The village of Nenana is situated at the confluence of the Nenana and Tanana Rivers about halfway between Fairbanks and Denali National Park. The name Nenana means “a good place to camp between the rivers.”

The area was originally known as Tortella by the white community as they had difficulty with the pronunciation of the native word “Toghotthele,” which means “hill on the water.”

In 1902 the discovery of gold in Fairbanks brought increased activity to Nenana and in 1903 Jim Duke built a trading post/roadhouse to service the river traffic and trade with the native community.

Around 1905 a telegraph station was built by the Army Signal Corps as part of the network across Alaska and the Episcopal Church founded St. Mark’s Mission and the Tortella School a short distance upriver. Today, the restored log church is a favorite photo subject for visitors.

Nenana’s population grew dramatically with the building of the Alaska Railroad. The first surveyors arrived in 1916 and began building a dock to service the boat traffic on the two rivers.

President Warren J. Harding drove the golden spike at the north end of the Nenana rail bridge on July 15, 1923. After the completion of the railroad, there were 5,000 residents living in Nenana, however, an economic slump soon followed and by 1930 there were only 291. Today the economy is still based on its role as the center of rail-to-river barge transportation for the Interior of Alaska.

Nenana is famous for its Ice Classic, a lottery based on guessing when the ice in the Nenana River will break up in April or May of each year, a tradition since 1917. See below, in Things to do, to learn more about the Nenana Ice Classic.

Nenana Visitor Information Center log cabin is located at the corner of Parks Highway and the entrance to Nenana.

Nenana Services


Nenana RV Park & Campground full-service family owned and operated campground.  sites ranging from primitive tent to water/electric RV, dump station, propane, hot showers, laundry, wi-fi.

Camping in Nenana

Nenana RV Park & Campground

Sites range from tent to water & electric RV spots. There is a a on-site is a dump station, propane, hot showers, laundry, wi-fi, bicycles, fire pits, mini golf, $1 movie rentals, local arts and crafts, and much more! Located off the Parks Hwy in the village of Nenana at mile 304.5.

Things to do in Nenana

The Historic Nenana Railroad Depot

At 900 A Street in Nenana, Alaska, is the original Alaska Railroad depot built in 1922. In 1937 an addition was placed on the station to house staff. This station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

The Alaska State Railroad Museum was established in the depot in 1987 and stopped operating in 2017. The Friends of the the Tanana Valley Railroad took over as the new caretakers of the station in 2020 with hope to reopen the museum after repairs and renovations take place.

The Nenana Ice Classic

The Nenana Ice Classic is an annual event held in Nenana that involves predicting the exact time, down to the minute, that the ice on the Tanana River will break up. The event has been held every year since 1917 and has become a popular tradition in the state of Alaska.

The Nenana Ice Classic involves the sale of tickets, with each ticket corresponding to a specific time. Participants can purchase as many tickets as they like, and the person who holds the ticket with the exact time that the ice breaks up wins that year’s jackpot, which is usually a significant sum of money. In 2023, the jackpot was over $220,000.

The exact time that the ice breaks up is determined by a wooden tripod that is placed on the frozen river ice of the Tanana River. The tripod is connected to a clock on the riverbank, and when the ice breaks up and the tripod falls, the clock is stopped, and the time is recorded. This time is then compared to the times on the tickets to determine the winner or winners who have guesses the correct time.

The Nenana Ice Classic is more than just a simple guessing game, however. It has also become a way for people in the community to come together and celebrate the end of winter. The event includes a variety of activities, such as live music, food vendors, and games.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Nenana Ice Classic is that it has been used as a way to track the effects of climate change on the region. Because the event has been held every year for over 100 years, it provides a unique opportunity to study how the ice on the river has changed over time. According to data collected from the Nenana Ice Classic, the ice on the Tanana River has been breaking up earlier and earlier in recent years.

Purchase tickets in Alaska or via mail.


Nenana FAQs

What is Nenana Alaska famous for?

Nenana, Alaska, is famous for several reasons, including:

  • Nenana Ice Classic: Nenana is perhaps best known for the Nenana Ice Classic, an annual lottery-style guessing game in which participants predict the exact time the ice on the Tanana River will break up in the spring. The event has been held since 1917 and offers a cash prize to the winner who makes the most accurate prediction.
  • Alaska Railroad: Nenana is where the Golden Spike was placed by President Warren Harden in 1923 to commemorate the completion of the Alaska Railroad. The railroad is was once a vital mode of transportation in the state but is now a scenic way for visitors to see Alaska’s landscapes.

How does the Nenana Ice Classic work?

The Nenana Ice Classic competition had its origins in 1917 when railroad engineers bet a sum of $800 with the condition that the winner would take all. Their challenge was to accurately predict the precise moment—down to the month, day, hour, and minute—when the ice covering the Tanana River would finally break up. Since that inaugural year, the tradition has grown into a beloved and enduring Alaskan tradition, with Alaskan residents continuing to make their best guesses regarding the river’s annual breakup.

When was the first Nenana Ice Classic?

The first Nenana Ice Classic took place in 1917. This annual event revolves around predicting the exact moment when the ice on the Tanana River in Nenana, Alaska, will break up in the spring.

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