I got to spend three days at the end of the road.
Located near the end of the road, Camp Denali is one of the only lodges grandfathered into the expansion of Denali National Park. They are also one of the only people that can operate inside this protected wilderness.
I was incredibly fortunate to have some close friends working at the lodge. They invited me to sleep at Camp Denali for the weekend. It is a pricey, all-inclusive lodge that is the most well-known place for exploring Denali National Park
Oh yeah, it has full amenities. Showers, an entire staff of intelligent people surrounding you, and prepared meals compliment your days wandering the wilderness.
The one drawback that people first see is that the drive into the park is seven hours. We saw some of the rarest animals in the park in those seven hours.
It was the shortest seven hours of my life.
Some of the animals we saw included a grizzly bear sleeping on top of a freshly killed caribou, a rare hawk owl, many moose, a massive caribou herd, and a red fox family. We also saw some Dall sheep, but they were too far away to distinguish too much.
The Camp Denali bus ride also included a full-spread picnic. This meal included freshly smoked fish, an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, and some excellent homemade slices of bread. The bus driver/guides also set everything up under a covered tarp strung between the two buses just in case it rained. They thought of everything.
Even with this impressive picnic, everybody was hungry by the time we ended up at the lodges. The staff was ready with another spread of snacks and food.
In case you were wondering, is the price of rooms inside a National Park worth it? That question depends on what you are expecting to get out of your visit.
If you are hoping to sleep in a tent just outside the park and be the first in line for the buses in the morning, just expect to have long hours sitting on a bus. You can also sleep at the Wonder Lake Campground, but you will have no supporting building. It is a plot of land to pitch a tent. What you need for your stay had better be with you.
The trade-off for sleeping at one of the most pristine locations in the park in a soft bed is money. To me, camping brings a certain amount of stress along with it. I prefer camping, but if you are hiking for 15 miles a day in a remote location, the last thing I want to do is cook an entire meal for myself. Since I am cheap, this is what I do.
After staying at Camp Denali for a few nights, I appreciate the appeal of these lodges. Do yourself a favor and save for a couple of extra months before your big Alaskan trip. The knowledge that you gain from the naturalists and the quality of food you get at every meal is enough to justify spending this much money.
Camp Denali owns two separate lodges. They are equally as nice as the other but in the end, different.
The main lodge, Camp Denali, is at the top of a steep hill that overlooks the entire valley.
You get the best view of the north face of Mt. Denali from the front porch of the lodge. You get assigned a cabin that has just enough privacy to get some rest. It is not too far away from the main dining hall, though.
The cabins are spread out over the hillside with small, private outhouses. There are no private showers. There is, however, a modern shower facility near the main lodge. Also, there is no phone or internet service. You are meant to enjoy nature without too many distractions so plan to disconnect from the outside world for your stay.
Each cabin has a wood-fired furnace. The employees stock each cabin with wood every day for you to build a fire inside the stove to your comfort level. The nights can get a little chilly, so this was a pleasant surprise.
Most of the cabins also have a sink with a small supply of coffee and tea for you to enjoy. A kettle provided for you can heat water on top of your stove
For me, disconnecting from the outside world is not so bad considering I am constantly barraged with emails and notifications. I feel like I get to enjoy the individual moments much better than being on Facebook all the time. You will not run out of breathtaking views or interesting conversations with the naturalists while you are here.
North Face Lodge is a modern, intimate experience.
Camp Denali owns the lodge at the bottom of their hill, as well. This lodge is a separate place that is tailored to a different type of experience. You have an ensuite bathroom and electricity in every room. The rooms feel like a cozy hotel room, though. You do have neighbors. Young children will have a better time up the hill in a private cabin.
Their recent renovations to this incredibly stunning property make North Face Lodge a functional property. The fireplace relaxation area is just about as beautiful as I have ever seen, as well.
The staff at both lodges is incredible, but you get a little more intimate feeling when staying at North Face Lodge. Fewer guests mean more time to interact with the employees walking around. Plus, the staff have an intimate knowledge of the area that you cannot find online easily.
Camp Denali food is legendary.
The family that owns both of these highly esteemed lodges prides itself on quality. No expense is spared when it comes to lodging, guided tours, and least of all, food. The friends that invited me to visit this lodge happens to be some of the chefs that Camp Denali employees. I got an inside perspective of how serious the company takes its food.
Every meal has a certain level of homeliness to it. Most of the food is made from scratch. Whether it is the bread you are having for dinner, that delicious little salad the chefs serve to you before your meal, or the deli meat you are putting on that sandwich for lunch.
As proof, I saw with my own eyes that they make their deli meats by hand. My friend explained that the owners think the guests would enjoy freshly cooked deli meats over processed ones. The lodge’s attention to detail is something I have not seen in a long time. The owners employ passionate chefs because that translates into an incredible experience for the guest.
I got to see first-hand what it means to cook for this incredible lodge, and all of the food that they put out is set to a rigorously high standard.
Oh, by the way, they have an in-house garden that grows a majority of their lettuce and vegetables. That is pretty impressive to me. Alaska has a short growing season and to get anything to grow here is a challenge.
All in all, Camp Denali and North Face Lodge are better than anything I could have expected.
If you have the money, do not think twice about booking a few nights here. You will not regret your stay.
The staff is a group of incredible service professionals. The property overlooks some of the most remarkable views you will ever see. And the food is out-of-this-world. You could not ask for anything more.
Check out my other posts from America’s National Parks!
Also, here is my post about what to expect when you get to Denali National Park:
Denali National Park – Central Alaska
If you want to see what Great Smokey Mountain National Park looks like, here is a short video of the most popular hike:
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