Scenic winter wilderness travel accentuated by a relaxing stint at backcountry hot springs.
This is a trip that shows off the expansive beauty and hidden treasures of Interior Alaska. There is hardly anything more enjoyable than viewing the northern stars and shimmering aurora from a steaming hot tub, deep in the remote Alaskan wilderness! This trip is an out and back, with a focus on aurora viewing and enjoyment of the hot springs rather than extended wilderness travel. After a day of orientation and gear check at Arctic Dog Adventure Co, we will take one day to travel to the hot springs; one day to soak and relax in the hot tubs; then one day to mush back out to the trailhead. We travel along ridge lines, across frozen swamps, and over a wind blown gap before dropping down into the creek valley on the south side of Tolovana Dome that houses the natural hot springs. This trip will include one night at our homestead and two nights in a warm rustic cabin, fully immersed in the rustic luxury that is Tolovana Hot Springs. Private cabin upgrades available.
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult because of 2, 1000 foot climbs where you will need to help the dogs by pushing the sled uphill and be able to balance adequately to manage the sled brake on the descent.
No previous mushing experience is required. We will teach you everything you need to know to feel comfortable and equipped for your days on the trail. That being said, dog mushing is a physical activity...from harnessing dogs to standing on the sled all day, you will need to be reasonably able-bodied in order to fully enjoy this experience. This four-day trip goes deep into the heart of a wilderness area. Sections of the trail are very technical.
In order to safely enjoy this trip you must be able to:
✔️ Lift 50 lbs.
✔️ Endure hard falls onto ice or hard-packed snow.
✔️ Get dragged while holding onto sled handlebars (hard on shoulders).
✔️ You must be able to squat to go to the bathroom outside.
✔️ You must be able to balance on one foot for a minimum of 5-10 seconds.
✔️ You must be able to climb stairs quickly and easily.
✔️ You must be able to jump up from a prone position on the ground or in deep snow off-piste (i.e. a snow burpee)
✔️ Be capable of walking or hiking on steep and uneven terrain for up to 8 hours.
✔️ Be prepared to wrangle strong sled dogs (hard on wrists, hands, and shoulders).
✔️ Be prepared to be exposed to cold, wet, windy and otherwise adverse weather conditions sometimes found in higher latitudes.
If you are over the age of 65, we require a medical clearance from your doctor. (Click here to see our medical form.)
You do not need previous experience with cold-weather climates, but you will need to equip yourself with a proper set of winter base layers in order to ensure your comfort and safety. Even though it is spring in Alaska, weather and temperatures can still be harsh and unpredictable. We will provide you with a list of suggested & required gear -- your comfort is our utmost concern! Check out our packing list here.
The Tolovana Experience
"A trip to Tolovana Hot Springs is a wilderness adventure to bathe in natural hot springs and to enjoy the outdoors. The cabins are rustic, simple and comfortable. Burning wood, hauling drinking water and using outhouses are part of the experience. It makes you feel good. You are clean, warm and relaxed. It is quiet. The hot tubs are outdoors, exposed to the weather, the stars, and the raging northern lights. Getting out of the hot tub on a cold night is part of the experience.
The operators of Tolovana Hot Springs are dedicated to preserving the natural, rustic, and simple qualities that Tolovana currently possesses. Their goal is to provide visitors low impact access and accommodations so current visitors may enjoy the natural hot springs and surrounding wilderness area while preserving these resources for future generations."
--From the Tolovana Hot Springs website.
Cozy Cabin Accommodations
There are three cabins at Tolovana Hot Springs, each with its own outhouse. We usually reserve the Cedar Cabin, an 18' 24' cabin with a large frame window, a galley kitchen with a full size cooking stove, large dining table, wood stove, solar powered LED lights and a separate back bunk room. The bunk room has 4 bunks. The lower bunks can easily accommodate two people. There are also two bunks in the main room that double as daytime benches. A small frame cabin below the Cedar Cabin and a large log cabin with a view are available for private upgrade by request.
There is a cold freshwater spring near the cabins outfitted with an insulated spring box. Drinking and cooking water may be dipped from this box year-round. Visitors usually haul hot spring water for washing dishes, saving time and propane.
There are three hot tubs, each with a deck, along the hot springs creek. They are about 200 feet apart (i.e. nearly out of sight of other). The tubs are not assigned to any specific cabin. Water continually flows into and out of the tubs. The use of soap and any other chemicals is forbidden. This is a natural hot spring.
Upper Tub: An 8' diameter round plastic tub at the base of the hillside right below the steaming springs.
Middle Tub: An 8' rectangular wooden tub located on the hillside near the creek reached by a footbridge.
Lower Tub: An 8’ round plastic tub in a secluded wooded area by the creek.
Will I drive my own dog team?
Yes. You will drive and be responsible for your own small team of 4-6 dogs. On orientation day, your professional dog sledding guide will introduce you to your team, give you a lesson on how to drive the sled, and take you out on a short trip to practice your new mushing skills. You will learn how to harness a sled dog, and how to slow and stop your team. Your guide drives their own team just ahead of you, keeping an eye on the dogs, the trail, and your progress. You will drive your own dog sled all four days.
Your dog sledding guide for this trip is Lisbet Norris. Lisbet is the company owner and lead guide at Arctic Dog Adventure Co. Originally from Willow, Alaska, Lisbet grew up in a dog-mushing family. She is a three-time finisher of the Iditarod, the longest sled dog race in the world. Lisbet has two decades of experience guiding dog sled tours and expeditions. She is known for her leadership qualities under adverse circumstances and through sound preparation and experience, she makes the most unique and challenging adventures possible for her clients! Lisbet has a strong love for the North. A self-taught naturalist, she feels at home in the boreal forest of Interior Alaska and loves sharing the northern landscape with others. Lisbet holds a degree in Northern Studies and History from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
DAY 1: MEET & GREET
After breakfast at your accommodations, we will pick you up and bring you to the homestead to meet your guides and your new teammates: the dogs. We will go over gear, have a brief lesson on mushing, take a test dog sled ride through the boreal forest, and prepare our sleds for departure the next morning.
Lunch will be provided in between preparations and we will finish the evening with a relaxing dinner at Arctic Dog Adventure Co. You will spend the night at the homestead at the off-grid ADAC Lodge. This night gives you an opportunity to test your ADAC sleeping system (sleeping pad + bag + liner) before hitting the trail.
- Meals: Lunch and Dinner at Arctic Dog Adventure Co.
- Accommodations: Shared accommodations at Arctic Dog Adventure Co.
- Milage: 5 miles
DAY 2: NORTHERN HORIZONS
After breakfast at the kennel, we will load the sleds dogs and start the two hour drive to the trailhead, where we will unload sleds and dogs, don our mushing gear, hook up our dog teams, and set off. The land surrounding the trailhead is pure wilderness. Rimmed by mountains, with an ocean of forest and tundra stretching hundreds of miles in either direction.
The route today travels along ridge lines and over local high points marked by windblown tundra and sastrugi.
Directly out of the trailhead, we will follow a creek into the valley, losing approximately 1000 feet of elevation in two miles as we drop into the Brooks Creek drainage. Hold on tight! We then cross three miles of swamp, clouds swirling in the expansive of Interior sky. As we reach the edge of the swamp we see a trail rising straight up in front of us. This is the start of the ascent of Tolovana Dome.
The climb is moderate. A third of the way up we enter an old burn, the landscape marked by blackened candlestick tree trunks. The new vegetation that has grown in the years since the wildfire makes this an area rich in wildlife: moose, grouse, ptarmigan, and wolf. Limbless trees afford us peeks of the Minto Flats in the distance. The trail plateaus at Windy Gap, an area where the wind howls through the thick stunted alpine birch and spruce, building giant waves of hardened snow (sastrugi) that sleds bump up and over. Sled driving can be very technical here.
After a half-mile we break through the tree line and start ascending above the tree line. Spectacular views of the Ray Mountains in the distance rise behind us, a sawtoothed ridgeline marking the Northern horizon. After another half mile, we reach the windswept summit. If the weather agrees, this is a perfect spot for hot drinks and a snack while we soak in the views. If it is really clear, Denali will be visible to the southwest.
We pass through a few miles of exposed alpine terrain before dropping down through old wildfire burn and into creek valley on the south side of Tolovana Dome that houses the natural hot springs and three beautiful cabins.
The last mile down to the hot springs can be challenging. It is very, very steep, requiring us to brake hard to control our speed. We lose 1000 feet in elevation in one mile. There are switchbacks. We will take it slow and safe and unhook dogs as needed. Before you know it, our teams will sweep around a corner and over a steaming open creek, marking our arrival at Tolovana Hot Springs. We will take care of the dogs first, unharnessing and staking them out in front of our cabin. Then it’s time to explore and relax at this rustic oasis in the heart the Interior.
- Meals: Breakfast at the homestead, lunch in the car, dinner at camp.
- Accommodations: Bunk in shared cabin.
- Milage: 10 miles.
Private Cabin Upgrade
Upgrade your trip with Private Cabin Accommodations!
Please note: Cabin Availability cannot be guaranteed prior to November 1. In the event an upgrade cannot be secured you will be refunded your upgrade charge in full and you will have to join group accommodations (Separate bunk in bunkhouse. Bunks are suitable for up to two people; couples can comfortably share the same bunk).
DAY 3: RELAX & REJUVENATE
We will spend the day soaking in the three different hot tubs tucked into the ravine where the hot springs are found. The cabin is outfitted with many comfortable amenities, including propane lights and a full-sized stove, allowing us to cook a large and delicious meals to celebrate our time in this Alaskan paradise. We will stay up late, maximizing our opportunities to see the northern lights.
- Meals: At cabin.
- Accommodations: Bunk in shared cabin.
- Mileage: The walk to the hot springs and back. Repeat.
DAY 4: RETURNING HOME VIA TOLOVANA DOME
Today, perhaps after an early morning soak, we will say good bye to our cozy cabin and begin our trek back to the Tolovana trailhead. The first two miles out from the springs are very steep, with switchbacks, possibly filled with wind drifts. We will have to walk and help the dogs by pushing our sleds up the hill.
The top of the dome is a sweet reward for our efforts, affording commanding views of the Minto Flats, Alaska Range and the Ray Mountains. We will begin the long descent into the lowlands spread out before us. A mile from the summit we re-enter Windy Gap, likely filled with rock-hard wind drifts that require your attention to navigate. This is your opportunity to celebrate your newfound sled skills. Windy Gap is followed by a gentle, protected descent into the valley. We could fly past the old burn, or if the weather is agreeable, perhaps we will stop there and have a bonfire with our lunch.
We will traverse the valley floor and begin the last climb to the trailhead. While this two-mile climb is more gradual than the first, there are still some steep sections. Expect to push and pedal. An alpine birch forest will signal our arrival at the top of the ridge. The parking lot appears around a corner, seemingly out of nowhere. Once arrived, we will unpack our sleds, tuck the dogs away in their boxes, shed some layers and climb into the truck for the journey back to town. The drive takes about two hours, depending on weather and road conditions.
- Meals: Breakfast in cabin, lunch on the trail, dinner on your own.
- Accommodations: You will need to arrange your own accommodations for this night.
- Milage: 10 miles
Fairbanks, AK, USA
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