When your friends call and asks if you want to take off for a quick getaway to Tolovana Hot Springs, you simply say, "Yes!" and pack your bags.
Brad and I had attempted a trip to Tolovana Hot Springs back in 2015. It was December, and we had anticipated a romantic weekend getaway that involved sitting in hot springs under the northern lights. In reality, we drove nearly 12 hours to a trailhead northwest of Fairbanks, Alaska with our ski gear in tow, only to find that we were woefully unprepared for -8°F with a 20 mile per hour windchill. After much deliberation and failed attempts to get our skis on the for ten mile trip, we bailed, feeling epically defeated.
We always wondered, "Could we have made it out there? Were we just being wimps? Have our thirties made us soft?"
Flash forward to this spring, when we received a call from our friend Nic, who had booked the Tolovana Hot Springs cabins in earnest. Now, he needed a crew of friends to make the trip worthwhile, and we jumped on it!
Doesn't every trip start off looking a little like this?
Brad and I made it easy on ourselves and simply hopped a flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks on a Monday morning. Our friends, who had the snow machines, a trailer and gear, picked us up and whisked us off to depart on our adventure. We were already off to a better start; bluebird skies, warmer temperatures, and way fewer hours behind the windshield.
We arrived at the trailhead, and not surprisingly, it was once again negative temps and howling winds. I pulled on every layer that I had; wool long underwear, too many mid layers to count, ski pants, down jacket, and windbreakers over the top of everything. I tucked hand warmers into my gloves, pulled my hat low over my eyebrows, and hopped on a snow machine with Brad to make the trip.
Cold, a little spooked to be on a snow machine, but glad to be on an adventure.
Turns out, the trail is CHALLENGING! As a very novice skiier, I reflected back on the winter of 2015, and knew we had made the right choice to turn around. Not only is the trail exceptionally remote, it is also prone to be windblown and easy to lose track of. With the conditions we saw the last time we were here, I'm not sure we would have safely made it in and back to the truck.
A short (but very cold) snow machine ride brought us to the Cedar and Frame cabins at Tolovana. We were greeted by plenty of firewood, a clean rustic cabin full of board games, and a short jaunt to wicked hot tubs of water. It was PERFECT!
The simple life of cabin trips never gets old.
Our midweek getaway consisted of making meals in the dutch oven, playing card games, soaking in the hot springs until we couldn't take it anymore, lounging on bunk beds, and keeping the fire stoked. With a crew of six people, camp chores were a breeze, so we had ample time to chat with our friends, test our skills on old crossword puzzles, and eat all the food we had brought. I made two of my dutch oven favorites; moose stew and chicken enchiladas. Seeing as that we were on snow machines and weight was not a concern, we simply packed Heather's Choice meals as backup in case we got weathered in. Obviously, the two boxes of Packaroons we brought were demolished over countless cups of coffee and Scrabble.
"People in Alaska don't tan, they thaw."
After two nights in the cabins, we sat in the hot springs on Wednesday morning, pouting that it was time to leave already. We all simply looked out over the rugged landscape and thought, "This could be our reality." The daily simplicity of cabin trips is addicting. You wake up, stoke the fire, make a pot of coffee, lounge, share a hearty meal, haul water, explore the surrounding wilderness, and repeat. We all relished in the spaciousness of our daily "routine" and enjoyed uninterrupted time with our friends. No cell phone service does wonders for having real conversations with your cabin companions.
In this short three day trip, I fell in love with the simple art of photography all over again. Taking photos just for fun is something I haven't done in a long time, and I indulged in quite a few hours of simply walking around with my camera, taking pictures of things that caught my eye. I also finished a crossword puzzle for the first time in YEARS, and won a game of Scrabble against Brad and our friend Steve. To say it was a successful trip would be an understatement.
I would recommend this trip to anyone who is willing to endure extreme temperatures, isn't afraid to be in a VERY remote setting, and is willing to put in a bit of travel time to reach a world class destination. No, it's not the Four Seasons, but it's a place that we all will fondly remember forever, and look forward to coming back to again and again.
Heather Kelly is the founder and CEO of Heather’s Choice. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska with her boyfriend and business partner Brad, along with their dog Jango. You can likely find her playing with food, building her urban homestead, or rafting rivers in her spare time.