Take a Helicopter to This Remote Hot Spring for the Ultimate Alaskan Experience

Discover one of Alaska's best-kept secrets.

Exterior of the cabin at Tolovana Hot Springs
Photo: Courtesy of Lauren Breedlove

I never thought my idea of paradise would include below freezing temperatures and ice-encased eyebrows, but here we were. "Here" was Tolovana, one of the most remote natural hot springs in the U.S., and arguably, one of Alaska's best-kept secrets. A trio of hot tubs with not another person in sight? I could think of worse ways to spend the day.

Soaking in hot springs has long been a favorite activity among Alaskans. Combine pristine wilderness with spa-like relaxation in a chilly climate, and boom, you've got yourself an Alaskan cocktail — the epitome of an outdoor experience. Although there are almost 80 natural hot springs scattered throughout The Last Frontier, most do not have road access, requiring some serious effort to reach the rewarding dip. If it's a true Alaskan experience you're after, this ticks all the right boxes.

A woman in the hot spring at Tolovana Hot Springs
Courtesy of Lauren Breedlove

In true pinch-yourself fashion, I arrived at a far-flung log cabin in the 49th state's vast interior bush via helicopter. The scene was straight out of a postcard. A quick 25-minute flight over the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and approximately six moose spotted enthusiastically from above landed us on the BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) where we'd be spending the afternoon.

The trip was one of Borealis Basecamp's curated experiences, during which you can also indulge in farm-to-table meals in a giant yurt or slumber in an igloo while viewing the northern lights. All of the logistics were organized; our guide even started a cozy fire and cooked up a homemade lunch of grilled cheese and tomato soup while we soaked.

With whipping winds and remarkably negative temperatures, it probably wasn't the best day to be frolicking around in a swimsuit. Frostbite was a reasonable risk, but totally worth it if it meant plunging my body into one, if not every, man-made tub in the hot spring trifecta. I was ready to channel my inner Goldilocks and test the waters of each pool, which vary slightly in temperature (usually 125 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit), from hottest at the top to gradually cooler at the bottom.

The hot spring at Tolovana Hot Springs
Courtesy of Lauren Breedlove

Continuously flowing thermal water is fed by the creek into the three hot pools, each with their own deck. Two round pools, eight feet in diameter, sit on either end of the middle tub, a rectangular wooden basin accessed by a short, picturesque footbridge. The three pools are about 200 feet apart, so even if you do encounter others, you can still relish in the privacy. And your nostrils won't be accosted by an unseemly sulfur odor, either. While not the most comfortable parts of taking a hot spring dip in the middle of an Alaskan winter, the 100 or so yard walk, disrobing, and the dreaded wet exit in frigid temps weren't that bad, as it was all part of the experience.

For those looking to venture out on their own, be prepared to tackle the 10.1 miles on foot, skis, snowshoes, or snow machines through remote backcountry wilderness. The trailhead can be accessed at mile marker 93 on the Elliott Highway, northwest of Fairbanks. This off-grid journey meanders over the Tolovana Hot Springs Dome, where you'll be treated to views of the White and Ray mountain ranges, as well as a potential glimpse of Denali, should the mountain giant decide to appear. The valley itself is host to abundant wildlife; spotting moose, black bears, or foxes from your hot spring perch is within the realm of possibility.

A helicopter at Tolovana Hot Springs
Courtesy of Lauren Breedlove

Choose from three rustic cabins that sleep two, four, and six people, respectively, each with their own outhouse. Reservations can be made through the BLM website for overnight trips up to three months in advance, and they're accessible year-round.

An on-site spring provides water for drinking and cooking, so you'll just need to bring a sleeping bag, toilet paper, and food. If you have access to a piloted bush plane, and a day trip is more your speed, the day use fee is $20 per person.

Either way, it's the kind of experience that leaves you feeling a little sad when it comes to an end. Plans for a return trip manifested in my mind before we even left. Tolovana is Alaskan luxury at its finest — the perfect example of beauty in simplicity. If my daytime winter experience was this mind-blowing, I could only imagine what it feels like to soak at night, under the expansive sky riddled with twinkly stars, or perhaps, to look up and see the northern lights performing a graceful ballet. I guess this mean I'll have to go back — next time, with my pajamas in tow.

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