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Tolovana River

Fairbanks, Alaska

More than 100 miles long, Alaska’s Tolovana River winds through and creates a remote, spruce-lined wilderness known for its solitude, hot springs, and, to anglers, its superb grayling, northern pike, and salmon fishing. Roughly 50 air miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Fairbanks and not accessible via road, adventures on this waterway are for those who thrive on deep backcountry adventures.

Welcome to the Last Frontier. With its headwaters in the remote Yukon-Tanana Upland, the Tolovana River flows through dense groves of birch and spruce, winding through valleys rich with moose, bears, caribou, eagles, and more quintessential Alaskan wildlife. The nearest “town” is Minto, though you won’t find much there—and you certainly won’t find any roads to the river.

Some will know the Tolovana for its association with Tolovana Hot Springs, the most remote of the region’s “big four” hot springs. Those wishing to enjoy the springs will need to hike (or dogsled or helicopter) a minimum of 10 miles (16 kilometers) to access the water—this spot is all about nature at its wildest.

  • If you want to fish, ensure you have an Alaska fishing license before you toss in that line.

  • The Tolovana River area is home to black bears and grizzly bears. Carry bear spray—and know how to use it properly.

  • This area is incredibly remote and only recommended for avid backcountry experts.

The simplest way to reach the water is via the Steese Highway—the water crosses right under it, about 30 minutes west of Fairbanks. However, at 117 miles (188 kilometers) long, that exact spot may not be best for you, and it certainly won’t offer the remoteness some may be looking for. Otherwise, you can also hike, snowshoe, or dogsled in from the Elliott Highway or charter a helicopter out of Fairbanks.

Technically, you can always access the river—though sometimes you’ll be snowshoeing over two feet of snow to get there. In Alaska’s interior, temperatures vary between toe-freezing colds and surprising warms. That part’s up to you; just know what you’re in for (and remember that mosquitos are also a summer factor).

If you aim to reach Tolovana Hot Springs, the simplest way to get there—beyond paying out the nose for a chartered flight—is via the 10.1-mile (16.2-kilometer) trail off Elliot Highway at milepost 93. It’s open year-round and suitable for hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. Though three rustic cabins are available, you must hike in with your own food and water.


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