A short or long day hike awaits at Angel Rocks, a scenic drive out Chena Hot Springs Road and within easy range of the rejuvenating waters that have drawn travelers for over a century. Angel Rocks is a popular attraction in itself, with unique geologic formations formed by molten rock forced upward from the deep layers of the Earth, which cooled and hardened close to the surface. As the ground eroded around them, these granite pillars have been exposed and are now impossible to miss. They date back for millions of years and stand fewer than two miles off the road.
To get to the trailhead for either hike, take Chena Hot Springs Road and look for signs pointing to the Angel Rock Trailhead, about 49 miles from Fairbanks. If you’ve reached the hot springs, you’ve gone too far. Both trails fall within Chena River State Recreation Area, and there is a small fee required to park at the trailhead. A picnic area and restrooms are also available here. Watch for blueberries along the trails in late August. Just remember—bears love them, too!
Angel Rocks Trail (3.5 mile loop)
The best option for a short day trip in this area is the 3.5-mile loop that begins on even ground along the north fork of the Chena River and then sharply climbs up 900ft. in elevation to peak among a half dozen granite outcrops that jut from the hillside. Climb on top for spectacular views of the valley. The trail is clearly marked from the parking lot. Scrambling onto these rocks provides a clear view of the landscape, unobstructed by trees and standing high above the road on which you arrived. Once you’re at the top, you can continue on the loop, return back by the trail on which you came, or make your way to the lip of the ridge to try and glimpse the Alaska Range. This trail is 1,750 ft. in elevation at its highest point. The hike takes two or three hours, but you should allow plenty of time to take in the scenery, climb on the rocks, or have lunch at the top. You might see rock climbers and rappelers taking turns scaling or descending the faces around you.
Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs Trail (8.3 miles one-way)
For a longer hike to end with a refreshing dip in natural hot springs, park at the same trailhead and follow the signs to the 8.3-mile (one-way) Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Spring Trail. This trail begins on the same route as the shorter loop, but continues over a ridge (reaching 2,800 ft. in elevation at its highest point) to Chena Hot Springs Resort. On a clear day, hikers are rewarded with views of the Alaska Range, Chena Dome, Far Mountain, and Bear Paw Butte. A trail shelter is available on a first-come, first-serve basis at just past the halfway point. A natural spring occasionally bubbles up not far after, but hikers shouldn’t rely on this as a water source. The trail splits into upper and lower routes at six miles, and both end at Chena Hot Springs Resort. The upper trail includes a spur off to the peak of Bear Paw Butte.
Allow at least five to eight hours to complete this hike in one direction. A dip in the springs costs $15 (plus $5 for a towel, or bring your own), and most hikers find it easy to hitchhike from the resort back to their cars at the trailhead.