Steese Highway Connects: Fairbanks to Circle, AK
Routes#: Alaska 2 & 6
Length: 161 miles
Road Surface: 50% paved, 50% gravel
Season: Open all year
Highest Pass: Eagle Summit, 3,685 feet
Map (1 detailed pdf file available):
Fairbanks, AK to Circle, AK
The Steese Highway connects Fairbanks to Circle, a small settlement 161 miles to the northeast on the Yukon River, 50 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The Steese Highway is designated a Scenic Byway and the scenery alone makes this a worthwhile drive. It is especially colorful in late August and early September when the leaves turn. Acres of fireweed have filled up burned areas and offer bright splashes of color in the summer and fall. The Steese Highway offers beautiful summit views, hiking, berry picking, wildlife and camping.
The Steese Highway was completed in 1927 and named for Gen. James G. Steese, U.S. Army, former president of the Alaska Road Commission. It provided access to the Circle Mining District, and remains an important route to the Yukon River. At 2,000 miles, the Yukon is Alaska’s largest river. It heads in Canada, then flows west into Norton Sound on the Bering Sea.
The Steese Highway is a highway of summits and spectacular views. Eagle Summit at Milepost F 107.1 is the highest, and has unobstructed views of the midnight sun at solstice as well as wildflowers in summer. Twelvemile Summit at Milepost F 85.5 offers biking opportunities, views and access to Pinnell Mountain Trail with viewing platform and Circle–Fairbanks Historic Trail. Caribou are often spotted at Eagle and Twelvemile summits in the fall, a favorite place for hunters. Cleary Summit at Milepost F 20.5, is the first summit on the route but has obstructed views. Turnoff at Milepost F 57.4 for the U.S. Creek Road and drive 3.5 miles for 360-degree views from platform. Good blueberry picking in season.
The Steese Highway also provides access to the richest gold mining district in Alaska. Higher gold prices have led to renewed interest in mining along this highway. As a sign along the highway puts it, “the old Gold Rush days are not over yet!” Watch for mining operations along the highway.
Artifacts from the region’s early mining days are found along the Steese, such as the Davidson Ditch at Milepost F 57.3 and Gold Dredge 8 (open to the public) at Milepost F 9.5. Learn to pan for gold at Gold Daughters, across from the pipeline viewpoint at Milepost F 8.4. Gold Dredge 8 also offers gold panning along with a narrated tour of the dredge. Recreational gold panning is allowed at Pedro Creek, across from the Pedro Monument at Milepost F 16.6, at Nome Creek Valley, accessible from Milepost F 57.4 and at Cripple Creek BLM Campground at Milepost F 60. For information on Nome Creek gold panning, check with the Alaska Public Lands Information Center in Fairbanks, or contact the Bureau of Land Management, 222 University Ave., Fairbanks, AK 99709; phone 907-474-2200.
The MILEPOST® Quick Reference Log
Miles from Fairbanks (F) shown.
F 0 FAIRBANKS.
F 8.4 Trans–Alaska Oil Pipeline Viewpoint (pictured above) to east and Gold Daughters gold panning and self- guided tours of a mining museum, to west.
F 9.5 Gold Dredge 8 National Historic Site; daily tours of the dredge include gold panning, gold rush history, train ride and gift shop.
F 11 Junction with Elliott Highway. Access west to FOX (pop. 439), established as a mining camp before 1905 and named for nearby Fox Creek, has Fox General Store; Silver Gulch Brewery, Fox Gardens & Gift Shop, the Howling Dog Saloon, and the Turtle Club restaurant, at Mile 0.5 Old Steese Highway North (great prime rib).
F 16.6 Felix Pedro Historical Monument and Wayside; gold panning.
F 20.5 Cleary Summit (elev. 2,233 feet).
F 28 Turnoff for Chatanika Gold Camp, on the National Register of Historic Places; current status unknown.
F 28.6 Chatanika (unincorporated), originally a trading post for miners beginning in the late 1930s. Chatanika Lodge to east, owned by Ron and Shirley Franklin, provides food and lodging; it is a favorite of Fairbanks’ locals. Old gold dredge across highway.
F 39 Upper Chatanika River State Recreation Site; camping.
F 57.3 Davidson Ditch historical site. Information signs here explain the pipe was built in 1925 by the Fairbanks Exploration Co. to carry water to float gold dredges.
F 57.4 Junction with U.S Creek Road to Nome Creek Valley; camping, fishing, gold panning.
F 60 Cripple Creek BLM Campground.
F 81.3 Pavement ends, gravel begins, northbound.
F 85.5 Twelvemile Summit (elev. 3,190 feet).
F 107.1 Eagle Summit Wayside.
F 107.3 Eagle Summit (elev. 3,685 feet).
F 127.6 The Circle District Historical Society Museum (pictured below), open during the summer months, has displays covering the history of the Circle Mining District and its people.
F 127.7 Junction with Circle Hot Springs Road at CENTRAL (pop. 86). Services include gas/diesel, propane, snacks, restaurant, grocery store, lodging, gift shop with local crafts, laundry, showers, Wi-Fi and bar at Gold Country Services; open year-round.
F 140.4 Lower Birch Creek Wayside (BLM); camping, fishing.
F 161.3 CIRCLE (pop. 108), located on the banks of the Yukon River, 50 miles south of the Arctic Circle, Circle City was the largest gold mining town on the Yukon River, before the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 created Dawson City, YT.