OverviewTucked away 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks is a small resort and recreation area along the Chena River. An eco-resort with a hot springs pool, Chena Hot Springs is the starting point for several hiking trails which lead to fantastic viewpoints for the Northern Lights and the surrounding mountains, which rise as high at 4,421 feet (at the summit of Chena Dome).
Unofficially named "Bear Paw Butte" shows up as Point 2465 on topographic maps. It is 1300 feet above the Chena Hot Springs resort, and offers a 270 degree view of the surrounding mountains, including Chena Dome. Although the hike is only about three miles round trip from the resort, it is a perfect hike for visitors to the resort, and/or a warm up hike for the larger peaks in the area.
While technically, this could be referred to as a point in ones backyard, few backyards are this spectacular. Climbing in late-April on a sunny 60 degree day, there was still snow on the ground. However, at the summit, the moss was warm, and we could lie there resting before the descent, looking at a clear blue sky, hearing the sounds of pristine nature, and viewing snow-covered peaks in the near distance.
Getting ThereTHE DRIVE
Your starting point is the Chena Hot Springs resort, 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Getting there is rather straight-forward. You take the Chena Hot Springs Road from Fairbanks. The road is relatively straight and paved the entire length until you reach the resort. You need to watch for Moose in the late-Spring and Summer, as they may jump right in front of your car when you least expect it.
The trail begins behind the pool and spa. You can also take a road behind and to the right of the pool and spa. They both lead to the same place, but the trail has better views to motivate you in the early hiking stages. The trail specifically starts just left of an obvious ski run. The trail curves to the left, passes a cabin on a dirt road, and then turns back into a trail on the right side of the road. Up the trail, you reach another small road and several trails coming together, and see a sign for the Ridge trail. You go straight uphill. At this point, you have about 1 mile to go. It is relatively steep. You continue to hike up the trail as the trees start to thin out. The trail ends at the obvious summit where a rock formation marks the spot.
An alternate, longer route is discussed in the external links section.
Red TapeNone specifically. This area is rather remote, but accessible by road. There are no restrictions to hiking in the area. A good starting point for this hike is the Chena Hot Springs resort. While it is not necessarily required that you stay there to do this hike, it is unlikely that someone would drive all this way just to hike Bear Paw Butte. It is an excellent sub-2 hour hike for visitors to the resort.
When to Climb
Bear Paw Butte, indeed all the big mountains in this area, can be climbed all year-round. However, during the winter months, be prepared for extreme weather. Temperatures of 40 below 0 is common during winter months. This hike is best done in late-spring or early fall. It gets very hot during the summer, with far more mosquitoes. I reached the summit on April 23rd, 2007, and the weather and conditions were perfect, and the snow wasn't too bad.
CampingThere are camping opportunities in the area. The Chena Hot Springs resort offers trail maps and camping areas at their activities center.
External LinksChena Hot Springs Resort
Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs Trail
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