Home of the Ice Classic.
Location / Coordinates: Nenana, Alaska is located where the Tanana River and the Nenana Rivers come together, about 300 miles north of Anchorage and roughly 60 miles south of Fairbanks at mile 305 on the Parks Highway.
Coordinates: Latitude 64.56 & Longitude 149.09
Population / Elevation: Nearly 400 people live in Nenana, Alaska,at almost 400 feet above sea level.
Description: Nenana, Alaska has a nice little Main Street lined with a collection of historic storefronts and little log cabins. The old train depot is at the end of the street on the banks of the Tanana River. Nenana is a hub of sorts for tug boats and small barges shipping goods around Alaska’s interior. These activities are limited to the summer season as both the Nenana and Tenana rivers are shallow, filled with silt and tend to freeze solid during the winter season.
What to do there: Nenana, Alaska is probably best known for hosting the Nenana Ice Classic every winter. Winter is a long, dark, and very cold season in Alaska. Rivers freeze solid, snow piles up in drifts, and the biting wind howls across the land. Spring is anticipated with much fanfare here. In Nenana, Alaska, spring begins the minute the Tanana River’s ice breaks up. In late February, the Nenana community raises a black and white striped “tripod” (it actually has four legs) onto the frozen Tanana River. A line is attached to the tripod and to a clock housed in a tower on the shore. As the weather warms up the rivers begin to thaw, “break up” happens when ice from the river moves the tripod, pulling the line that trips the clock. Tickets are sold in a contest where people try to guess the exact day and minute of the break up. The winner is awarded a large cash prize. The Nenana Ice Classic has been an annual event since 1917. The Ice Classic Festival is quite an event in itself. Citizens of Nenana and the surrounding communities hold chile contests, arm wrestling contests, and egg tossing contests. There are arts and crafts from local artisans—honey from Nenana bees and Fireweed flowers, hand-quilted quilts, Athebascan bead work, and lots of homemade goodies. It’s truly a hometown, everyone-is-welcome kind of festival.
For railroad buffs, the train depot, on the National Register of Historic Places, now houses the Alaska Railroad Museum.
History: The Athebascans first settled this area and called it Toghottele. The convergence of the two rivers, the Tanana, and the Nenana, brought the Athebascans, miners, and trappers, the stern wheelers and the barges, and eventually the Parks Highway. Nenana is a crossroads both on the water and by land.
When the miners and trappers arrived, they pronounced the Athebascan “Toghottele” as Tortella or Tortlli, located on the north bank of the Tanana River overlooking what is now known as Nenana. At the turn of the century, 1902, a roadhouse and trading post was built for those traveling through the area. Two decades later the Alaska Railroad used Nenana as a construction base for it’s new rail system. President Warren Harding drove the golden spike at Nenana signifying completion of the Alaska Railroad in 1923.
How to get there: Nenana, Alaska has an airport with a 4,600 foot asphalt runway and a skiplane strip. Float-planes are also welcome. The Alaska Railroad comes through Nenana. The Parks Highway skirts Nenana for easy access from Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Facilities: Nenana, Alaska has all of the basic necessities—a visitor’s center, grocery store, laundromat, a radio station, churches, a library, restaurants, and a gift shop. There is a motel, and inn, and a bed and breakfast, and an RV park with hookups.
RV info: Nenana, Alaska does have an RV park with hookups.