The map labels it "Mount McKinley," Alaskans call it "Denali," but the 20,320-foot peak is almost too magnificent to bear a name. Denali National Park includes the awe-inspiring mountain plus six million acres of wilderness surrounding North America's tallest peak. Remarkably, the park is worthy of the wonder it honors, thanks to the park service's far-sighted decision to exclude private vehicles. Shuttles carry visitors up the one gravel road traversing the park. Hotels cluster around the entrance, with a few authentic lodges tucked deep inside Denali Park.
The Denali River Cabins are affordable but basic. The proprietor, Alaska Native corporation Doyon, offers simple cabins at rock bottom rates (for Denali), but do not expect luxury. Furnishings include beds, chairs and a table. Although the resort is not as secluded as the website suggests, some cabins do front the river, although those cost extra. The complex does not have a lounge or central public area. The Perch Resort also provides basic cabins -- a little classier and a little more secluded. Choose between cabins with private baths and those with shared baths; the latter are substantially cheaper. This resort is laid out like a campground and fronts on Carlo Creek, with each cabin slightly different and some truly secluded. The low rate includes breakfast for two.
The Denali Crow's Nest is built on Sugarloaf Mountain a mile north of the park entrance. Each of the 39 cabins has an expansive view of the Alaska Range and the comfort of knotty-pine interior, good beds and a room heater. The room price includes satellite television, in-room Wi-Fi, free shuttle service to the park and an outdoor hot tub. The front desk is open 24 hours, and a restaurant and bar are on the premises. The Denali Bluffs Hotel is also on Sugarloaf. Its central lodge features a log-beamed great room with a stone fireplace and Alaskan art. The 112 guestrooms are divided among 12 buildings on the hillside, some of which are quite a hike from the lodge. The rooms are large and well appointed with large beds, cable television and air conditioning, but Wi-Fi is only available in the lobby. Both of these properties have stairs that might pose problems for guests with mobility limitations.
The Denali Princess Lodge is part of the Princess Tours Line, offering boat tours to Alaska, and that says it all. The lobbies (upper and lower) and the restaurant/bar are spacious and impersonal; the rooms are large and neutral like those of a moderately priced chain hotel. A large deck commands a nice view, but the tourist-trap boutiques will not please everyone. The McKinley Village Lodge is located seven miles from the park entrance on the Nenana River. Its 15,000-square-foot lodge (renovated in 2009) and seven hotel buildings spread over 20 riverfront acres. Choose between standard, riverfront and king rooms. The deck has outdoor seating and a fire pit as well as forest views, but not everybody enjoys the very touristy shops and restaurants.
Top of the Line
Deep in the heart of Denali Park, classy Camp Denali offers secluded cabins with wood stoves, propane lights and awe-inspiring Mt. McKinley views. The price is hefty, but includes transportation in from the Visitor's Center, three meals and daily naturalist-led hikes. Enjoy noted specialists lecturing on Alaska-related subjects in the evenings. For more comfort or less organized activity, try the North Face Lodge, owned by the same family. Also in the Denali back-country, the North Face has modern rooms with baths and electricity. Both properties require minimum stays of three nights.
- McKinley Creekside Cabins: Contact
- McKinley Village Lodge: Home
- Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge: Directions
- Grand Denali Lodge/Denali Bluffs Hotel: Contact
- Denali Crow's Nest Log Cabins: Home
- Denali River Cabins; Mile 231.1 Parks Highway; Denali National Park, AK 99755; 907-683-2500
- The Perch Resort; Mile 224 Park Hwy; Denali National Park, AK; 888.322.2523
- Camp Denali/North Face Lodge
- mt mckinley (denali) in alaska image by Jorge Moro from Fotolia.com