At Mile 57, the road ends at the sprawling Chena Hot Springs Resort (907/451-8104, www.chenahotsprings.com ) that always seems to be adding something new. Owner Bernie Karl is working to create a completely off-the-grid settlement where everything runs on geothermal energy, from the refrigeration system that cools an ice museum all summer to the greenhouses filled with year-round tomatoes.
Chena’s featured attraction is, of course, the hot springs, discovered by Anglos in 1905. The water comes out of the spring at nearly 160°F, and is a little under 110°F in the pools. There’s an indoor pool and hot tub, plus a second outdoor hot tub, a redwood deck, and a large sandy-bottom pond that is best experienced when the stars are obscured by the aurora borealis.
It’s all first-rate, but only adults (over age 18) are allowed in the outdoor pond. Resort guests (except campers and RVers) get free access to the springs, but if you aren’t staying here a day pass costs $10 adults, $8 seniors and children ages 6–17, free for younger children. Towels are $5 extra. The pools are open daily 7 a.m.–midnight.
A unique feature at Chena is the Aurora Ice Museum, the largest year-round ice environment in the world. Step inside the 30-foot-high arched structure to view intricately carved pieces crafted by famed ice artist Steve Brice, including chandeliers, a giant chess set, life-size jousting knights on horses, and a bar made entirely from ice. Tours of the ice museum are $15 adults, $8 children. Add $15 to enjoy a Stoli apple martini in a goblet carved from ice; you keep the “glass.” For the complete experience, spend a night snuggled beneath reindeer hides atop ice beds. The cost is an icy $600 d, but this also includes a room in the main lodge when you get too chilly.
All sorts of activities are available at the 440-acre resort (for an extra fee), including rafting, canoe rentals, fishing, mountain bike rentals, and horseback rides in the summer, along with dogsled rides, a dog mushing school, snowmobiling, horse-drawn sleigh rides, cross-country skiing (8 miles of groomed trails), and ice skating in the winter. And if that isn’t enough, the resort has free activities such as volleyball, badminton, hiking, horseshoes, and basketball.
In the summer months Chena Hot Springs attracts a mixed American and European crowd, but in winter it’s even busier with Japanese travelers who come to experience the spectacular northern lights shows. You’ll see aurora displays 90 percent of the winter nights here, and you can even watch in heated comfort at the glass-enclosed aurorium. If you visit in winter, don’t miss the nightly snow coach tours to a heated mountaintop yurt with panoramic vistas ($70 for a 4-hour adventure). These depart at 10 p.m., returning at 2 a.m.
Along with the hot springs and ice museum, the resort offers hotel rooms and suites ($189–289 d), bring-your-sleeping-bag yurts ($65 d), plus summer-only tent and RV sites ($20 with showers). The Victorian-style dining room specializes in steaks, prime rib, chicken, pasta, and seafood, but is also open daily for breakfast and lunch. Chena is an hour’s drive east of Fairbanks. If you don’t have wheels, the resort provides a shuttle van from Fairbanks  for $75–115 per person roundtrip.