Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site | Outdoorsy

Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site


The Upper Chatanika River State Recreational Site is a popular area for Fairbanks locals and visitors alike. The Upper Chatanika is located north of Fairbanks, Alaska, and is approximately half an hour away. The park is easily accessible for short day trips, or extended RV camping stays. The park rests on the northern portion of the Chatanika River and shares the waterway with its sister park downstream, the Lower Chatanika River State Recreational Site. The Chatanika River runs through an area of Alaska that once flourished during the early 20th century because of the discovery of gold. Miners came to the vicinity in search of the precious metal, and small towns and outposts were established along railways and other easily traversed roadways. During the mining era, dams and other structures diverted the Chatanika River to mine more gold, but eventually, when the gold production ended, the state removed the barriers bringing the Chatanika River back to its original state. Today, the river careens over 128 miles, and its birch and spruce-lined banks create stunning scenery while providing homes for many native Alaskan animals. The river supports a thriving ecosystem for eagles and other species of birds as well as larger animals. The Upper Chatanika River State Recreation site creates a haven for people seeking adventure in an undisturbed natural atmosphere. Here you'll find endless opportunities for fishing, boating, and RV camping. Whether you're hauling your own rig for a weekend getaway or renting a camper from nearby, you're in for the trip of a lifetime.

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RV Rentals in Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site



The Upper Chatanika State Recreation Site is 11 miles north of Fairbanks off of mile 39 on the Steese Highway. This scenic highway is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike in the Fairbanks area and can become congested during the warmer months of the year. The highway is used not only for transportation purposes but also for recreational purposes. Have the camera ready because the highway is a designated Scenic Byway.
The campground and day-use area at Upper Chatanika River is self-pay. Campers pay overnight fees during the park’s operating season—usually from early May through October. The operating season generally begins when the snow melts, or when the water is safe to turn on. Check the information boards when entering the facilities for specific information on each area.
The campground in Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site does not have a size restriction on RVs and trailers, so the state’s rule of 65 feet or less isn’t applicable at the Chatanika Campground. Although the recreation site is off of the main highway, access can be difficult in the off-season due to snow and ice. If you're maneuvering a large vehicle, extra caution is recommended. Be sure to stay up to date with current weather and road conditions before setting out.


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Campgrounds and parking in Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site

Campsites in Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site

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Upper Chatanika State Recreation Site Campground

The Upper Chatanika State Recreation Site campground is a small, seasonally operating facility with no size restrictions for RVs and trailers. During the winter, the area remains open, but all of the utilities like water and trash services are closed until the weather permits safe conditions. Campers only have to pay overnight fees when all of the facilities are operational for the season. There are 24 gravel campsites with fire rings, and the campground provides guests with drinking water, toilets, dumpsters, picnic areas, and a boat launch for hand-carried boats. Quiet hours are from 11 PM to 6 AM. Generators and ATVs are not permitted to operate during posted quiet hours.

Alternate camping

Off-Park Campgrounds

Due to the limited space in the single campground inside of the Upper Chatanika River Recreation Site, campers may have an easier time finding a spot to set up camp outside the park grounds. Those who enjoy the finer things in life may have a better go of staying at an RV park with full hookups, flush toilets, and showers available for use. Some resort-style RV parks are located as close as Fairbanks, meaning you don't have to sacrifice proximity for luxury. Most campgrounds can accommodate larger RVs and trailers.

Seasonal activities in Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site


Dog Sledding

During the winter and off-season, there are still things to see and do around the Upper Chatanika State Recreation Site. Consider heading south to Fairbanks for a dog sledding adventure. Many different dog sledding facilities in Fairbanks offer hourly tours, daytime tours, and even overnight tours where sledders have the opportunity to see the northern lights. Contact one of the local outfitters for more information on the iconic Alaskan activity.

Wildlife Viewing

People visiting Alaska generally want to have wildlife viewing opportunities. The undeveloped and protected land within the state recreation site provide those viewing opportunities abundantly. Don't forget to pack the camera and binoculars along in the RV, because this area is teeming with wildlife to observe. The Upper Chatanika River wetlands are a habitat for birds such as waterfowl, ducks, geese, and swan. Other animals like beaver and river otters live on the river, and they are easy to spot building their houses or floating on their backs. Black and brown bears, moose, and wolves also call the Upper Chatanika portion of the river home, so it's not uncommon to see one of these beautiful creatures fishing, playing near the water, or casually passing through the vicinity.

The Steese Highway

The Steese Highway is a designated Scenic Byway that connects Fairbanks with a small settlement just south of the Arctic Circle. The Steese Highway is open year-round and is 50% paved and 50% gravel. Travelers taking the scenic byway can take any number of pull-offs to see wildlife, visit historical locations, pan for gold, take photos, visit local villages, and camp at RV friendly campgrounds. Exciting stops and milepost information, as well as road conditions, weather, and highway closures are posted online.


Whether you're a professional photographer or just trying to snap a few photos for memory's sake, the Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site and the surrounding area make the perfect backdrop for your photoshoot. The campground and nature areas within the park are rarely crowded in the off-season, presenting the perfect time for you to shoot, uninterrupted, in the tranquility of the forest. Observe the changing of the leaves in the fall or the frost-covered bows and branches in the winter. Wildlife is prominent in the forest, and if you stay still and quiet, you might get lucky enough to snap a picture of a native critter.


Day-Use Area

The Upper Chatanika State Recreation Site is a place where locals come to spend the day on the river. Since the site is close to Fairbanks, it is easy to access the area in a short amount of time, even if you're hauling a hefty motorhome. Pack your lunches, fishing and swimming gear, and plenty of bug spray and sunscreen and sit riverside taking in the scenery. From the site, take the road to the gravel bar. There is an area near the river for picnicking, sunbathing, and day-use fishing. Restrooms are available inside of the campground. All guests must pay a day-use fee to access the area.


The Upper Chatanika State Recreation Site is a popular destination for rafting, kayaking, and canoeing. This section of the river is rated as a Class II float. Small boats should launch near the official start of the Chatanika Canoe Trail at mile 39 at the Upper Chatanika State Recreation Site. A road leads from the camping area to the river for water access. The Chatanika Canoe Trail is a 28-mile trail that ends near the Lower Chatanika State Recreation Area. For chartered rafting and boating trips, contact one of the local outfitters in Fairbanks.


Bring your fishing gear and waders along in the Airstream and prepare to spend your time on the Upper Chatanika River fishing for grayling, king salmon, silver salmon, and chum salmon. The fishing is ideal during the summer months extending into October for certain fish species. Launch your small hand-carried boats from the camping area boat launch or fish from the shoreline. All fishing areas have regulations and restrictions during certain seasons. For information on the types of licenses, bait, limits, and other fishing limitations contact the area park office or check online before heading to the water.


If you are ready for outdoor exercise, lace-up the hiking boots and leave the RV back at the camp. The Chatanika River area of Alaska is a sight to see, so why not explore the terrain on your own two feet? Although the area is remote, there are various trails located in the park. For a moderate hike, check out the Summit Trail. You can hike the entire 20-mile stretch, or take it easy and hike just a portion of it. Along the way, you'll see panoramic views of the White Mountains, and if you're quiet enough, you may even spot some wildlife. Access the trail from Milepost 28 off of the Elliott Highway.