At Pilgrim Hot Springs, balsam poplar, cottonwood and pine trees surround a clearing with about 15 old buildings, and steaming hot springs. The spot, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is found at the end of picturesque 68-mile drive along some of the area’s prettiest road – past old mining claims, and river valleys. Some locals call it the “Shangri-la of the North.”
In the early 1900s, the property was known as Kruszgamepa Hot Springs and was a recreation center for miners attracted by its spa baths, saloon, dance hall and roadhouse. The roadhouse and saloon burned in 1908, and afterward the property was given Father Bellarmine Lafortune, who turned it into a Catholic mission and orphanage.
Many children lived at Pilgrim Hot Springs. The Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 had struck Native communities the hardest, leaving many orphans. The environment created by the hot springs allowed for indoor plumbing (as the water didn’t freeze), and in the summer the ground was thawed enough to successfully grow food. The orphanage operated until 1941.
Ruins of the mission school, church and other properties remain at the site and there are a couple of thermal pools where visitors can soak in the water – if you can handle the 178-degree temps!
The 320-acres around Pilgrim Hot Springs is now owned by Unataaq, LLC, a consortium of Alaska Native corporations. It has a lot of potential for future development – both as a tourist attraction and as a possible source of geothermal energy to help reduce electricity costs in nearby Nome.
Before you go
Visitors are requested to obtain a no-fee recreational use permit before going. You can get one at the Nome Visitors Center, the Aurora Inn, or from Bering Straits Native Corporation offices. (907) 443-5252.
Pack food, water and anything else you’ll need for the trip. There are no amenities along with way. Mosquito repellent is recommended.
Hot springs your thing?
Learn about Serpentine Hot Springs in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. It’s 120 miles northeast of Nome, but rewarding for the well-prepared traveler.