs Trifecta

The birds of prey were out in force, and we saw quite a few large raptors and a few owls.   The hours sped by, and soon we were at the take-out for hotsprings number one. Kanuti has had a problem bear for the last few years, but fortunately we didn’t see it.  Alas, it was a beautifully hot day, and unfortunately that meant the hot springs were a bit too hot to soak in for very long. On the upside, it was great to see the field of grass and wild chives surrounding the hot springs in the summer again.  It feels like a green oasis, and smells unique. 

We still had a long float ahead of us, so we said goodbye to Patrick and Heath, and continued floating down the river.  The Kanuti to our takeout was an interesting river – mostly pretty mellow, with a few splashy sections with large rounded rocks.  If the water was a lot higher, those splashy sections would have been a handful. At one point we came upon a cow moose with a young calf in the middle of the river, and we tried to gently sneak by, but they kept going downstream slightly ahead of us — until a black bear charged out of the brush on one of the banks and attempted to snatch the calf.   Much to our happiness and the bear’s sadness, the cow and calf escaped, leaving the bear splashing in the stream. It climbed out bedraggled and wet, and then disappeared into the brush along the bank. Matt is a biologist for the National Park Service, and explained the cow was probably aware of the bear and had been sticking to the river so that if the bear had attacked it could have used its longer legs to stomp the swimming bear and gain the upper hand.  Much to everyone’s happiness (besides the bear’s, I expect) our involvement hadn’t driven the cow or calf into the bear and caused a disaster… 


As we neared the ridge on which we were going to begin our hike, it soon became apparent that the nice campsite overlooking we Kanuti River wasn’t there.  Instead the bank sloped somewhat steeply up to the ridge.. We spent a few hot hours hiking up to the first flat spot we could find, at the high point of the ridge.  

Matt, happy to enjoy some cold snow after a long climb in his dry suit..

Matt had packed a few beers, and they were enjoyed in style, with a view. Thanks Matt! 

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The next day, we hiked over to Tokusatatquaten Lake, a beautiful lake with awesome sand beaches and really nice walking. 

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It is in a truly wonderful spot, and if we had been faster it would have been a great place to camp.

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Alas, it was late morning, so we pushed on, enjoying great ridge hiking and neat tors while a thunderstorm passed off in the distance. 

Hot Springs Trifecta
Chris, retying his shoe after a tumble in the alder..

We had planned to camp at the Upper Ray hot springs, but a mile or so of dense alder slowed us down enough that we camped on a ridge above it. In the middle of the night, I woke to wolves howling in the valley below us.    

In the morning we zoomed down to the Upper Ray, enjoying awesome walking.  We saw our first sign of humans since leaving Kanuti, in the form of a survey cut.   We followed a hot stream of water through a dense patch of cow parsnip (the northernmost patch I have ever seen!) to where the water came out of a bluff into a neat pond. 

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The water was hot, and very refreshing, with minimal sulphur smell. Alas, we couldn’t spend all day there, and we headed for what we hoped to be a shortish day to the Lower Ray.   Ed had been here once before, and had hiked on the south side of the creek, and said the hiking was pretty bad. Instead, we tried to take game trails on the north side of the creek.. It mostly had good walking, but it was very indirect.  After several hours of averaging under a mile an hour in a straight line we gave up, and put in and tried floating. The Upper Ray is deeply incised in silt banks, so it was sort of like paddling through a mud canyon. And it was muddy. Everyone else seemed able to keep mud out of their boat, but I wasn’t, and by the end of the day my boat weighed a ton with all the extra mud in it.   I made a serious tactical error and left most of my food in my pack, which was stuffed into my boat, and I only had 2 candy bars for most of the day.. By late afternoon I was full-on hangry. Fortunately, Ed took pity on me, and gave me some more food to tide me over. Eventually we made it to the Lower Ray hot springs – hurrah!

Hot Springs Trifecta


The Lower Ray hot springs is a neat place. The hot water comes out of a gravel bank, and flows right into the Ray River.  It had by far the least alge I have ever seen in a hot spring. Alas, it also had cow parsnip. The camping was great, too — a heated gravel bar, how can anyone beat that! And ever better, there was an old cabin across the creek. I love old rusty stuff, and this cabin was full of it — some old, some new.. It looked like it had been visited somewhat recently, but alas was a bit run down..

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The final day, we floated out to the road.  This section of the Ray had several sections of class II-ish rapids.  They were just bouncy enough to be fun, but not very threatening. By late afternoon, we made it to our takeout, and after a short but steep climb to the road, we were at the truck, and heading home. 

The upper and lower Ray hot springs are unique and well worth visiting.  I am already scheming ways to get back there. 


Thanks for the company Ed, Matt, Patrick, Heath, and Chris!

Our route

Hutlinana

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Several years ago Tom and I visited Hutlinana hotsprings, only to find the springs washed out and no hot water. I had been hoping to go back, and with a free Sunday and Monday, and Nancy’s permission, we headed out to check it out. The drive out was slow, due to the unusual freezing rainfall we had been having lately, but uneventful. The hike in was fantastic, and we arrived to a wonderfully not washed out hot springs, and enjoyed a night of soaking and mellowing out around a campfire – hurrah!

The dogs had a blast hiking in, and sleeping in my tent.

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DSC01885They were very envious of Tom’s salmon strips, but alas he didn’t share. DSC01846

The hot springs was a fantastic temperature, perfect for soaking.

In the evening when we are all soaked out we enjoyed mellowing out around the campfire. I also played with taking slow shutter pictures.. DSC01922

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The steripen turned out to be pretty fun to photograph.. DSC01899

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The hike out was very fast, though a bit icey… DSC01925

.. And the drive home was a bit faster, but still slow.

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A Post Script – for folks looking for the “correct” entrance, take the pull off just before the blue “Adopt A Highway” sign, on the Fairbanks side of the bridge. Follow the atv trail to the river, cross the river, then look around for a big and well defined atv trail. That that upstream, and follow it to the hotsprings.

The Dunbar to Tolovana!

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

I have wanted to ski the Dunbar Trail to Tolovana Hotsprings for years now, and I finally got a chance! Tom, Remus, and I set out early on a fine Sunday morning, driving up to the end of Murphy Dome, then strapping on our skis (or in Remus’s case, dog booties) and headed down the trail.

The first 10 miles or so were all downhill to the Chatanika River. Once down to the Chatanika, it was not entirely clear how to get to the Dunbar, so Tom and I wandered around for a while, passing though a surprising large subdivision filled with cabins of all shapes and sizes looking for trails that were heading in the right direction and not marked with “No Trespassing!” signs. Eventually we hit the river, then headed down it a ways hoping to see were the Dunbar crosses. After about a half hour we turned around and headed back after not seeing anything. We retraced our ski tracks and heading up river we quickly found were the dunbar crosses, and turned off the river and headed to the hotsprings.

The trail was in amazingly good shape, nice and firm making for great skiing. The trail was surprisingly scenic for a winter trail though black spruce forest and swamp. The dunbar is pretty straight, occasionally making small jogs for no apparent reason. However the trail occasionally cut off the dunbar to follow a swamp or lake for a while for some chance of scenery. At one point we crossed a strange bridge in the middle of nowhere – sort of amusing, as to get to the bridge you had to cross a ton of very wet swamp, several small creeks, and the Chatanika River.

At about half way the dunbar climbs up a short hill, and near the top there was a wall tent platform, but alas no wall tent.

As I understand it, the folks running Tolovana Hotsprings have a warming tent here, which I am sure is very welcome in the colder parts of the winter. We enjoyed a bag of pre-cooked bacon to celebrate being half way, then zoomed down the hill. On the other side of the hill the trail got a bit narrower and a bit more overgrown, but otherwise was still very easy to follow.

Remus was a bit bemused by the length of this trip – after about 30 miles I think he started lying down and taking a nap when ever we stopped.

There were a couple small wind blown lakes that we had to cross and we had to be careful we didn’t miss were the trail exited the lake.

Eventually we reached the turn off for Tolovana, and headed to the hotsprings.

The trail from the Dunbar crosses some large open fields and swamps that were very beatiful when lit by the low angle evening sun.

Where the trail crosses the Tolovana River I was amazed how incised the banks are, and wrote off pack-rafting the Tolovana River, as the views of the banks would get old quickly I think. The drop down to the river and back up was very steep, and called for a bit of walking.

The sun went behind the hill just as we crossed the final swamp before the short climb to Tolovana.

As soon as we hit the trail up to the hot-springs Remus realized were we were, and spent the final mile running ahead and looking back at us, giving us “hurry up, we are almost there!” look about a thousand times. It must be hard to be a dog, and not know when you head off for a walk if it is going to be 5 miles or 50.

We finally arrived at the hotsprings just before sunset where we meet up with Henry, who had came in the short way, and had the cabin warmed up and water ready for us. I immediately started cooking dinner, and after chowing down we all headed off to enjoy the hot waters. The next day we spent the day eating, talking, soaking, and goofing off.

Henry entertained us with many stories of his bike racing days, and discussion of all things bike related among other things. My favorite tub at Tolovana, the middle one, had a huge amount of alge growing in it but Tom bravely volunteered to clean it up.

I took a short walk over to the airstrip, but eventually turned back as the lounging footwear I had brought, crocs, where filling with snow even with the plastic bags I had over my socks. The evening was spent with more chatting, eating, and soaking. The next day we headed out the short way to the Eliot Highway in a few inches of fresh snow, and back to town.

Thanks Tom and Henry for a truly wonderful trip, and to Nancy for letting me skip out on parenting duties for two nights. I have not skied much this year, and I think this trip just about doubled my season’s milage. Perhaps it is not recommended to do that in one 50 mile push, but I survived with minimal damage – hurrah!

The route in from Murphy Dome is about 46 miles, and took us about 13 hours which included a fair number of snack stops and several miles of extra wandering around. It was good skiing, but would have been top notch snowbiking, at least when we did it. There are a couple of tricky spots, but otherwise it was fairly straightforward. There are a number of small lakes and swamps to cross, and it looked like it could be easy to loose the trail in those spots, so budget some time for that.

Tolovana, 2012

Monday, September 24th, 2012

The last three years we have made a family trip to Tolovana Hotsprings. The first year the twins were carried and sledded out there, but the following years they hiked the 10+ miles each way under their own power. It has become a sign of the change of seasons, a marking of the end of fall and the coming of winter. Sometimes there is a bit of colder weather and even a little snow, reminding us of the winter that is coming. We have been joined by the twins friend Anna, her dad Ned and her mom Kristen, as well as Tom, and Ms Marsh.

The twins and Anna really enjoy Tolovana, with its places to explore..

Things to do..

And the wonderful hot tubs to enjoy.

I have fond memories of visiting Takhini Hotsprings and hiking out to cabins as a kid, so it is wonderful to have a chance to share these experiences with my daughters.
The twins and Anna have really grown up in the three years we have been hiking out to Tolovana, and they now hike along like little champions, playing lots of games, enjoying snacks, and generally having a great time.

This year’s hike was a bit earlier than usual, making for some muddy hiking. The sun was nice though, and we enjoyed the warmer temperatures.

There were some mud related moments of sadness as little people slipped and fell, lost boots in the sticky mud, or had muddy splash downs, but these were (thankfully) short.

Besides a bit of mud the hike in was great. The weather was so nice the little hikers didn’t even want to stop at the “marshmallow” , an old water tank converted into a shelter, and kept right on trucking.

Blueberry season was long gone, but the cranberries were out in force.

We made it to the hotsprings with enough time for the little hikers to enjoy a short soak before dinner. The bigger hikers all enjoyed longer soaks after dinner. The next day was wonderfully sunny, and the crew spent it mellowing out enjoying life.

After two days of sun, our final day arrived a bit cooler, with ice on the puddles. Everyone had a good hike out, although the little hikers impressed some disbelieving folks on our hike out. “You guys have a fourwheeler cached somewhere up here, right” .

Everyone made it out, some powered by gummies..

And some with their inner rockstar.

A huge thanks to everyone who joined us for this trip, your company makes these trips the wonderful experiences they are. I hope that this family tradition continues, here’s to fall hikes in the sun, the wind, and the snow!

A Kanuti hike and float

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

One of my favorite off the beaten path places to visit is Kanuti hot springs in the Kanuti national wildlife refuge. I have been in via skis and on foot, but wanted to try it as a packraft trip and see how it went. I had been warned by the god of interior packrafting that it could involve a lot of low water butt dragging, but our float had lots of water, and was wonderful.

I was a bit concerned it was going to be a long slow float, but the water moved at a nice pace, and there was a short section of class II that required a bit of maneuvering.

The hot springs was wonderful as usual. It is out of the way just enough that it does not get a lot of visitors, giving it a wonderful remote feel, even though it is fairly short hike in from the road.

The ground is wonderfully warm, and the soft warm grasses made for wonderful napping, only slightly spoiled by the mosquitos.

After a mellow evening of hanging around at the hotsprings, soaking and lolling about, we hit the sack. Our campsite was in a field of wild onions or chives, and was pleasantly fragrant.

In the morning, we had quick soaks, then started on our walk out.

The walk out was uneventful, but a bit windy at times.

It was a wonderful trip, thanks Tom and Ms Marsh for providing motivation. Its a fun trip, highly recommended, at least when the water is high.

A Fall trip to Tolovana Hotsprings

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Last year our family and some friends made a wonderfully fun trip to Tolovana Hotsprings. We had so much fun we decided to do it again, and this time the twins were old enough to (hopefully) walk the whole way under their own power – hurrah!

On a fine October morning our family headed out of town, after hitting the coffee shack for some morning wake up magic. We were followed by Anna and Ned. After a longish drive we arrived at the trailhead and eventually started ambling down the trail.

The pace was fast for little legs, requiring frequent snacking..

After a while the twins ended up with suspiciously snack covered faces.

The trail in to Tolovana is about 10 miles or so. It was in great shape for the most part, but there were a couple of sections requiring some puddle dodging.

The ice covered puddles gave the little people loads of entertainment.. Molly even found a dinosaur..

The ice dino was carried for a quarter of a mile before being left in a comfortable (and I was told, tasty!) field of grass.

The hike in was filled with games of various sorts including I Spy and variations on the Dora the Explorer troll game, where a grumpy troll asks three questions of the various hikers.

I introduced the twins to this game and they have found it so exciting I no longer get to play the troll and ask questions of them, but instead they ask questions of me. Easy questions like how much is 50 plus 50, and harder ones like how many trees are there in Alaska, and how many roots does that tree have.

It was a wonderfully warm (for early October) day on our hike in, with beautiful fall colors. Our slowish (for long legs) pace gave me time to enjoy the scenery.

We had all three dogs with us. The younger dog, Remus, was very excited to be out hiking, and spent the entire hike bouncing around joyfully.

The other two dogs, being older and more dignified, followed along in a more stately manner and enjoyed the slower pace of the short legged hikers. Sometimes they kept the girls company and provided a ready (though quiet) audience.

Togiak and Polar are 14, give or take a bit, and their adventuring days are numbered.

Eventually we reached the high point of the trail, near Tolovana Dome. There was much rejoicing..

The views were fantastic.

After the dome we started hiking down the final hill to the hotsprings. The little people started dragging a bit, and to motivate everyone, personalized bear bread (also called shelf or conk fungas) were made for each of the little hikers. Everyone was very proud of their fungi.

Eventually we arrived at the hotsprings, and after a short stop in our cabin we headed off to enjoy the hot water. Eventually we pried ourselves away from the water and had dinner. The twins and Anna appeared to eat about their body weight, and I started to worry they might explode.

Late in the evening our friends Tom and Ms Marsh arrived and joined us for a quiet after kid-bed-time soak.

The next day was spent goofing off and enjoying the hotsprings. I lolled around being slothful, while the twins and Anna alternated between having fun in the hot water and playing.


In the evening we ate more and entertained ourselves in various manners. At one point Molly covered Tom’s mouth with duct-tape, after arguing with him for at least half an hour about how it would not hurt to pull the tape off. Tom insisted that it would hurt, and only gave in once Molly demonstrated repeatedly that she could pull the tape of her face and not have it hurt. It did lead to a moment of silence as Tom was muffled.

Tom and Ms Marsh apparently didn’t get enough exercise on the way in, and used the three girls as leg curl machines. Molly and Lizzy were a bit put out that Tom couldn’t move them up and down quite as fast as Ms Marsh could move Anna. The twins were nonplused by Tom’s defense that there were two of them vs only one Anna.

I amused myself exploring the hotsprings area, catching up with Tom and Marsh, and taking pictures. Apparently I took a few too many pictures of the little people, as they started making faces whenever the camera came out…

After the twins hit the sack i got a nice long soak in the wonderful evening, enjoying the quiet and the stars. Alas, as I was walking back to the cabin I noticed that the wind had started blowing fairly hard. As i drifted off to sleep that evening I could hear the wind howling over the trees as a brisk wind developed.. Ah well, Tolovana wouldn’t be complete without a good wind!

The next day the twins, Anna, and Nancy started hiking out early, while Ned and I finished the final pack-up chores and gave the cabin a final cleaning before leaving to catch up. The morning sun on the hillside above the hotsprings was beautiful.

On the way out I stopped and chatted with Tom and Marsh. They planned to leave in the afternoon and would pass us on the trail, powered by their longer legs. The hike out was a bit windy and frosty, but not unpleasant by Tolovana standards.


To pass the time the girls and Nancy left motivational fungas signs on top of the mile markers, with a different name on each marker for the first handful of miles. Tom, Ms Marsh, and a fellow we encountered at the hotsprings, Patrick, all got their own fungus sign.

Patrick passed us on the way out, and the girls asked him if he had seen the sign. He was very amused – he apparently thought someone from the group he hiked in with was playing a joke on him. At the last mile marker he left three jerky pieces and a nice note thanking the girls for the fungus.

The little people were troopers and hiked along, powered by games, snacks, and songs.


We stopped at the water tank shelter and everyone jumped around inside enjoying a (noisy) break from the wind.

The hike out was scenic and windy but uneventful. There was a beautiful frost that was a wonderful reminder that my favorite season was almost here.

We eventually reached the parking lot, loaded up and headed home.

A big thanks to Ned, Tom, and Ms Marsh for coming along on this trip – thanks for coming along and adding to the fun!

I was very, very impressed by the little folks, Molly, Lizzy, and Anna. They were fantastic hikers! Anna in particular was quite a trooper as this hike was about twice as long as she had ever hiked under her own power – go Anna! You guys have now set the standard – if three 5 year olds can hike into Tolovana and enjoy it, anyone can!