Tok & Chicken
Two frontier towns welcome adventurous RV travelers
You've finally made the decision to take that RV trip to Alaska, and perhaps you've chosen to take the Canadian route along Highway 2. Well, make sure you visit Tok, which sits just 93 miles west of the Canadian border and truly is the gateway to Alaska.
Tok, Alaska, is a great starting point to just about every other place you'll want to visit on your trip to the 49th state. At the junction of the Alaskan Highway and the Tok cut-off, it's also a great place to get oriented to an Alaskan vacation. And the best part about starting in Tok is that this town loves visitors. You'll feel very welcome as you walk through the visitor's center, which just happens to be the largest log cabin in Alaska. The building is 7,000 square feet and holds brochures for every Alaskan experience any visitor could hope to have.
Beside the visitor's center sits the Alaska Public Lands Center. A stop here will show you all the best places to fish, see eagles and other wildlife as well as all the state parks that are accessible to visitors.
What's in a Name?
How did Tok get its three-letter name? That question has been up for debate for some time. According to some, the town was named after the nearby Tokai River, which in 1901 had been mislabeled as the Tok River on the USGS map.
Some believe the town was named after a husky puppy that belonged to a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when they were building the roads for the war effort in the 1940s. Others believe Tok got its name from a construction encampment that was called Tokyo Camp until World War II. No matter how the town got its name, visitors will find the area perfect for their vacation highlights.
Sled Dog Capital of Alaska
Since Tok is in the interior of Alaska, it's safe to say it gets a little chilly there in the winter. It's often so cold that vehicles won't start, and the only form of transportation is a good sled dog team. For this reason (and probably a few others) Tok has become the sled dog capital of Alaska. Many of the mushers and dogs that run the Iditarod race live and train in Tok. The Tok Race of Champions is the oldest sled dog race in the state and happens after the Iditarod, usually the third week of March. It is the biggest sprint race in the state.
Visitors to the area can visit sled dog kennels to learn the amount of work these canine athletes put into training for the next big race. Many kennels are open through the summer months and visitors can see demonstrations and even take a ride on a special wheeled dog sled.
There are over 400 full hook-up campsites in Tok at five RV parks. Tok invites visitors to stop by but also to stay awhile. Start your Alaskan experience by calling one of these fine parks home for a few days or a few weeks; that way you can experience why people came to Tok for a visit and decide to stay forever.
Part of the charm of Tok is the small town atmosphere and large expanse of wild lands that reach out in all directions. Just south of town is the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. This 730,000-acre area is home to hundreds of species of birds and its avian population swells during migration in the spring and fall. The refuge is also home to a number of large animals such as dall sheep, grizzly and black bears, moose and wolves, all of which can be spotted from the safety of your car along the road.
The refuge is found in the Upper Tanana River Valley. The Tanana River supports whitefish, arctic grayling and northern Pike. Make sure you take your camera when you go the refuge; there is so much to see that you'll want to capture it forever. Sixty-five miles of the park are adjacent to the Alaska Highway, making it a perfect place to hike, bike, fish or do a little birding from one of the many pull-offs along the road.
If you're feeling lucky, you'll want to stop over at the Public Lands Information Center and pickup a map of the streams that still support gold panning and are open to the public. Yes, you can walk footsteps of those prospectors who waded the stream in search of gold.
You're in Alaska so that means you should be able to catch a light show or two, right? Tok is one of the best viewing areas in the state to see the aurora borealis, and the best time to visit to catch the Northern Lights is August through May.
Explore the Frontier in Chicken
Located about 75 miles northwest of Tok off of State Highway 5, Chicken is considered to be the last surviving Gold Rush towns. Chicken boasts historic sites and modern-day gold panning.
While staying in town, visitors can check out the Gold Panner Gift Shop, which offers furs, gold nuggets and jewelry, and a host of other valuable souvenirs. Relax with a cup of coffee as you enjoy free wireless Internet.
Take one of the daily tours of Tisha's School House in the historic Town of Chicken. Chicken's most famous inhabitant, Anne Hobbs Purdy. came to Chicken to teach the local children in the late 1920s. A local native boy who didn't speak English very well called her "Tisha" instead of "teacher" and the name stuck. Tisha later co-wrote a book recounting how she faced challenges raising 10 children.
Tisha died in 1987 and is buried next to her husband on their homestead in Chicken. Check out www.townofchicken.com for more information.
You can also check out the Chicken Gold Camp and Outpost restaurant and gift shop. Here, you can inquire about recreational gold mining from panning on site to high-banking at their claims (all for a fee of course). They also feature tours of the Pedro Dredge, which saw service in Fairbanks on Pedro Creek and then was disassembled and reassembled and used on Chicken Creek in the '50s and '60s.
If you're in town in June, check out Chickenstock—a music festival with great performers. Check out www.cvhickengold.com for info.
For More Information:
Tok Chamber of Commerce
Alaska Travel Industry Association