OverviewAlaska Railroad to Denali National Park. Seeing and really experiencing Alaska takes time though, and no trip to Alaska is really complete without experiencing the Interior of Alaska. There is nothing quite like a trip to one of villages in the bush, going to the Tanana Valley State Fair, experiencing -65 degree temperatures in the dead of winter, watching a dog sled race, taking a float trip down the Yukon River, flying over vast areas that are free of roads and powerlines or getting a front-row seat to sensational displays of northern lights. While Denali and the Alaskan glaciers are stunning and magnificent, Interior Alaska is truly the “heart of Alaska” and the Yukon-Tanana Uplands are the heart of the Interior.
The Yukon-Tanana Uplands are a region of small mountains and hills in the east-central part of the state that is bounded on the east by Canada, on the north by the Yukon River and on the south by the Yukon’s greatest tributary, the Tanana River. About 20 % of this region is swampy lowland area, with the southern part of the Yukon Flats being the largest of the lowland areas. To the north of the Yukon River is the Brooks Range while to the south is the Alaska Range. From east to west, the Yukon-Tanana Uplands spans over 300 miles while the north to south distances vary from the point of the rivers confluence up to 170 miles from Fort Yukon to Big Delta. The total land area is around 30,000 square miles, making this region larger than the combined areas of New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia.
The only city of any size in the area is Fairbanks, Alaska’s second-largest city. The Fairbanks metropolitan area has around 100,000 residents and includes many smaller towns and places like College, North Pole, Eielson Air Force Base, Badger, Fox and other small communities. Most of the towns in the rest of the uplands are located near the Yukon or Tanana Rivers with only a few hundred residents (or less) in each community. Though these villages may be small, they are vital for their locations and the medical, communications and transportation services they offer. Some of these would include Tok, Delta Junction, Big Delta, Deltana, Fort Greely, Eagle, Central, Circle, Minto and Manley Hot Springs. Other communities that are located just across the rivers from the Yukon-Tanana Uplands that are important to the area include Fort Yukon, Nenana and Tanana. Alaska does not have counties, but instead has boroughs. The Yukon-Tanana Uplands include large areas of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the Southeast Fairbanks Borough and the Yukon-Koyukuk Borough.
People visit the uplands for a variety of reasons. Besides business and family interests, visitors travel to the region for hiking, rock climbing, fishing, hunting, camping, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, bird watching, and gold panning. The majority of rock climbing opportunities lie in two areas: 1. Grapefruit Rocks, about 10 miles north of Wickersham Dome; and 2. Angel Creek Rocks and Granite Tors at the Chena River State Recreation Area. Photographers find the area rich with opportunities, thanks to abundant wildlife, mountains, streams and northern lights. Critical to all these activities, is the means to access the Yukon-Tanana Uplands.
Access to the Yukon-Tanana UplandsThe vast majority of visitors to the Yukon-Tanana Uplands arrive by way of Fairbanks, usually by plane, train or motor vehicle. Those driving to Fairbanks generally arrive via the Parks Highway or the Alaska Highway, which also shares roadway with the Richardson Highway. From Fairbanks, there are a variety of ways that residents and visitors can access the Yukon-Tanana Uplands. The two primary ways are by road and by air. Long ago, people traveled by dog sled over trails through the region. That method is not used much anymore, with dog sleds being used more for racing these days. People can travel and bring cargo up the Yukon River by small boats or barges, but that is dependable only in summer and early fall weather, before ice cuts off boat traffic. The Tanana River is not as deep, so most of the traffic up the river is only on the lower sections. Road and air traffic have proven to be the most reliable forms of transportation. Traffic by road is pretty much channeled through several major roads into the uplands.
The Steese Highway is the longest roadway through the Yukon-Tanana Uplands, and shares space with all the traffic outbound from Fairbanks heading to the Elliott Highway and the Dalton Highway. Fairbanks area residents often call it the Steese Expressway. From Fairbanks to the village of Circle, on the Yukon River, is a distance of 160 miles. The Steese Highway is paved for the first 80 miles north of Fairbanks, then turns into a dirt road. Congress designated the Steese Highway as a National Scenic Highway. The roadway was originally built to service the gold mining activities in the region. The White Mountains National Recreation Area is best accessed from the Steese Highway at the Nome Creek Road junction, 57 miles north of Fairbanks. The Steese National Conservation Area can be accessed by the Steese Highway and through the Circle Hot Springs Road, 122 miles north of Fairbanks.
The Elliott Highway begins at the town of Fox, about 10 miles north of Fairbanks. It extends 152 miles to Manley Hot Springs. It is paved all the way to the junction with the Dalton Highway, near Livengood. From there, the rest of the road is unpaved. The town of Minto is accessible by way of a side road from the Elliott Highway, and the village of Tofty is accessible by a rough 25-mile ATV road from Manley Hot Springs. The stretch from Livengood to Manley Hot Springs is very remote with little traffic and is vulnerable to washouts and blizzards. Cell phone service along this stretch is pretty much non-existent. This is not a good place to break down.
The Dalton Highway is a 414-mile road through the Alaskan Wilderness that goes as far north as the shores of the Arctic Ocean. It begins at a junction with the Elliott Highway about 80 miles north of Fairbanks. The Dalton Highway has been called the “last great wilderness road on earth”. At 55 miles, the Dalton Highway leaves the Yukon-Tanana Uplands when it crosses the Yukon River and continues its journey north to the Arctic Ocean.
The Taylor Highway provides travelers with some of the best scenery in the state. The 160-mile road runs from Tetlin Junction to the village of Eagle, on the Yukon River. This route is popular with rafters and kayakers, since it provides access points to both the Yukon and the Fortymile Wild and Scenic River. A branch highway from the Taylor Highway, the Top of the World Highway, also called the “Klondike Loop” goes east over high ridges to Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. The first 60 miles of the Taylor Highway is paved, and the rest is gravel. Winter snows are the reason for the road to be officially closed from October to April, but it is still available to use for snowmobilers.
Chena Hot Springs Road provides access to the Chena River State Recreation Area and Chena Hot Springs Resort. The 56-mile road from Fairbanks is paved and well-maintained. The resort offers shuttle service for those without a vehicle. Camping opportunities are abundant there with cabins and three campgrounds available. Hikers enjoy access to Chena Dome and Bear Paw Butte, as well as several trails in the area. Angel Rocks and Granite Tors are also popular hikes, and both offer some good rock climbing routes. The Chena River offers great opportunities for canoeing and kayaking.
Air Traffic in the Yukon-Tanana Uplands
Small landing strips are found at almost every community in the Yukon-Tanana Uplands. In addition, landing strips are found at key locations for guided hunting and fishing trips and access to public recreation areas. This link will take you to a website that provides a wealth of contacts for charter air service in the Yukon-Tanana Uplands and elsewhere in Alaska: FlyAlaska.net
Boat Traffic Resources for the Yukon-Tanana Uplands
The links below provide access to websites that give watercraft advice and links to service providers.
Yukon River Trip Planning
Alaska Jet Boat & Riverboat Tours
Alaska River Trip Planning
Summits & Trails of the Yukon-Tanana UplandsLists of John maintains extensive lists of summits throughout Alaska, with details and maps for each peak. Trails exist for some of the summits, while most other summits require an off-trail approach. Because of the population concentration in the Fairbanks area, there are obviously more named summits and more trails readily accessible there. The list of summits and trails below are separated by area of access. There are other named summits in these areas, but most of them require roadway or off-trail ascents. This list is not exhaustive, but does cover many of the more commonly-visited summits.
Bear Paw Butte
Chena Dome Trail
Angel Rocks Trail
Granite Tors Trail
Table Top Mountain Trail
Pinnell Mountain Trail
Cache Mountain / White Mountains NRA Trails
Another popular summit along this route would include Pedro Dome, which can be accessed from Pedro Dome Road. Pedro Dome Road is next to Cleary Summit on the Steese Highway. Mount Ryan is also in this area, and can be accessed by the Fairbanks-Circle Historic Trail, for those who do not mind sharing a trail with ATV’s and 4X4’s.
Wickersham Dome Trail
Grapefruit Rocks Trail
Bert Mountain Trail
Mosquito Fork Hiking Trail
Quartz Lake Loop Trail
Two other significant summits along the Taylor Highway would include Mount Fairplay and Taylor Mountain. Also, two of the highest summits in the Yukon-Tanana Uplands, Mount Harper and Mount Eldridge, are located further inland from the highway and require other means to access them.
Some other useful links to map resources are posted below.
USGS Topo Maps for Alaska
Alaska State Parks Trails
White Mountains National Recreation AreaBeaver Creek, a nationally designated wild river, flows through the White Mountains on its way to join the Yukon River. The area is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. Mount Prindle, at 5,286 feet, is the highpoint in the recreation area. Table Top Mountain and Cache Mountain are two other mountains popular with visitors. The recreation area has a dozen public-use cabins and 250 miles of groomed trails, which makes the area a great winter destination to snowmobile, snowshoe, run dog sleds and ski. The White Mountains are accessible on the west by the Elliott Highway, through a trail network by Wickersham Dome. On the east side, visitors can access the recreation area by the Steese Highway and Nome Creek Road in the Mount Prindle area. For more information, click on any of the links below:
White Mountains National Recreation Area
White Mountain National Recreation Area Trail Maps
Downloadable pdf Map for the White Mountain National Recreation Area
Steese National Conservation AreaThe Pinnell Mountain Trail runs through the NCA, giving hikers and climbers better access to the summits and valleys in this remote region. The Birch Creek Wild and Scenic River runs through the NCA, offering visitors some great opportunities for river float trips and camping. The NCA is an important area to migrating caribou, plus Dall sheep are found here – something out of the norm for much of interior Alaska. Photographers appreciate all the opportunities these and other wildlife species provide here, including moose, bears, wolves, raptors and fox. For more information, check out the links below.
Steese National Conservation Area
Steese National Conservation Area downloadable pdf map
Yukon-Charley Rivers National PreserveForty Mile River, a designated Wild and Scenic River is just to the south of the Yukon-Charley National Preserve, and adds yet another great whitewater opportunity. For those who love solitude, great camping and fishing, beautiful scenery and adventure, this is your place.
Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve
Planning a River Float Trip
Yukon-Charley National Preserve Map
Chena River State Recreation AreaChena Hot Springs Resort. For more information on this state park, check out the links below.
Chena River State Recreation Area
Chena River State Recreation Area Trails
Chena River State Recreation Area downloadable pdf brochure
Tanana Valley State ForestEagle Trail State Recreational Site is the only developed campground in the Tanana Valley State Forest. For a pdf map of the state forest, click on the link below.
Tanana Valley State Forest
Managing Agencies & Red Tape
Alaska Native Corporations
Explore Alaska Native Corporations
The agencies below manage various public lands in the Yukon-Tanana Uplands. Since regulations, fees, boundaries and permit requirements can change periodically, it is best to check the site for the area you wish to visit, or at least call their Alaska office with any questions or requests you may have.
Alaska State Parks
DNR PIC - Fairbanks
3700 Airport Way
Fairbanks, AK 99709-4699
phone: (907) 451-2705
Bureau of Land Management
Fairbanks District Office
1150 University Avenue
Fairbanks, Alaska 99709
(907) 474-2200 or
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Alaska Region
101 12th Ave. #110
Fairbanks, AK 99701
National Park Service – Alaska Regional Office
240 W. 5th Ave.
Anchorage, AK 99501
Alaska Division of Forestry
3700 Airport Way
Fairbanks, AK 99709
Phone: (907) 451-2600
When to Climb & Explore
NOAA National Weather Service Alaska Region Headquarters
Weather Underground Forecasts & Conditions
Alaska hunting seasons may be a concern, depending on where you wish to venture. You can check Alaska hunting season information and contact information at the link below:
Alaska Hunting Information & Seasons
Camping & Lodging Resources
BLM Campgrounds in the Yukon-Tanana Uplands
Explore Fairbanks Campground List
Alaska Public Lands Campground Guide
Alaska State Park Campgrounds
Tanana Valley Campground and Park