Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site
Guide

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Introduction

The Upper Chatanika River State Recreational Site is a popular recreational area for Fairbanks locals and visitors. The Upper Chatanika River SRS is located north of Fairbanks, Alaska, and is approximately half an hour away, making the park easily accessible for short day trips or extended 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 like black bears, brown bears, wolves, moose, beaver, and river otters. The Upper Chatanika River SRS creates a recreational haven for people seeking adventure in an undisturbed natural atmosphere.

RV Rentals in Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site

Transportation in Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site

Driving

The Upper Chatanika State Recreation Site is 11 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska off of mile 39 on the Steese Highway.

The campground and day use area at Upper Chatanika River is self-pay. Campers pay overnight fees during the park’s operating season. 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.

Parking

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site

Campsites in Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site

Reservations camping

First-come first-served

Upper Chatanika State Recreation Site Campground

The Upper Chatanika SRS 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 11:00 pm to 6:00 am. Generators and ATVs are not permitted to operate during posted quiet hours.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site

In-Season

Day Use Area

The Upper Chatanika SRS 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. 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.

Boating

The Upper Chatanika SRS 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 SRS. 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.

Fishing

Bring your fishing gear and waders 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 the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Off-Season

Dog Sledding

During the winter and off-season, there are still things to see and do around the Upper Chatanika SRS. 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. Dog sledding is generally a favorite wintertime activity, but there are dog sledding tours offered year-round, even when there is no snow on the ground. 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 and the undeveloped and protected land areas provide those viewing opportunities abundantly. The Upper Chatanika River SRS 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, and visit local villages. Exciting stops and milepost information, as well as road conditions, weather, and highway closures are posted online.

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