Nome-Council Highway Scenic Drive

The Nome - Council Road runs east of Nome 72 miles and takes 2 hours one-way without stops. For the most variety and plenty of Alaskan character, take this road to the community of Council. You’ll head out of town along coastal flats, grasslands, and wide, sandy beaches, following the coast of the Bering Sea northeast for about 30 miles before turning inland. Get out and beachcomb for old artifacts and beach glass washed ashore by storms. Stop at Safety Sound, a prime area for birdwatching, and enjoy refreshments at Safety Roadhouse, the last checkpoint on the Iditarod. Like thousands of past patrons, you’ll want to leave your mark here by signing a dollar bill and sticking it on the ceiling, wall, or doorframe.

One of the most famous sites around these parts, the “Last Train to Nowhere,” comes into view at around 33 miles. This remnant of the Council City and Solomon Railroad is sinking slowly into the water-logged tundra, where it’s been for more than 100 years. Head out to the viewing platform, for a quintessential photo. Continuing on, you’ll see that many rivers cross the road. Even if you’re not fishing, stop and enjoy the crystal-clear view to the shallow river bottoms. Another thing to watch for in summer: dried fish hanging from driftwood racks at many of the camps along the way.

As you approach Council, you may notice one of the things Nome residents like best about it…there are trees! Many Nome-ites collect Christmas trees from this area before the road closes in the fall. At the end of the road, you’ll find that a river crosses the entrance to Council. Nome residents cross this river in their cars regularly, but it is important to know the routing to avoid large holes. It is not recommended that visitors attempt this crossing without assistance. Instead, turn right and you’ll come to an area from which local residents cross in boats. You may be able to catch a ride from someone going across by boat or car.

You won’t find many people in Council. Very few families live here year-round, although 30-40 more families reside here during the summer months. It’s quite a change from gold rush days, when some 15,000 people lived here while chasing their dreams. Still, some of the old log cabins still stand, making it a fun little town to explore.

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Driving Guide Points

Begin­ning in the sum­mer of 1899, thou­sands of men, women, and chil­dren worked shoul­der-to-shoul­der to glean trea­sure from these shores after news of Nome’s Gold­en Beach­es” rock­et­ed around the world. To this day, hearty inde­pen­dent min­ers con­tin­ue to work many area beach­es with high bankers and sluice box­es. Most find them­selves brav­ing the cold waters in wet­suits to oper­ate small, mod­ern, float­ing suc­tion dredges essen­tial­ly vacuuming  ...more

The bridge marks a mix­ing zone where fresh riv­er water meets tidal salt water and turns brack­ish. This cre­ates a blend of water types and habi­tats and attracts many dif­fer­ent birds to areas of open water or the mud-bar edges of islands. Look for geese, cranes, shore­birds, and gulls in good num­bers, even unusu­al species like Arc­tic loon, red knot, black-tailed god­wit, red-necked stint, ivory gull, and white wag­tail. Also spot spawn­ing salmon.   ...more

Beyond the bridge, a long line of small build­ings hugs the coast where a U.S. Army post once stood dur­ing the ear­ly gold rush. Fort Davis was dis­man­tled in 1923 as Nome’s econ­o­my declined. The build­ings you see today are local­ly-owned hunt­ing and fish­ing sub­sis­tence camps. The Inu­pi­at used this area well before the sol­diers arrived because of diverse and abun­dant birds, fish, and mam­mals. Please do not dis­turb or trespass.

As you round Cape Nome, the Cape Nome Road­house is on the shore-side of the road. Road-hous­es once flour­ished along trails around the state, pro­vid­ing food and shel­ter for win­ter trav­el­ers who often arrived by dog team or horse-drawn sleigh. The Cape Nome Road­house also served as an orphan­age after the dev­as­tat­ing epi­demics of the ear­ly 1900s and as a World War II com­mu­ni­ca­tions base. It is now a pri­vate­ly-owned camp.

The Safe­ty Sound road­house still opens in sum­mer to offer trav­el­ers shel­ter from the rain or a cool bev­er­age to wash down the dust. It’s closed the rest of the year except for sev­er­al weeks in March, when it serves as the final check­point for the Idi­tar­od Trail Sled Dog Race. The Safe­ty Bridge is a good van­tage point to watch chang­ing tides and the move­ment of large and small fish and their preda­tors. Scan for the bob­bing heads of seals  ...more

Imme­di­ate­ly after the bridge, a turn-off on the inland side of the road leads to sev­er­al inter­pre­tive signs and a board­walk for wildlife viewing.

Safe­ty Lagoon slow­ly nar­rows and mix­es with wet­lands, ponds, and the Bonan­za Riv­er estu­ary. Thou­sands of tun­dra swan move through this area on their spring migra­tion. Breed­ing swans move on to upland ponds to nest and raise their young, while non-breed­ing birds may remain all sum­mer. In the fall, parts of the lagoon and Solomon Riv­er wet­lands turn white with huge groups of swans prepar­ing for fall migration.

In the fall, peo­ple fish for tom­cod from the bridge. Deep div­ing ducks feed in the chan­nel depths of the Bonan­za Riv­er. Sand­hill crane feed on berries, plant shoots, roots, insects, and even small rodents. Red-throat­ed loon and, less com­mon­ly, Pacif­ic loon float the waters.

Just across Bonan­za Bridge, three rusty steam loco­mo­tives and some rolling stock lie sink­ing into the water-logged tun­dra. Dubbed The Last Train to Nowhere,” they are all that remain of a dream to build the most exten­sive and pros­per­ous rail sys­tem on the Seward Penin­su­la. In the ear­ly 1900s, Chica­go investors backed con­struc­tion of the Coun­cil City & Solomon Riv­er Rail­road in an effort to link the region’s major min­ing cen­ters by rail.  ...more

The town of Solomon has had sev­er­al names and loca­tions since the Fish Riv­er tribe estab­lished a fish­ing and hunt­ing camp called Amu­tach on a sand­bar between the Bonan­za and Solomon Rivers. In 1899, when gold was dis­cov­ered in the grav­els of the Solomon Riv­er, a min­ing boom­town sprang up on the site with a post office, sev­er­al saloons, a rail­road ter­mi­nal, a fer­ry dock, and over 2,000 res­i­dents. Thir­teen large dredges worked the Solomon River.  ...more

Shov­el Creek pass­es under the road through a dou­ble cul­vert before it enters the Solomon Riv­er. A year-round spring that feeds the creek near the road keeps the water from freez­ing in win­ter. This attracts dip­pers, beaver, mink, and otter and encour­ages the growth of cot­ton­woods. The spring-fed creek also offers a mod­er­ate amount of spawn­ing habi­tat for pink, chum, and coho salmon in late July and August. Dol­ly Var­den are present but few Arctic  ...more

Lee’s Dredge, the last dredge to work the Solomon Riv­er, was oper­at­ed by the Lee fam­i­ly until the 1960s. It now pro­vides nest­ing plat­forms for rap­tors and ravens. You may see green-winged teal and phalaropes feed­ing in the dredge pond and song­birds in the sur­round­ing willows.

An old road bed lead­ing to a Solomon Riv­er over­look is a good spot to look for salmon, Dol­ly Var­den, and Arc­tic grayling in late July and August. Say’s phoebe will launch from its nest to catch insects. North­ern shrike, har­le­quin duck, spot­ted sand­piper, and wan­der­ing tat­tler are also seen. In some years, the cliff is occu­pied by com­mon raven, rough-legged hawk, or oth­er rap­tors so be care­ful your pres­ence does not dis­turb nest­ing birds. 

In 1904 a tele­phone line ran from Nome to the rail­road ter­mi­nus at Dick­son, to the min­ing camps up Big Hur­rah Creek, and on to Coun­cil. For one brief sum­mer, parcels could be mailed to any point in the U.S. and mon­ey orders sent world­wide. The Coun­cil City & Solomon Riv­er Rail­road also ran past, offer­ing min­ers a one-hour trip to the coast. Griz­zlies, moose, muskox, and rein­deer are fre­quent­ly sight­ed between the creek and East Fork Bridge.  ...more

Approach­ing the East Fork of Solomon Riv­er, a wide pull-off on the left is an excel­lent place to park and scan the slopes and riv­er val­ley for wildlife. North­ern wheatear and Amer­i­can pip­it fre­quent the rocky slopes near­by. Cliff swal­low often build nests on the bridge sup­ports, and ravens and rap­tors occa­sion­al­ly nest in the area. This view of the riv­er makes it easy to find red-breast­ed mer­ganser, har­le­quin duck, tat­tlers, and gulls.

The rocky out­crop across the Solomon Riv­er usu­al­ly hosts an active gold­en eagle nest. Look for a huge tow­er of sticks and splash­es of white­wash and orange lichen in the vicin­i­ty of the nest and sur­round­ing perch­ing sites. Built by eagles and added onto in suc­ces­sive years, the nest i s dis­tinc­tive for its large size, con­struc­tion, and shape. When not occu­pied by eagles, the large nest may be used by gyrfalcons.

Descend­ing into ter­rain increas­ing­ly dom­i­nat­ed by trees and wil­lows, you are more like­ly to see a moose than a muskox. In late sum­mer griz­zlies feed on spawn­ing chum salmon below the Fox Riv­er bridge. Salmon car­cass­es also attract red fox, gulls, and com­mon ravens. Both aban­doned and active beaver lodges and dams are found along the Fox Riv­er drainage. Dol­ly Var­den, Arc­tic grayling, and chum and pink salmon can be seen from the bridge.  ...more